Program Design

A Great Program Starts with a Great Proposal

AALL’s Annual Meeting & Conference is the premier educational event for legal information professionals. Many AALL members make an annual commitment to attend because there are always new challenges, new technologies, and new circumstances in their workplaces—but only one event that is dedicated to helping them navigate these changes.

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’s education staff. The AMPC knows that AALL members can provide a wealth of valuable programming; the committee looks forward to seeing some fantastic proposals!

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? (If this person is not an AALL member, are there anticipated expenses?)
  • Will the identified presenters be available to deliver the program in person? We are planning an in-person conference in Boston. All program coordinators, moderators, and speakers are expected to attend the in-person conference.

Writing “Takeaways” & Descriptions

Imagine the session you are proposing as a road trip. What’s the attendees’ final destination? What practical, relevant, and applicable solutions or tools will you deliver to them? Those would be the takeaways, and they’re what most learners use to decide whether they’ll attend a session. By choosing to attend your session, they are investing time and resources, and they expect a healthy return on that investment.

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 take away from session. 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

You are encouraged to review the “must-have” program topics from AALL members as well as other topics that support the competencies and skills comprising AALL’s Body of Knowledge (BoK). Identify the gap between an existing condition and a desired condition—we’re looking for sessions that bridge that gap!

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.


Avoid using certain verbs that are unclear and subject to different interpretations in terms of what action they are specifying.

Become aware of
Become familiar with
Figure out
Think about


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 half a day up to two days in length.

Target Audience

So who is your intended audience? Go back to your takeaways and think about who would benefit from them. Think about particular 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.

The questions listed below should be used to decide how a presentation should be tailored 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?

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.

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

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, content leaders should:

  • Develop interactive learning exercises that are challenging, but not overwhelming;
  • Show genuine interest in the thoughts, opinions, and questions of their audience;
  • Provide feedback to learners, as appropriate, that is both constructive and specific; and
  • Support the disparity in learning styles by employing a variety of learning methods.

2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences.

Adults like to be given the opportunity to use their existing foundation of knowledge and apply their various life experiences to their own professional development. Therefore, content leaders should:

  • Welcome opportunities for learners to share their interests and experiences;
  • Draw correlations between past experiences and current problem-solving challenges;
  • Facilitate opportunities for reflective learning; and
  • Examine existing biases or habits that may influence future learning or skill development.

3. Adults are goal oriented.

Adult learners become ready to learn when they experience a need to learn to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems. To facilitate a learner’s readiness for problem-based learning and increase their awareness of the need for the knowledge or skill presented, content leaders should:

  • Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal and/or professional goals;
  • Share real-life case studies that connect the dots between theory and practice; and
  • Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry, and further research.

4. Adults are relevancy oriented.

Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve. To support learners in their quest for seeking and identifying relevancy, content leaders should:

  • Ask learners at the beginning of the learning experience what they expect to learn;
  • Check for meaning, understanding, and relevance (to the context of work) throughout the learning experience;
  • Identify what skills, knowledge, or expertise learners gained because of participating in the learning experience; and
  • Determine how learners might apply what they learned in the future (and in the context of their everyday lives).

5. Adults are practical.

Through hands-on exercises and collaborative brainstorming, learners move from classroom and textbook mode to hands-on problem solving where they can recognize firsthand how what they are learning applies to life and the context of work. To support this transformation, content leaders should:

  • Clearly explain their rationale when presenting new ideas or innovative solutions;
  • Be explicit about how the content is useful and applicable to the learners’ work;
  • Promote active participation by allowing learners to try new things, offer suggestions, or share healthy skepticism rather than simply observe; and
  • Provide ample opportunities for repetition to promote skill development, confidence, and competence.

6. Adult learners like to be respected.

Content leaders can demonstrate respect by:

  • Taking an active interest in the development of all learners;
  • Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the learners bring to their work;
  • Regarding learners as colleagues with unique perspectives and valuable life experience; and
  • Encouraging the expression of new ideas, reasoning, and feedback at every opportunity.

The more learners are actively involved, the better they learn.

Presentation Formats for Maximizing Learning

Traditionally, when most people thinking 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 don’t 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’s very important that your session energize and engage 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 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 small units, usually of no more than six participants, which meet simultaneously. The purpose of the group is to react to a topic or a charge given to them. Emphasis is on ideas, as time is usually limited to ten minutes or less. There must be time for feedback.

Case Study – An oral or written account of an event or situation (real or fictitious) is used to develop critical thinking skills and to discover new perceptions of concepts and issues. They are not intended to be prescriptive, but rather should allow participants to arrive at their own conclusions.

Debate – Two individuals, or teams, take opposing sides of a clearly specified issue. Participants observe unless other strategies are used for involvement. It requires a high level of oral ability, an ability to think quickly, and stage presence.

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 Spectrogram – 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. The questions may be spontaneous or prepared in advance. Likewise, the presenter may respond spontaneously or prepare answers to questions received in advance.

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.

Lecturette – Short (10-15 minutes) lectures are presented or distributed in written form that frame a conversation, situation or theory. A good way to ‘bookend’ an activity or segue between topics, lecturettes are intended to establish some common language between presenters and

Panel – A group of several persons presents 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 to 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.

Seminar – Each participant is expected to be at a required level and to participate actively. A resource person is utilized to facilitate interaction, but all the participants are responsible for interaction during the seminar.

Simulation – Participants experience an actual situation without incurring the risks associated with the real-life situation.

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 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. Make no promise or commitment, but ask if the person would be amenable to speaking at the Annual Meeting AND if the speaker will hold the dates of July 16-19 until you are notified if the session has been accepted. Speakers must be available Sunday through Tuesday until the final schedule is completed. (Preconference workshop speakers must be available Friday and/or Saturday.)
  • We are currently planning to have an in-person conference. All program coordinators, moderators, and speakers are expected to attend the in-person conference.
  • 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.
  • To keep costs down, consider inviting speakers in the region where the meeting will be held or consider sharing a speaker with another session if the speaker is appropriate for more than one session.
  • When submitting your session’s proposal, you will be asked to explain why the speaker is qualified to present your session’s content.

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.

While it is not absolutely necessary to recommend speakers on the proposal, it does strengthen the proposal if AMPC sees that you have identified potential experts in the field. The more information that the AMPC has, the better the ability it has to differentiate between competing proposals on similar topics.