Don't Tell Me You're Passionate: Dos and Don'ts Of Proposal Writing

We are currently putting together the agenda for the next Email Insiders Summit, to take place in Park City, Utah in early December. As anyone who was there will attest, the first one was a huge success, so you definitely don't want to miss the next.

For those of you who have never had to review speakers' proposals, be a judge at an interactive event, or read a resume, you just don't know what fun is. I've had to do all of the above and more--and I've found, it's amazing what people will send you.

The following is a list of dos and don'ts to keep in mind when submitting a proposal for anything:

Number One: Proofread! Of course I'm one to talk for anyone who follows this column closely, but I've already got the gig. I'm looking at one proposal from someone telling me what a great writer he is, and the thing is filled with grammatical errors and typos.

Another hint: Make sure that the links you include work. Better yet, don't use links. I've printed out all the proposals I'm reviewing. One person submitted a link to his bio instead of including it in the body of the proposal. Guess what? I'm never going to see that bio; I'm sure as hell not going to type in the url string to find it. And that's another thing: Remember, you're trying to make it easy for those reviewing your proposal, who are looking through dozens of such documents. If you make the reviewer work, you'll end up at the bottom of the pile.

Number Two: Make sure that what you are promoting is relevant and to-the-point. We are looking for great proposals on email. Meanwhile, one of the proposals I'm looking at goes on for pages on what a great speaker the writer is. He can speak for small groups. He can speak for large groups. He can deliver the keynote address. He is passionate about interactive marketing. (By the way, anyone who tells me he's passionate about interactive marketing goes to the bottom of my pile. For once I'd like someone to say: "I can take or leave interactive marketing, but I'm great at what I do."). But never does this guy tell me what new and different thing he is going to say about email!

Number Three: Unless you are a marketer for a large brand, don't diss the conference subject in your proposal. Being the curmudgeon is always a fun role. I do it all the time: I'm Mr. Curmudgeon. And it works well if you are a large-brand marketer who is having trouble with email and wants to talk about why. That kind of thing is actually great, because it lets vendors know where the pain points are. It's the kind of presentation that leads to better products and services.

But if you are a vendor who has a product that competes with email, it is probably not a great idea to start your proposal off like this: "Email's dead. My company does [fill in the blank: mobile marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, RSS, search engine marketing] and that is the greatest new thing that is going to leave email in the dust. Let me come and tell your audience why they are wasting their lives with their dead-end technology."

Four: Come up with something that hasn't been beaten into the ground. I'm looking through at least five proposals on deliverability. I'm sure we will address deliverability--with one slot. That means four proposals, no matter how good, are going to be in the trashcan.

To recap: Keep it relevant. Make it unique and interesting. Proofread. Don't make me work. And, most important, tell me what you are going to say that I should care about. You have to be a heck of a lot more than passionate. You have to be interesting.