Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Few Surprising Facts about the 2014 Lean Startup Call for Speakers

Post written by Sarah Milstein & Eric Ries, co-hosts for The Lean Startup Conference

We’re seeking speakers we don’t already know for this year’s Lean Startup Conference, December 10 -11 in San Francisco. Our call for proposals is open now, and if you know already that you want to apply, jump to it (but read the directions first!).

If you’ve never applied to speak at The Lean Startup Conference before—or never even considered it before—here are a few things to keep in mind, some of them surprising:

You don’t have to be on the speaking circuit already. In fact, we’re psyched if you’re not a seasoned speaker. What we care about is the business experience you have to share, not the speaking experience. In other words, if you’ve applied Lean Startup techniques at your company, and you have advice or a story about your work that will help other entrepreneurs, we want to hear from you. While we’ll have a few speakers who are long-time Lean Startup experts, we’re primarily interested in case studies from people we don’t already know.

We don’t favor speakers we know personally. We aim to use the most meritocratic processes we can to find and evaluate speakers. That is to say: We don’t pick our speakers because they’re our friends or because they’re big names; we pick them because they have absolutely useful advice to share. In addition, we assess 95% of them via our call for proposals, which helps guide and standardize the submissions so that we’re comparing apples to apples (and not, for example, evaluating one proposal based on the recommendation of a mutual friend and another based on a video of the speaker from another conference).

Since we started focusing on fairness, a welcome though not surprising result is that we’ve regularly fielded a roster of excellent speakers that comprises more than 50% women and/or people of color. (In the past, the roster was nearly all white men, as those were the entrepreneurs Eric knew personally; they were very good speakers, too. But we now go much deeper into startup communities, finding speakers you won’t necessarily have heard elsewhere.)

Actually, we pre-select a very few. What about that other 5%? Full transparency: We do invite back particularly strong speakers from year to year, and we very occasionally invite entrepreneurs we meet out in the wild who strike us an unusually good fit for The Lean Startup Conference. We readily acknowledge that one of our best speakers in 2012 and 2013 was Sarah’s brother. We keep inviting him back because other entrepreneurs tell us they learn so much from him, not because he’s related to one of us.

We offer free speaker training. We do a lot of hands-on work with speakers to help ensure that your presentation really resonates with our audience. That includes, but is not limited to, both group and individual speaker training. If you’re a new speaker, this is a great opportunity to get some very good guidance (it’s also a great opportunity if you’re an experienced speaker; last year, some of our most avid trainees were our most accomplished presenters).

We’ll cover your travel costs. This year for the first time, we’re offering travel assistance for any speaker whose companies can’t cover it. We are ourselves a startup, and this represents a significant chunk of our budget, but we want to bring in speakers regardless of their own companies’ finances. (We also give all speakers a full Platinum Pass to the conference, but that ought to go without saying. If you register now to get the best price, and we subsequently pick you as a speaker, we’ll refund your ticket.)  

Our call for proposals has a lot of directions—but the form itself is short. Don’t be daunted by the first page of the call, which has a lot of information that we ask you to take in. Those directions will help you submit a successful proposal, and they include links to some of our favorite talks from last year, for inspiration.

This year, we’ve come up with the questions our attendees most want answered—so you don’t have to do that part. All you need to do is figure out where you can offer relevant advice or a case study, and fill out the application form accordingly.

The call for proposals is open until 11:59p PT on June 12, and we encourage you to apply today. If you’re not interested in speaking but you know you want to attend the conference, register now for the best prices.

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