Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Who, Me? Present at a Conference? ~Christy Mihaly

A conversation with Kathy Halsey

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Kathy Halsey

Kathy Halsey has blogged with GROG for almost ten years now (have we mentioned? GROG is celebrating our 10th anniversary this year!). Kathy is an author who also has volumes of wisdom from her decades as an educator, librarian, and presenter. She recently moderated a panel of children's authors at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention – which is a Big Deal. 

When I learned that Kathy offers consulting services to assist authors and others in creating winning conference proposals, I had to know more. If you're a teacher, librarian, or author, you probably have questions about this. Kathy has answers! Here's what I learned when Kathy and I sat down to talk about how authors can break into the conference scene. Kathy got my brain spinning with ideas – see if the same thing happens to you! 

✔ Start Small

Kathy's advice for newbie presenters is to seek opportunities to present at local or state level events and smaller venues to gain experience, confidence, and a resume of presentations. For example:

Smaller groups that might be looking for speakers include: 

  • your local SCBWI chapter 

  • your local parent-teacher organization

  •  your local library 

Medium-size or state level opportunities include: 

  • nErDcamps, which are more informal gatherings of teachers and writers and sometimes have organized panels as well as less structured conversations. 

  • State or county library associations

  • State or local literacy organizations

  • State level teachers conventions

Kathy presenting locally

The Big Deals include: 

  • NCTE (English teachers)

  • NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies)

  • NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)

  • ALA (American Library Association)

  • Other major STEAM conferences

✔ Attend conferences

If there's a conference you might be interested in presenting at, consider attending it first. It costs money, but you'll have the chance to watch, learn, network, and observe the presenters. Pay attention to how the event is organized, and what makes a presentation stand out. 

Plus, connections! I recently attended the Vermont Association for the Social Studies because I wanted to meet teachers who share my passion for  teaching civics. I made some great connections (the "cool teachers") and learned about what's happening in civics education in my area.

✔ Plan ahead

For national conventions, themes are announced and proposals are due well in advance of the event. The 2024 NCTE theme has been announced and proposals are due this month – for the conference in November. If you're an author with a book in the pipeline, start thinking about an appropriate conference where you might like to make a presentation related to your forthcoming book. Kathy recommends starting to plan two years before publication.

Ellen Leventhal,Kathy, Nancy Churnin, Vivian Kirkfield, Pam Courtney, NCTE

✔ Identify what the organizers need 

In preparing a proposal, you want to give your host or the event organizers what they need. Kathy has the inside scoop on what conference organizers are seeking because she has organized conferences herself. As the vice president of OELMA, the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, Kathy created the schedule and handled the logistics for a 3-day statewide conference. 

So – research your hosts. What is the theme for the event? Do you have a topic that dovetails with that? Who is the audience? What are their expectations? If it's a major event, you can probably find prior years' presentations online.

In particular, Kathy points out that in most cases organizers want to see a clear take-away from your proposal. That is, after your presentation, attendees will have a new skill, or they'll be able to present a new classroom program, etc.

The money question

I've been paid for an SCBWI presentation and received a stipend for a keynote speech at a state Department of Libraries event, as well as payments for smaller library events. But many speaking and conference opportunities are unpaid. Kathy points out that the sponsoring organizations are nonprofits that rely on revenues from their annual conference to balance their books. 

In fact, if you're presenting at NCTE, for example, you must actually pay as an attendee at the conference, along with hotels and other expenses. Sometimes there is a reduced rate for presenters. Sometimes, your publisher might agree to pay your expenses. But generally, it's unpaid work. Which leads to the next question . . . 

. . . Why do it?

Presenting your work and your ideas publicly offers many advantages. You're getting your name out there, of course. Speaking at events establishes you as a serious professional with an area of expertise (perhaps it's the subject of your book, or poetry writing, or motivating reluctant readers, for instance). Doing presentations helps you meet people who share your interests, and expand your network. And often you'll have a chance to sell books. Some may disagree, but to me, these aspects of presenting feel like important parts of being an author -- sharing books and ideas.

Kathy Provides a Peek at Two Accepted Presentation Proposals

Kathy, here. I’m blushing at all the kind comments Christy shared, thank you, Christy! (BTW, her interviews are so thorough. Must be that lawyer background.) 

[We’re not done chatting yet. Look for us to chat about school visits here on GROG on March 28.] 

If you're interested in proposing a presentation, then reading accepted presentations, whether small or “big deals,” is like learning from mentor texts. Read, observe active verbs and what the takeaway for attendees is. 

I’ll share two examples here.

Example 1:

Ohio Educational Library Association Presentation (State presentation, 2019) 

The STEAM of Picture Books: Inquiry into Picture Book Creation

by Kathy Halsey

Picture books go beyond typical literacy constructs. They are the heart of many STEAM elements: design process, art as object, visuals, and economics. An inquiry-based model of examining picture books will be demonstrated by a professional children's writer to empower learners as effective users and creators of picture books in many formats and genres.

Methods to engage students with mentor texts that showcase STEAM across disciplines, and a model for examining picture books as professional writers do will be presented. Attendees will leave with resources to collaborate with kid lit writers in partnerships to extend the power of the medium.

Example 2: 

NCTE 2023 Presentation by Pam Courtney, Nancy Churnin, Kathy Halsey, Vivian Kirkfield, and Ellen Leventhal

Growing a Mighty Forest of Writers: Nurturing Young Writers in Collaborative Networks of Teachers, Children, and Authors

Teachers and authors share a root system, like Pando, the massive grove of quaking aspens. Networking together, we can nourish, protect, and provide a strong foundation to help students find their unique voices within a collaborative writing community. Panel members provide writing processes based on NCTE research that employs authentic purpose, topics, and revision in a safe environment.

Audience Level: Elementary           Session Type: Panel Presentation

Strand: Early Childhood Education Presenters: Tradebook Author/Illustrator

I’m including last year’s NCTE link here so our readers can compare the conference theme to how we crafted and worded our submission.


We hope this has been helpful, whether you're contemplating attending a conference or thinking there might be a conference presentation in your future!

Please add your tips on conferences or your questions in the comments so we can help each other. Thanks for visiting GROG.

Kathy Halsey serves on the State Library of Ohio's "Choose to Read Ohio" program and as Ohio SCBWI Central/South region’s co-ARA. Her move-the-shapes board book, BE A RAINBOW, releases fall 2024 with KiwiCo Press. Kathy enjoys gardening and writing haiku. Her haiku has been featured on the Poetry Pea podcast and in poetry journals. In November 2023, she moderated and presented an NCTE panel encouraging teachers to Grow a Mighty Forest of Writers. She is a former K-12 school librarian and seventh grade English teacher who lives in Columbus, OH with her husband and silly Corgi Scrappy Doo.


  1. Great post from a dynamic duo! And what a wonderful way to kick off the celebration of 10 years of the GROG!

    1. Thanks so much, Sue. When we work together, great things happen!

  2. The two of you are a dynamic duo! Thank you so much, Kathy!

    1. Thanks for reading and your kind words, Annette.

  3. Great interview! Congrats, Kathy, on your new "business"!

  4. You're on the go, Kathy...getting your name out there. And now encouraging others to apply for speaking gigs.Great interview with so many resources. Thanks for all the info woman!

    1. Aww, thank you, too. love how you palyed w/my knickname!

  5. Thank you so much for putting the approach to conferences - big and small - in perspective! I appreciate this post so much.

    1. Hi Shaunda, thank you for reaidng my post and your comments
      My theory is, if we're new to this, it's always best to start in the "shallow end" and not go for the "high dive" first.

  6. This is excellent, Kathy and Christy. Thank you for this post, and Yay, Kathy, that you're helping other writers succeed in conference presentations through Ask Infowoman!

    1. Thanks, Beth. I am so grateful for your support.

  7. I could swear I'd just added a comment. This is such an excellent post, Kathy and Christy! Yay, Kathy! I'm so glad you're helping other writers succeed with conference proposals and presentations through Ask Infowoman!