Program & Proposal Design

A Great Program Starts with a Great Proposal

As the legal information community adapts and transforms, it is more important than ever to offer solutions for real-life situations, and ideas for affirming the value of the law librarian. AALL has been working to transform the Annual Meeting & Conference experience as well, identifying members' educational needs, rethinking the ways that adults learn, and revising the processes for developing and delivering critical content.

The following information (along with the rest of our program proposer resources), is designed to assist you in developing a dynamic, needs-based session for the Annual Meeting. If you have any questions along the way, you are encouraged to contact any member of the Annual Meeting Program Committee or AALL staff.

Getting Started

Your program or workshop proposal should answer the following questions:

  • What are the takeaways that attendees will be able to use and apply to perform their jobs better?
  • How would you describe the problem/opportunity/scenario/challenge that reflects the takeaways?
  • Who needs to attend this session?
  • What methods do you plan to employ to engage attendees and keep the energy level up?
  • Who should deliver this content, and why are they qualified to do it?
  • Will the identified presenters be available to deliver the program in person? All program coordinators, moderators, and speakers are expected to attend the in-person conference.

The questions listed below can be used to decide how to tailor a presentation and to help focus planning and instruction.

  • Does the potential audience’s level of awareness need to be raised?
  • Do they need to better understand the context in which the problem/issue exists?
  • Are there ineffective practices that need to be addressed?
  • What are the most essential things they need to know or be able to do?
  • Do they need a strong rationale to buy into the issue?
  • What specific skills or strategies do they need?
  • How important is their level of confidence with this new learning?
  • What are the obstacles they face in the workplace using this new learning?
  • What are the most important things they need to be able to do when they finish?

Writing "Takeaways" & Descriptions

Before you even start to craft your session's title, description, and takeaways, ask yourself:

What are the three key points that I want attendees to remember upon leaving the session?

If these aren't clear to you, they won't be clear to your audience. But if you give careful thought to this question early on, you'll establish a great foundation for building your session. The answers will shape the takeaways, and the takeaways will shape the description.

Takeaways are statements that describe what the learner will gain from participating. They should reflect the key points that the learner will be able understand or demonstrate after participating in the program.. The emphasis should always be on what the learner will do—not what the presenter will do. Takeaways help to:

  • Guide the attendee in deciding which sessions will best meet their needs
  • Focus on the specific tool, skill, or behavior to be learned
  • Convey to the attendee exactly what will be learned
  • Ensure that the presenter and learner end up in the same place of instruction
  • Serve as guidelines for content, instruction, and evaluation

What are the characteristics of good takeaways?

  1. The specified action by the learners must be observable.
  2. The specified action by the learners must be measurable.
  3. The specified action must be performed by the learners.

The ultimate test when writing a takeaway is whether or not the action taken by the participants can be assessed immediately upon departure from the session. If not, the takeaway probably does not meet all three of the characteristics.

Note the following examples:

  • Participants will understand the reasons for conducting a needs assessment.
  • Participants will develop an appreciation for a usage statistics.

In answer to the simple question, "Can it be measured?" these takeaways have shortcomings because they are not measurable. Changing the action verbs can modify the same statements.

  • Participants will be able to list nine reasons for conducting a needs assessment.
  • Participants will be able to identify five critical usage statistics that their institutions should be collecting.
  • Participants will be able to justify the value of collecting usage statistics to their institutions' decision makers.

Since the learner's performance should be observable and measurable, the verb chosen for each takeaway should be an action verb that results in overt behavior that can be observed and measured. Remember, attendees need practical, relevant solutions that they can apply in their jobs.




Your session's title should get the reader's attention and interest them enough to read the first sentence of the description. (Do not feel obligated to incorporate the conference's theme in the title.) Try to avoid excessively long titles. Again, the title should get the reader's attention—not explain the entire session.


That first sentence of the description should interest the reader enough to continue reading. What is the problem/opportunity/scenario/challenge that makes your takeaways relevant? Your program idea should align with at least one of the domains of AALL's Body of Knowledge. Your description should sell the session, and should only be about 100 words in length.

Program Length

The standard program length for the conference is one hour, so think about the best way to deliver the content of your program in that time frame. There is also the option to propose longer-length deep dive programs (2.5 hours) and preconference workshops, which can range from three to six hours in length.

Target Audience

When considering who your target audience, review your takeaways and think about who would benefit from them. Think about responsibilities and experiences they might have that would make this session relevant. What level of familiarity with the topic should they have? While some sessions are strongly targeted to attendees working in one type of law library, many of the content areas identified in the needs assessment are applicable across a variety of law libraries or roles.


Adult Learning Guidelines

You've got a great idea for a session, a solution to a challenge identified by AALL members. You've got stellar takeaways and a dazzling description. Now you need to think about the best ways to deliver that solution, and that involves understanding how adults learn.

Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas, or actions (or when content leaders appear unprepared, inexperienced, or inauthentic). To encourage more self-directed and intentional learning, as well as to foster the learner's internal motivation to learn, speakers should consider:

  • Developing interactive learning exercises that are challenging, but not overwhelming
  • Showing genuine interest in the thoughts, opinions, and questions of their audience
  • Drawing correlations between past experiences and current problem-solving challenges
  • Facilitating opportunities for reflective learning
  • Examining existing biases or habits that may influence future learning or skill development
  • Providing meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal and/or professional goals
  • Sharing real-life case studies that connect the dots between theory and practice
  • Asking questions that motivate reflection, inquiry, and further research
  • Identifing what skills, knowledge, or expertise learners will gain because of participating in the learning experience
  • Determinimg how learners might apply what they learned in the future (and in the context of their everyday lives)
  • Clearly explaining their rationale when presenting new ideas or innovative solutions
  • Being explicit about how the content is useful and applicable to the learners' work
  • Promotimg active participation by allowing learners to try new things, offer suggestions, or share healthy skepticism rather than simply observe
  • Providimg ample opportunities for repetition to promote skill development, confidence, and competence

Presentation Formats for Maximizing Learning

Traditionally, when most people think of conference education, they imagine a room full of silent, seated attendees with a presenter at a podium. But there are many more effective ways of delivering educational content. They do not have to be complicated or difficult—they just require some advance consideration and energy. Attendees spend long days at the Annual Meeting going from program to program, meeting to meeting, so it is important your session energizes and engages them.

As you work on your proposal, you will be asked to provide some ideas for engaging your audience throughout your session. Think about the following presentation options, as well as our guidelines for delivering a better learning experience, and identify some methods that you and/or your presenters could employ to get your audience involved in their learning experience.

Body Voting: The audience is asked to stand, and then taken through a series of questions where they 'vote' by sitting or remaining standing. "If you've been a law librarian for more than five years, remain standing." Then, "If you've been a law librarian for more than ten years, remain standing." And so on. This is an effective icebreaker at the beginning of a session but can be done throughout a session to stimulate the audience.

Buzz Group: A large group of participants is divided into groups to discuss or react to a topic. Emphasis is on ideas, as time is usually limited to ten minutes or less.

Exercise: A structured experience, usually using some form of instrumentation or guide sheet, may be used to introduce a new topic, for skill practice, review, or evaluation. Exercises are most effective with small groups or when a large group can be conveniently broken into small groups.

Forum: A type of question and answer period can be used after a formal presentation, when all participants are encouraged to ask questions of the presenter(s). Interaction is between the participants and the presenter(s).

Human Spectrum: The presenter starts by making a statement. Attendees then stand along one wall where one corner represents strong agreement and the opposite corner represents strong disagreement. The presenter can pose a variety of statements with different variables to see how the attendees' attitudes and opinions change.

Interview: The presenter is asked questions by an interviewer while the participants listen.

Jigsaw Grouping Brainstorming: Attendees are divided into separate groups with a pre-established topic, facilitator, and flip chart. Notes are taken using the flip chart while the participants brainstorm their topic. At a prearranged time, the groups dissemble and new groups are formed, with the facilitator at each table picking up the brainstorming where the previous group left off.

Lecture: A speaker addresses the audience (participants), although it can be supplemented with other strategies. The lecture has been much maligned, as some lecturers do not know how to focus a strictly oral presentation so that it is a stimulating experience. The lecture should be limited in time and in content.

Panel: A group of several people present different aspects of an assigned topic in the presence of participants.

Peer-to-Peer Roundtable Discussions: Attendees sit down at tables with established topics and facilitators. The facilitators guide discussions at the tables following a predetermined set of instructions.

Role Play: Role play lets participants create manageable versions of situations in which they can practice new behaviors and try new ways to communicate, all in a safe environment that allows them to make and correct mistakes. Role play requires a skilled person to successfully administer the presentation.

Structured Notetaking: Rather than having the presenter simply provide important words or phrases in a handout, participants are involved in facilitated brainstorming to create some type of graphical representation that frames the topic (using flip charts).

Work Group: Participants interact with the purpose of producing a product or solving a problem. Each participant should be involved highly in the process.

Identifying & Choosing Speakers

Identifying qualified speakers who are also effective communicators is often the most challenging part of developing a session proposal. Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask your colleagues if they have heard someone speak on the topic that they would recommend as a speaker for the Annual Meeting.
  • Reach out to the various communities on AALLNET. A lot of great programming takes place at the chapter level, too.
  • Look at program/conference brochures, listservs, and websites from other organizations on topics of interest. Call colleagues in those organizations for recommendations and reviews.
  • Locate "experts" on a particular subject by doing a literature search. Find out who is writing and speaking about the topic. Although there is no guarantee that someone who writes well will be a dynamic speaker, chances are good that he or she will be able to discuss the topic adequately if he or she is a noted expert in the area.
  • Think through the topic. What would this speaker offer our members? Do they have a fresh perspective?

As part of our commitment to elevate new and diverse voices in our profession, we encourage proposers to consider working with speakers who have the desired experience/education but who may not have presented at an AALL Annual Meeting before. AALL values and encourages the perspectives of both nonmembers and members. Both should be represented in AALL programming. The Annual Meeting can provide a valuable forum for AALL members interested in speaking opportunities. The AMPC encourages the development of sessions that provide members with opportunities to learn and to improve their presentation skills.

AALL maintains session evaluations from past Annual Meetings to provide information about past speakers' performance. This information may be used by the AMPC as they review and evaluate proposals.

Once you have identified the potential speaker, contacting that person is the next step. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Tell the person that you are proposing an educational program or workshop for the Annual Meeting and that you would like to consider him or her as a speaker.
  • All program coordinators, moderators, and speakers are required to register for and attend the Conference. At a minimum, everyone must have a single-day registration for the day of their program.
  • AALL does not provide honoraria to nonmember speakers or reimburse them for travel, room, meals, or other expenses. In some cases, AALL may make limited exceptions to this policy in accordance with the Annual Meeting budget and the speaker’s ability to provide unique perspectives and contributions to the Annual Meeting program. AALL will provide a complimentary single-day registration for non-member speakers who work outside the legal information profession, would not otherwise have reason to be a member of AALL, and have not previously been a member of AALL.
  • AALL members coordinating, moderating, or speaking on Annual Meeting programs must purchase a full conference registration or a single-day registration valid for the day of their program. AALL does not pay honoraria to AALL members for presentations at programs during the Annual Meeting & Conference.
  • The proposal review process is anonymized so you will be asked to explain why the speaker is qualified to present your session’s content without using identifying information like names, publications, or institution names.

Carefully consider the number of speakers you want on the program or workshop. Having more than three speakers on a one-hour program is strongly discouraged, especially if you intend to allow for a question and answer period. Approval of speakers is at the discretion of the AMPC, and a proposal may be accepted on the condition that proposed speakers be omitted or replaced.

Look for speakers with fresh (provocative) perspectives or even speakers whom AALL members have not heard. Consider the presentation skills of the speakers as well. Sometimes a content area is so specific that there are only a limited number of qualified experts who could present it—and these experts might not necessarily be the most dynamic speakers. In those cases, consider pairing the expert with a moderator who can enliven the presentation with interesting questions and audience involvement, and can keep things moving along.