This post was originally written for BoS US, but we are using exactly the same process to select speakers for BoSUK, so it seemed relevant.
So many people have asked us how we select speakers, or how they propose speakers for Business of Software Conference that we thought we would offer some thoughts that are relevant, not just to Business of Software specifically, but to any approach or submission to a conference. We have seen some terrible proposals and some brilliant ones. What are the common characteristics? We get several hundred proposals a year. How can you stand out?
If you would like to be considered as a speaker for Business of Software, please READ THIS CAREFULLY before you send a proposal or idea as we don’t want you to be frustrated and we cannot deal with the amount of inappropriate inbound inquiries for speaking. We don’t have speaker submission deadlines but we have a very limited number of speaking slots and so we try to craft a coherent set of talks rather than fill the slots. If that means the final slot is filled two weeks prior to the event, so be it. Sometimes these things take time.
Business of Software isn’t like some conferences that seem to measure their value by (a) the number of speakers and sessions or (b) the number of attendees. We think these are absurd vanity metrics. Over two days, there are around 12 speakers. We try to curate a balance of perspectives that cover all aspects of growing a successful software business – culture, people, marketing strategy, growth, staying sane, sales – that are not necessarily covered well at other conferences where the emphasis is often on technology and finance.
For each speaker, we probably review at least 15 hours of talks – in person, online via video etc. We choose a speaker line up that we hope will cover the things that our customers want to know about. this often means making VERY hard decisions to cut potentially brilliant speakers if we are already covering the topic they want to talk about.
In short, the best proposals/ideas are short, to the point, evidence skill as an entrepreneur and speaker, address a point with clear takeaways for the audience and are ‘lucky’ in that they fit the conference agenda. The worst ones, don’t.
Here are some guidelines for submitting talk ideas that are specific to Business of Software Conference but having spoken to a lot of other conference organisers, this might give you the extra edge in getting a speaking slot at other events too.
This is really simple.
• SUBMIT a short idea for a talk if you want to give the talk yourself, not on behalf of someone else.
In 100 words or so, let us know who you are, what you want to talk about, why you have a unique or special insight into the issue and what our customers will take away from your talk. Why are you passionate about this?
[This is the format we prefer, respect the format that the conference asks for].
• SUBMIT a link to at least one video of you speaking
It doesn’t have to be a video of you giving the talk you propose but definitely don’t send a link to a panel discussion where you feature in passing. We want to get a sense of style, passion and content. It is exceedingly rare for a great speaker to have nothing online.
We like to be loved and we like to think we are getting the attention of the person we would be working with for something that we take as much trouble to put together as Business of Software. It is always great to see some evidence that the person proposing the talk has a clue what our conference talks about.
[Other events may not insist on video but if you have it, you will get double points].
• DO NOT SUBMIT an idea for a panel discussion, or apply to be on a panel.
Business of Software doesn’t do panels. It never has and has no plans to do so in the future. This usually means someone doesn’t understand what we do and hasn’t bothered to do the research. We have so many approaches like this we can’t respond to them all. We don’t want to upset people but we just don’t have the time to enter into the discussions – “But you should do panels!”, “But my CEO has a great story to tell”, “Their material is better in a panel format” etc. All great but please respect our format.
Our experience has been that people submitting panels don’t usually have a clue what Business of Software is about. Not surprisingly, this counts against you.
[Respect the event you are applying to. If it that obvious you don’t have a clue what it is about and how it works, don’t expect the event producer to waste effort in responding].
• DO NOT SUBMIT a speaking idea on behalf of your CEO especially if you are in marketing
(Or even worse, ‘one of our senior executive team’). It doesn’t make us feel special, it doesn’t make us think your CEO/senior exec team member/whoever, has a clue who we are, why we exist and what our customers want to know about. We cannot recall a single time when the opportunity to put someone on stage to hear about the launch of the new cloud-enabled (or whatever) version of some piece of software is launched has appealed to us. Ever. Sorry. Our experiences of this happening have almost always been sub-optimal in other events.
(And I say this as someone who is, ‘in marketing’. It does not mean if you are in marketing and have something relevant to say that could be exciting, then approach us about that. Just don’t ask your boss to do it for you – we strongly prefer one-to-one interaction with the speaker, not a 3rd party).
Business of Software has never, to my knowledge, booked a speaker on the basis of an approach from a company’s marketing department or PR Agency. We are human beings so we can’t help but recognise patterns. Sorry.
[There are lots of events that love working with marketing teams. Even those events are likely to take a direct approach from a CEO with a higher level of seriousness.]
• DO NOT send abusive notes about our lack of intelligence if you don’t get selected.
Seriously, don’t. It moves you from, ‘Interesting, wish we could fit them in this time but will call first next year’, to ‘Doofus’.
We get inundated with applications to speak, we miss a huge number of great speakers every year and this makes us sad mainly because we know so many potential speakers are both brilliant but don’t fit the agenda we have. Speaking slots aren’t like software, I can’t just sell more at zero incremental cost. We are always open to engaging with potential speakers through guest blogs too.
[I suspect this is the case with other events too.]