Thinking of hosting an NCPTW conference? We welcome proposals from anyone who participates in the conference and seeks to support NCPTW’s mission: NCPTW promotes the teaching of writing through collaborative learning and offers peer tutors the opportunity to contribute in professional and scholarly ways to the larger writing center community.
The first step in developing a proposal is to contact NCPTW Treasurer and Secretary via e-mail to express an interest. They will send you copies of successful proposals from recent years so you can see what we’re looking for. Contact information for the Treasurer and Secretary may be found on the “About NCPTW” page.
Throughout the process, share drafts of the proposal with Brian and Ben for feedback. Ben will then submit the proposal to the steering committee for a decision. If approved, you may then begin making plans. Previous conference hosts are ready and willing to assist you, as well!
Here are some more steps to consider as you develop your proposal:
possible dates. NCPTW is usually held in October or early November. Also
- IWCA conference dates (if not a joint conference, leave at least two, and ideally three weeks between the conferences)
- CRLA conference dates (especially if you want to try to get vendors who work with subject tutors)
- Any events that might be happening on your campus/in your town that might affect hotel or meeting space availability
- Keynote speaker availability
- Think about a conference theme and potential keynote speakers
- Develop rough plan for the conference
- When will you have the keynote? Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner?
- How many meals will be included in registration and/or count toward event rental costs?
- Will awards be at the same event as the keynote?
- What social activities will you have, perhaps separately for tutors and administrators
- Will you group particular kinds of presentations (e.g., workshops) at a particular time?
- How many presentations will you have during each concurrent session? How many rooms will you need to make that happen?
- What formats will you include in the program? Will you go beyond the traditional 3-person panels, perhaps to include more interactive formats?
- Will you include Special Interest Group time slots?
- Contact local hotels/venue spaces, put tentative hold, if possible, on spaces you’ll need
- Figure out who’s going to help with specific
local aspects of doing the conference. Who will
- Deal with RSVPs (This seems easy to do, but it needs to be one person who is detail-oriented and tactful. There will be a lot of details, and an occasional need for tact.)
- Coordinate logistics (contracts with ground transportation, A/V, name tags)
- Build the program
- Handle PR and advertising
- Coordinate with volunteers
- Do fund-raising and outreach
- Coordinate social events
- Develop budget
- Venue space
- Scholarships ($7500)
- Maxwell award ($250)
- Keynote speaker ($1000)
- Keynote travel
- Keynote accommodation (hotel can likely be comped)
Negotiating hotel contract
- Negotiate! What perks will they offer, depending on how many rooms are booked?
- Useful perks to ask for
- Comped rooms (in 2016 we had 1 free room/50 hotel rooms picked up at the conference rate)
- Wifi in hotel rooms and conference venues
- Comped venue space based on rooms (in 2016, we couldn’t get this)
- Confirm that you can cross-check your conference registration list with the hotel room bookings to get the accurate number of reservations if the bookings end up being close; some people will find deals on Expedia and Hotels.com, etc. and not book through the conference link.
Developing the Web page
You should develop the web page as soon as possible, and ideally before the previous year’s NCPTW. The NCPTW Web Editor can provide you with your own unique conference WordPress installation so that you may develop your own look and feel. The conference WordPress should be under thencptw.org domain, however, rather than developing it on an outside service. In-house websites will be new for NCPTW 2020, however, as previous iterations of the conference have been developed on independent locations. Other website management systems may be available. Check with the Web Editor.
- Develop a Web page with
- conference theme
- info about NCPTW
- Proposal date
- Travel grant information
As the conference gets closer, add more information, probably including
- Ground transportation
- Venue information
- Hotel reservations
- Conference schedule (rough and detailed)
- Info for newcomers
It’s helpful to set dates for each of these things in advance, so that people can plan and so that you can get the information and registration funding when you need it. (Keep in mind that the majority of people will wait until the last minute, at each step in the process.)
- Conference dates (see above)
- Proposal due date, leaving enough time for about a month to review and get back to students by the end of May (in 2016, I erred on going too late. I extended the deadline from April 1 to April 18, and then it wasn’t until June 1 that I got acceptances out)
- Date for presenters to confirm participation
- Date for participants to register (Sept. 15 is probably the latest you’d want to go on this.)
- Date to get detailed program posted (this one is tricky because you don’t want to do too much scheduling until you know who’s coming, and some people will want to know when they’re presenting before they accept the offer to present. In general, though, if you set a deadline before mid-September, you will get a lot of people who won’t respond before then. In 2016, I found the Early Bird registration deadline to be a useful motivator.)
- Date for full refund availability (in 2016, I set it as Sept. 30, and I offered prorated refunds after that date—80% from Oct. 1-Oct. 28, 60% thereafter)
- Dates for different rates, if you decide to do that (Again, a cheaper price motivates most people to register earlier, which is helpful for planning. But the people who have the hardest time paying early have the hardest time paying at all.)
- This isn’t something you control, but put dates that checks are due for everything in your personal calendar. Every caterer and venue and contract has different dates for partial and full payment, and it’s good to get those in your calendar so you know when to ask the NCPTW treasurer for checks.
Setting conference registration fees
This one is hard, and stressful. Play around with that ratio to see how low you can keep fees while still keeping in the black. There will be unexpected price changes (for me, the big ones were a rise in catering prices AND gratuity rate AND tax rate at the hotel, but I could see there being other increases) and there will also be unexpected expenses. Plan with a cushion of around $4000 beyond what you expect to be your break-even point, based on your best modeling.
Think about how you want to include your local tutors. I paid registration fees for my presenters from my writing center, as I would normally, and I offered free attendance to any concurrent session to any tutor. I offered my tutors attendance at all conference events (including the high-expense ones) in exchange for 4 hours of volunteer work at the conference. When I ended up needing more volunteers than I could get from my writing center, I reached out to area writing centers and got a handful of additional volunteers. I also offered a $100 reduction in fees in exchange for 4 volunteer hours to local educators who said that the registration fees were too high.
Here are the 2016 registration rates:
- until Sept. 15, $95/$195
- Sept. 16-Oct. 15, $120/$220
- Oct. 16-Nov. 6, $145/$245
Here are some recent conference fees, for comparison:
|early bird 2015||120||220|
|early bird 2016||95||195|
Building the program
It’s easy to get lost in the details of chairing, but this is where the fun happens. NCPTW tends to have a very high acceptance rate for proposals. It’s many presenters’ first conference, and the experience of presenting is important in itself. BUT there are consistently post-conference reviews from attendees who wanted more substance and higher standards for presentations. I’d advocate keeping acceptance rates high, but there are ways to improve the quality of presentations through careful scheduling and feedback to proposers.
Here’s what was done in 2016:
- I encouraged proposal reviewers to write comments to proposers, with an eye for how the proposal might be refined into a presentation. I also encouraged reviewers to think about whether the proposal is in the best format as proposed.
- With ratings in hand, I worked on condensing the program as much as possible so that each presentation had the right amount of time to shine. I looked closely at the proposals at the middle and lower end of the ratings range, and I was particularly attentive to panels, workshop, and roundtables, which use 75 minutes in themselves. Working with my assistant director I downsized the timing for a lot of proposals—a panel of two people might become an individual presentation if it seemed to have about 20 minutes of content; a workshop with little plan for active audience participation might become an individual presentation.
- I also created a couple of new formats—one of which I’m very excited about: The mini-workshop. There are often a lot of proposals that have good, practical ideas for writing centers but that aren’t really grounded in theory or scholarship. I put those kinds of presentations into speed-sharing-style “mini-workshops,” with timed 10-minute sessions for presenters to share content and field questions with small audiences that rotate around the room. I chaired the two mini-workshops and thought they were great—the timing enabled the presenters to shine. The other format was an Idea Lab, and that was for proposals that raised an interesting question but really had no findings or evidence. Those proposals didn’t have enough content to warrant roundtable status, but I wanted to facilitate conversation. I wasn’t at the Idea Lab, but I’ve heard mixed responses. I had a faculty member chair the session to facilitate conversation, and she said that it was hard to keep the conversation positive because some audience members wanted to rip apart one presenters’ inexperienced assumptions. Another person, a different presenter, found the conversation useful in thinking about next steps for research. If I had it to do again, I might simply have rejected those proposals, or I might put a works-in-progress option into the CFP.
- In notifying presenters, I wrote separate form emails to proposals accepted as is, versus accepted for a different format. For the Mini-workshops and Idea Labs, I offered the option of presenters choosing a format for themselves among three options: Mini-workshop, Idea Lab, and Poster. Most people went for the option I suggested.
- Mostly people accepted the new format without comment. I did get a couple of people who said that they prefer the format they proposed (say, individual presentation versus mini-workshop), but they understood when I explained the decision in the context of all of the proposals we received.
- I sent reviewer comments to proposers with the acceptance decision and gave presenters the option of revising abstracts in August/September, based on the reviewer feedback.
Scheduling the program:
- I felt really constrained by doing scheduling on the computer, and I ended up making a giant Excel sheet out of little printed pieces of paper. It was the only way I could wrap my head around the project.
- After I knew what accepted proposals were going to be on the program (note: about 20% of presenters who were accepted did not register for the conference; it’s important to know who’s actually presenting before putting a lot of time into scheduling), I sorted the Excel sheet by presentation focus (tutor education, diversity, etc.) and printed the Excel rows on colored pieces of paper with just this information: institution, title, abstract, presentation focus, presentation type, number of presenters.
- Then I grouped individual presentations into panels, ignoring presentation focus (sometimes panels are more interesting if they’re on the same topic but coming at it from a different focus).
- Then I grouped presentations into time slots, making sure to spread out presentation foci and presentation types across the entire conference.
- For our conference, I also tried to concentrate high school presentations on Saturday, the day when we offered a parallel workshop for high school teachers.
- I kept the number of presenters in mind and tried not to schedule too many large panels in the same time slot because that dilutes the audience for other presentations.
- Knowing well how long it takes to travel east (distance and time zones make traveling from the west coast to the east coast essentially a lost day), I didn’t schedule any east coast presentations on the last day of the conference, and in iffy situations, I went so far as to do a quick search to see about typical flight times.
- I then considered room type (round tables for workshops, theatre style for most everything else) and my prediction of audience size.
All told, I think this system worked pretty well. Most presentations had the right size audience for the room. The biggest problems were on the last day of the conference, which is always a hard day. I scheduled many fewer presentations than on the other days, but audiences were still pretty small (good weather was, I’m sure, a factor—there were lots of suitcases sitting in the hotel baggage area, many more suitcases than people in audiences).
Room setup is also tricky; I wish we’d had a horseshoe-configured room for roundtables. I think we could have filled one room per time slot with that kind of setup. But the number of presentations per room setup is likely to be a constraint. It is something to think about, for sure. I scheduled more presentations on the Saturday of the conference, when the most people were likely to be attending, and slightly fewer presentations on the first day, and many fewer presentations on the last day. Again, last day presentations are hard—perhaps scheduling too few is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- In 2016, 164 out of 201 presentations that were accepted for the program were included in the program in November (i.e., the presenters registered for the conference). One of those presentations was offered virtually through GoToMeeting.
- In 2016, 187 out of 205 proposals arrived in the last week before the deadline, and 89 on the day of the deadline.
- In 2016, here are the number of registrations in
- 265 Early Bird Student Registrations
- 42 Regular Student Registrations
- 18 Late Student Registrations
- 103 Early Bird Professional Registrations
- 19 Regular Professional Registrations
- 18 Late Professional Registrations
- In 2016, 286 out of 368 Early Bird registrations were made by September 1 (2 weeks before the Early Bird deadline). Around 50 Early Bird registrations were made in the last two days before the deadline.
- In 2016, 337 out of 508 attendees were presenters.
- In 2015, 136 out of 472 attendees were professionals.
- In 2016, 162 out of 508 attendees were professionals.
- In 2016, 35 volunteers attended at least one conference meal.
- In 2015, we booked 576 bed nights at the conference hotel—42 on Wednesday, 175 on Thursday, 184 on Friday, 169 on Saturday, and 6 on Sunday.
- In 2016, we booked 436 bed nights at the conference hotel—135 on Thursday, 147 on Friday, 144 on Saturday, and 10 on Sunday. We had 47 bed nights at other hotels after the blocks at the conference hotel sold out—13 on Thursday, 16 on Friday, and 15 on Saturday, and 3 on Sunday. It’s likely that other people booked rooms at other hotels, as well.
Timeline (based on an NCPTW date of end of October/beginning of November)
- Keep working on building the Web site, adding
- Info about who NCPTW is; consider carefully how to pitch what NCPTW is as an organization—it’s not an all-undergraduate conference, but it would be useful to signal to newcomers that the majority of presentations are by undergrads
- Tips on how to write a good proposal
- The rough conference schedule
- Info on the keynote speaker
- Info on proposal reviewing rubric (I don’t think it’s been an NCPTW practice in the past, but tutors who reviewed proposals in 2016 said that it would have been helpful to have had the document at the time they submitted proposals)
- Solicit help with reviewing proposals (I did this through the steering committee list, but it might be helpful to make requests online, as well)
- Develop Facebook presence, trying to post around 2x per week—some combination of things about the conference, the host city, writing center things, conference news and deadlines
- Send keynote speaker a contract (we paid $1000 in 2016)
- Solicit help with reviewing proposals and coordinate with Scholarship committee on soliciting help with reviewing travel grant proposals. Peer tutors have traditionally been part of the review process.
- Assign proposals to reviewers, avoiding conflicts of interest and assigning comparable proposals (i.e., each reviewer is assigned to review mostly or entirely reviews of the same presentation format)
- Don’t assign yourself any proposals to review, if you can. To the extent that it’s possible, it’s best to be somewhat distanced from all of the proposals as you build the overall program. If possible, try to reserve someone you know well to pitch in and be the backup reviewer, as there will likely be one or two reviewers who don’t come through in time and/or who aren’t able to do the reviews at all.
- Coordinate with Scholarship committee on
- Review processes
- Communication plans (with whom will scholarship winners communicate their acceptance, and how will you share information)
- Consider having proposal norming session online, to familiarize reviewers with the reviewing process and to offer some consistency across reviewers. In 2016, we did that over Zoom! and didn’t get a lot of participation, but I think it was helpful to do. We also did some norming within our own writing center for peer tutors who weren’t able to participate in the online norming session.
- Do reviews!
- After reviews come back, average the reviews to get a sense of the lowest and highest rated overall. Accept the highest and the middle ones, and look closely at the lowest ones. Can they be accepted in a different (less time-intensive) format?
- Thank reviewers
- Send acceptance emails
- Work on the conference program, building in rough schedule for set pieces like panels and workshops, and playing around with tentative panel groupings for the individual proposals
- Consider if you want to reach out to area high school teachers for their participation. In 2016, we worked with an organization that coordinates clock hours (ongoing education) for teachers, and we offered that as an incentive to teachers who might be interested in starting/developing high school centers (we have none in Tacoma and perhaps in Western Washington as a whole). I’d hoped to generate a lot of registrations; only around 10 teachers participated, but it seems to have been very useful for them, and there are plans to continue working together.
Consider looking into additional sources of revenue, from your home institution, from vendors (WCONLINE, Writing Center Journal, graduate programs, etc.).
- Be checking in and responding to emails
- Check in on people who haven’t registered or indicated plans to come to the conference
- Make travel plans with keynote speaker
- Contact campus leaders to get them involved in
the conference. NCPTW is a big deal; make sure that people on your campus know
about it. In 2016, I
- Asked the President and Academic Dean to present, and both were out of town that weekend, and I ended up getting 3 Associate Deans and the student body president for different events—a bit of overkill, but helpful for our center.
- Made announcements in our campus events newsletters, inviting people to attend sessions free and inviting volunteers. I got very little actual involvement from this, but people at least knew about the conference.
- Got a press release from our Communications office that went out to area newspapers.
- Solidify local plans for entertainment and food—compile dietary preferences from registrations and communicate with catering staff about specific needs.
- Place orders for swag
- Plan decorations, if any, for the keynote and other events
- Plan signage at conference venues and get signs printed
- Post detailed program and ask for corrections and additions
- Send email to accepted presenters who haven’t registered, showing the program (without their presentation listed) and offering one last chance to present
- Communicate with presenters about technical support at the conference (What can they expect in the way of room setup? Projectors? Will there be printing available at the conference?). Communicate about expectations for universal design and accessibility. Have them confirm information for program.
- In 2016 there were no complaints in the post-conference survey about technology for presentations, and I think that’s largely because I pushed people to prepare backups and had laptops in each room so that people didn’t have to switch between computers. I would strongly advocate that future chairs repeat the advice, especially since most of our presenters are new to conferences and to presenting/troubleshooting with projectors.
- Make list of volunteer opportunities and solicit
sign-ups. In 2016, we did this on a Google spreadsheet, with three tabs—
- one describing each of the volunteer job responsibilities and rough time commitment
- one with the sign-ups for jobs
- one with the volunteer’s name, email, and RSVPs for conference events, since I didn’t have them register through the NCPTW.info portal.
- Share draft of conference program with venue coordinators to make sure that the room setups will work.
- Publish conference program as soon as possible online, so that people can finalize travel plans. If it is a draft, make certain to watermark it with DRAFT so that people are aware that there might be changes. But try to make as few changes as possible.
- Work on publishable program—whether online or on paper, or some combination thereof. Get it posted online as soon as possible, as some people will print early versions and not be aware of changes.
- Walk through venue space and imagine it as though you hadn’t seen it before: What will visitors need to know?
- Send email to attendees, with any updates/news you want them to know.
- Try to purchase everything you will need about three weeks before the conference, and start putting things in boxes with items grouped with like things that need to go to the same locations. (Your office and/or center is going to be crowded!)
- Write up directions for volunteers at different positions, especially for the Registration/Info desk. Send emails to volunteers as soon as the volunteer descriptions have gelled reasonably well.
- Make name tags. There are lots of options for making name tags out there, most of which are pretty pricey and probably fancier than what people really need. We found that the Avery 74459 badges were the best deal: alphabetize the Excel list by last name, print in a laser printer, and have peer tutors separate the tags and insert them into plastic badges on an off hour in the center.
- Send emails to any vendors, letting them know what the vendor table space is like and when to set up.
- Enjoy the conference!
- Pack up after the conference
- Write thank yous
- Clean up budget
- Create post-conference survey
- Write up notes for next year’s chair, including updates to this note! Forward your notes to the Web Editor for publication.