One of the criticisms that we see levelled against conference after conference is that they’ve become a bit of an old boys’ club. It’s a tricky situation. No one’s going to get too excited by line up entirely composed of “the usual suspects,” giving the same talk that they’ve been working the circuit with for months on end.
At the same time, big names can be perceived to lend events (and especially newer events) a certain degree of kudos, and are probably responsible for shifting a fair amount of tickets for you. Aside from anything, as an event producer, it’s nice to know that you’ve got a tried and tested, experienced presenter up on stage.
But although your schedule will almost always benefit from the addition of some household names, new blood is essential. New talent means new ideas, different presenting styles, fresh attitudes. But how do you integrate inexperienced speakers to your event? How do you find these new speakers in the first place? Here are a few ideas to consider…
A Clear Call Out
It’s something of a no-brainer, but if you’re putting out a general call for talk submissions, make sure you make it very clear that first-time speakers are welcomed and encouraged. It takes a fair amount of courage and confidence to put your name forward to speak at an event in any instance, so helping to allay the fear that they need masses of previous experience to be considered removes at least one barrier for would-be speakers.
Micro Talk Sessions
Some of the best of the next generation of speakers might well be sitting in your audience. You already know that your crowd is interested in the kind of topics that your conference is covering. By reaching out to them and providing the opportunity for some kind of micro talk sessions, be it in the breaks of your schedule or as a pre-event “warm up” party, you not only show fellow attendees how much they can learn from each other, you also get a sneak preview of the superstar speakers of the future.
Dedicated “New Speaker” Schedule Spots
Having certain speaking slots specifically earmarked for those giving their conference debut can be a great way of showcasing fresh talent, in a way that draws positive attention to your support of new speakers. Start as you mean to go on; it’s important to make sure that speakers taking these slots are treated in exactly the same way you’d treat your rock stars. In my experience, depending on the topic, these sessions can actually draw bigger crowds than the established names!
Finding Talented Speakers
If you’re looking for a speaker with a little experience under their belt already, personal recommendations are invaluable. At most events there’s a stand-out speaker — a wild card that really wowed people. So get into the habit of asking friends and colleagues who’ve recently attended conferences which their favourite session was, then raiding the hashtag archives to see how many other attendees agreed! With more and more events recording their sessions, these videos can be a really helpful way of getting a taste of someone’s presenting style, to see if you think they’d be a good fit for your own event.
To summarise, don’t be afraid to give serious thought to newbies when it comes to planning your event line up, and to celebrate and publicise their place in your conference. The grass is greenest where you water it, and we can only benefit from providing these opportunities for people. We owe it to our community to provide a platform for newer voices, who keep challenging the status quo and injecting the excitement that a little unfamiliarity brings.