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How I Find and Select Speakers for Events

Over the past 6 years, Cascade has sold out hundreds of events, attendees leave happy and always come back. I’m often asked, “How do I recruit new speakers for my event?” I’m sure there are many ways do it, but here’s my method: I invest in people. I want to make sure if you’re coming out after work, or spending 30 minutes watching a YouTube video, it’s worth your time. If a speaker goes on stage, it’s because they genuinely care about something and want to share it with people. Here’s how I find and recruit speakers and scout out presentations.

What I look for in a speaker

I always choose speakers who care deeply about their subject. Speakers participate to share their knowledge, grow, and develop new leadership skills. I give my speakers autonomy, and try not to micromanage, but I also want to make sure the talk is succinct and clear. I prefer to work with speakers I like. People attend Cascade events to learn. I’m not throwing you on stage to simply promote your product. You’re going on stage to educate the audience and inspire them to follow your work. This is a win-win situation.

You’re going on stage to educate the audience and inspire them to follow your work. This is a win-win situation.

I don’t only find people with big names from big companies to fill up the program. I‘d rather focus on talented people who know their stuff and will work hard to go the extra mile. They go above and beyond to make sure they are delivering the best presentation for themselves, because they know that it will help them and their career, and guide others to be more involved in the space. Choose people who passionate, excited, and really eager to learn new things.

What to avoid

Most people are awesome. If there is ever a miscommunication, I blame myself, because I should have been clear enough to articulate what we are looking for.

I prefer to avoid people who won’t collaborate, those who are uncommunicative, or take a while to respond to emails. Please don’t wait until the last minute and have things done “tomorrow”. Be proactive, not defensive. Stay open to suggestions or feedback. Please give me feedback too.

Out of hundreds of events, I’ve had only one instance where an uncommunicative speaker surprised me with a fantastic talk. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the time when they wait until the last minute, or they don’t respond to emails, they end up giving an unprepared, boring talk, or they end up cancelling at the last minute. I understand you don’t have a lot of time, but if you are going to give a talk at my event, we must have a few check points – especially you are new to public speaking. And it is my job to set that up and think it through.

Putting together a talk is hard work, but I can guide you. You just have to be willing to work with me. Most speakers are excited to collaborate, and granted, I go a lot further than most event organizers. I won’t put just anyone on stage – I want it to be worth watching. I’ll mirror the amount of energy you put in, and if a speaker doesn’t make the cut, I’ll make other arrangements. I hate to do this last minute, but it happens sometimes and I do whatever needs to be done so people leave the event happy.

How I find speakers

I’m not afraid to ask. I’ve built up a network and a name, but I still run into times where I don’t get an immediate response and have to dig deeper. If nobody’s biting, I’m clearer with the request, or I’ll change the topic to something broader.

To find speakers, I’ll go on LinkedIn, on Medium, on Twitter, and ask people what they want to learn. I ask if anyone wants to teach about “this subject”. Sometimes I’ll get a response, and other times it will be more difficult.

The key to effective speaker recruiting is research. I want to make sure this is a topic everyone is interested in, and that there’s a wealth of knowledge surrounding this specific genre.

Going Further: What makes a successful tech talk?

People want to hear a story that they connect with or a way it affects lives. They want to understand the task or a product in a human way. The narrative shouldn’t be over-fluffed, but should have some emotional pull to lure people in.

A basic formula for putting together a technical or skill-based presentation is to explain the problem in a human way, tell the “why” you care about this technology, then show how to implement it.

Content is Everything.

Make your content rich. Do your research. Learn and have fun.

Always be learning.

Overall, you get what you put in. I put in 1000% in everything I do, and I choose to do it wisely. I do a lot of research, learn from smart people, and I’m always open to feedback. I want to grow and improve. I learn from my mistakes, and attract people who are like-minded. I always put myself out there and take chances. The clearer I am about my expectations and desire to put on an effective program, the more likely I will attract the right people to speak.

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Andi Galpern

Andi Galpern

Founder of @cascadesf, a UX organization in San Francisco, CA. Former @adobe. Part of @womentechmakers

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