How to Conquer a Call for Speakers: Three Leading Tech Conferences Weigh In

Sep 1, 2016

By Tamara Franklin

Speaking at industry trade shows is a strategic move that can land you everything from new business leads, increased sales and media coverage to Thought Leadership status for your executives. Perhaps you’ve submitted paper after paper, only to be rejected time and time again. Let us give you the inside track.

We asked three of the top shows in the mobile, IoT and security industriescall_for_speakers.jpg how to crack the code. Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile conference in the world with nearly 101,000 attendees from 204 countries; Smart Cities, where more than 150 speakers gather to discuss their vision for the future with connectivity and sustainability in mind; and RSA Conference, the leading information security conference, drawing 45,000+ attendees each year, each pitched in to offer a few tips on how to make it past the trade show gatekeepers to land a coveted speaking slot.

What are three specific things you look for when evaluating speaking/paper submissions?          

For mega shows like Mobile World Congress, star power is top of mind, and big name speakers and companies are on their wish list, however, lesser-known speakers have a shot too. The key: speaking abstracts should provide clear articulation of a market trend and problem impacting a large number of markets, as well as evidence of that market impact. Ideally, the impact should go well beyond mobile telecoms, given the pervasiveness of mobile connectivity on industry and society. MWC also has an eye out for originality of content, both of the solution and how it’s presented.

Over at Smart Cities, show organizers ask themselves one question: “Is this someone our target audience will pay to hear speak?” It's that simple. Beyond that, it’s also important to support the event in order to be considered for a speaking opportunity. Exhibitors and sponsors have first dibs on the main stage.

When reviewing speaking submissions, the RSA Conference Program Committee looks for three things: 

  1. Timeliness and interest in the topic – How does it tie into security issues, trends and events over the year? Is it “dream track” worthy?
  2. Technical level – The average RSA Conference attendee has nine+ years’ experience in the security industry and is looking for technical and high-level strategic information and demonstrations.
  3. A unique approach to the topic – It’s important to recognize that your peers could be submitting proposals on a similar topic. Consider ways to make your submission stand out from the crowd.

What can companies do to increase their chances of their abstract being selected?           

Mobile World Congress reiterates the importance of identifying a market issue or trend and providing clear stats on the problem and the solution. It’s also highly recommended to ensure that your topic falls within MWC’s conference themes.

In order to land a speaking slot at Smart Cities, companies need to be self-aware about who they are and how they can meet the needs of conference attendees, as opposed to their investors. The key is to be market-focused, not product-focused. And if the organizers haven't heard of your company, don’t be afraid to tell them why. As for RSA Conference, well thought out, complete, unique submissions are rewarded. Direct experiences, breaking research and “war stories” from practitioners tend to score highly with the judges.

What should submitters absolutely avoid when submitting an application?  

According to Mobile World Congress, it’s best to steer clear of PR clichés such as best-of-breed, leading provider, next generation, etc. There’s no room for vacuous verbosity in the submission process. Also, not indexing a submission properly can result in a lost speaking opportunity. A show the size of MWC receives well over 2,000 submissions each year. Ensure that organizers are easily able to file and reference yours quickly.

Smart Cities suggests if you have new technology, highlight that first, but then quickly move on.  Conference organizers want to know about the impact of your technology, not the details of the technology itself.

At RSA Conference, incomplete submissions are the No. 1 reason proposals are rejected. Other red flags include sales pitches, words such as “sales,” “business development,” and “marketing”, multiple submissions on the same topic, a lack of session detail and leaving out the presenter’s title and experience.

Does timing matter? Do you start reviewing applications before the deadline?

For Mobile World Congress, timing only matters in the last few weeks; from September onwards is crunch time for show organizers. For RSA Conference, all submissions are reviewed equally, regardless of when they are submitted, as they do not begin reviewing applications until after the official deadline passes.

So there you have it, three unique perspectives from three different shows. What each conference has in common is the desire for submissions that leave no doubt what your session will cover and why your unique perspective makes you the one to speak on that topic. Making sure your submission is heard above the noise of the thousands of others vying for the same slot is the most important obstacle between you and a willing audience.

Download our white paper for more tips on how to shine at your next trade show.

Topics: Thought Leadership, Trade shows, call for papers, call for speakers