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The Process: How We Choose Speakers for BlogWorld

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Apparently the BlogWorld community is voyeuristic and enjoys the behind the scenes look at how we put the conference together. You’re especially interested in how we choose our speakers, which I’m happy to share. It has nothing to do with transparency, however. I just have a big mouth. Mr. Ng calls it diarrhea of the word processor.

Now, this is my first year as Conference Director, so I can’t tell you how it’s been done in the past. I can’t even tell you if my way is the best way to go about doing it. What I can tell you is that this is a continuous learning process and that working with Rick, Dave, Nikki, Patti, Chris and the rest of the BlogWorld team is such a pleasure that it minimizes any unpleasantness, such as having to turn away speakers.

Receiving Speaking Proposals

I know a lot of people think I receive proposals as they come in, but that’s not the case. I sometimes only see them a couple of days to a week after they come in.

After potential speakers fill out the speaker proposal form, they go to Hanley Wood who is helping us to organize BlogWorld this year. One of our friends at HW will send me a spreadsheet every few days with the newest proposals listed.  Once a week, I request a master list of all the speaker proposals to check against my smaller lists and ensure I have everyone’s proposals so far.

At first I was worried because I only received one or two submissions each day. In the last two weeks before deadline however, I received a couple of hundred.  You’re last minute, but you come through.

Narrowing it Down

BlogWorld has several tracks. Some of the speakers for the tracks are determined by the BlogWorld team, but others are determined by the track leaders. For example, Jim Kukral, the track leader for the monetization track, had his track planned long before we opened our submission form.  We added a few additional panels, but for the most part it was his baby. The real estate, milblogging, food, travel, sports and travel tracks are also determined by the track leader. I’ll send them proposals for the niche, but they mostly seek out speakers on their own. Some of the tracks have committees helping to determine the content. For example, the Social Media Business Summit, is made up of an eight member committee who chooses the best content from all our proposals based on recommendations from the BlogWorld team.

So how do we narrow it down?

It’s actually quite primitive. I go through the spreadsheet and read all the proposals, making notes as I go. Very few are truly awful, but if they are, I send the owners my now famous form letter. If I like them, I color code each talk by track. If I’m not sure how I feel about them, I leave them be. Every now and then I send my spreadsheet to Rick and Dave and we arrange for a conference call.

Our calls, which can last up to three hours, aren’t as tedious as you might imagine because I’m working with the comedy team of Rick and Dave. A typical meeting will include bad impressions of the Govenator, screaming kids in the background, and references to
Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. It may sound silly to you, but anyone who has ever sat in a strategy meeting for an entire afternoon will appreciate the levity.

We go through the spreadsheet item by item and approve the best content. Some proposals that I didn’t like, Rick or Dave liked, and vice versa. As this is my first year doing this, their input is important. I’m basing my opinion on that of a three-time (soon to be four) attendee, while Rick and Dave look at it from a business standpoint. I think we’re a good team.

Extras…

In addition to choosing from submitted propsoals, our talks also lead to the creation of panels that weren’t suggested but that we feel will rock. For example, a couple of bloggers who became millionaires after selling their blogs will teach you how to do the same. (I’m sorry to say I’m not on that panel. )

Also…

Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett are also putting together a ProBlogger track for Thursday. They’re handling those sessions on their own and I hope to have details for you shortly.

Deb’s Amazing Technicolor Spreadsheet

At the end of our meeting, I’m faced with a spreadsheet filled with lots of colors but mostly brown, indicating the proposal is a fit for the Social Media Business Summit. All the SMBS proposals are sent to the committee with our notes and recommendations and we’ll have a talk this week to discuss which 25 or so to pick out of over 100 proposals. The same will happen for some of the other tracks. Unfortunately, during our “narrowing down” process, I also had to turn many of the proposed sessions red, meaning they weren’t accepted. I send notices out right away for these as I don’t like to leave anyone hanging. It’s the most difficult and painful part of the gig.

Now I’m left to figure out how to narrow down the best of the best. I still have a couple of hundred approved talks (not counting SMBS) and fewer than 100 spaces to put them.

The Grid

I have a blank copy of the BlogWorld schedule to work with that includes the times and rooms for each session. During our meetings, it’s obvious by our enthusiasm some proposals and speakers are clear winners. These are the talks getting the first consideration as I play with my Grid.

Right now, I’m working proposed sessions into the grid. I’m separating my spreadsheet by color and seeing which talks fit the best for each track. The talks receiving the best response from the team get a place on the grid. Those that don’t will probably get the dreaded form letter. This is the hardest part because  we don’t have space for everything. For example, the content track will include four sessions but we received a dozen killer proposals. So we’re loading the schedule with the content we feel you most want to see and have to make some difficult decision about the rest. At this point anything that isn’t accepted for BlogWorld is only because we didn’t have space and had to choose the best of the best.

And that, my friends, is how it’s done

Through this process I learned that some methods work and some things will have to change for next year. I’ll tell you what though, the BlogWorld community is filled with smart, creative, talented and innovative people.  This job is truly an honor and I hope you know that I don’t take this responsibility lightly. I’m not pushing to get my friends in, nor am I choosing sessions to kiss up to “gurus” or curry favors. Every session we choose is with the attendees in mind and decisions we make are in no way personal.

Finally, for those of you who are still emailing proposals in hopes that I can sneak you or your clients in past the deadline, please stop. I’m not going to give anyone special treatment.

I hope that after you see the schedule and attend BlogWorld you’ll offer your feedback. It’s important to receive your thoughts in order to bring you the content that educates and enlightens. We also want to give you bang for your buck, we know it’s not a cheap ticket and hope you’re going to receive your money’s worth… and more. Please take the time to fill out all the information sheets that are left for you after each talk. You’re also welcome to email me at debatblogworldexpodotcom to offer feedback before, during and after the conference.

Now, are there any questions?

Deb Ng is the Conference Director for BlogWorld and blogs about blogging and social media at Kommein. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @debng.


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