Lost Art of INVITING Speakers

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Lost Art of INVITING Speakers

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You’ve all seen them. A conference puts out a generic Call for Speakers or Call for Papers with a link to a website. Then perhaps sends a few email reminders and posts about the upcoming deadline. The expectation is that everyone—

  • Is aware of the website;

  • Has a clear idea to share;

  • ·Understands how to write a clear and compelling submission;

  • Has the incentive, courage, and time to do it;

  • And has the patience to wait for (most of the time) a polite decline letter that provides no

Then the deadline expires, the database is analyzed, and a program emerges.  

But often these same conference committees complain about the lack of diversity in their speakers. Or complain about the “same old voices” submitting. Or just complain.

I remember a time, in 2010, when John Fodeh was the program chair of the EuroSTAR Conference. That year it was being held in Copenhagen, Denmark. If you’re not aware of it, EuroSTAR is a software testing centric conference. At the time, I was lightly aware of it, but I would not have thought of submitting a talk.

John reached out and invited me to do a keynote. Something that I had not done before. And he invited me to deliver a few half-day workshops as well.

He connected to me via my Software Endgames book that I’d published in 2004. While I was speaking at testing conferences, it was a “stretch” for John to reach out to me. One that surprised, frightened, and delighted me, all at the same time.

At the time, I’m not sure I appreciated the effort he put forth to reach out to me and work with me on crafting my talks at the conference. He helped me refine my topics, themes, and ideas. And he boosted my confidence along the way. In a way, he was a shepherd for me. Gently guiding me into his vision for the overall conference themes. And he was very generous with his time.

I believe today’s conference organizers need to look back as a way of moving forward and perhaps follow John’s example.

The traditional Call for Submissions is not inclusive enough. It doesn’t invest sufficient effort in thinking broadly about possible invitations. It doesn’t invite new voices nor reach out to new communities. And it certainly does not mentor or shepherd them forward.

I know, I know, but it’s EASY. It would be so hard to personalize the craft of pulling a program together by actually mining for new voices and stretching out to be more inclusive.

But you know what. That’s too bad. If we want more—

Then passive solicitation of presentations for your program isn’t good enough. It’s too impersonal. And, quite frankly, it’s a lazy approach.

If you want more ideas, more vibrancy, more inclusion, more energy, and more excitement, then reach out and do more invitation…and more shepherding.

I think you’ll be amazed at what emerges.

And, John, thank you for extending my invitation. I’m not sure I ever truly thanked you for your incredibly generous offer and your gift of time.

Stay agile my friends,


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