Serving as the 2016 IABC Program Advisory Committee (PAC) chair has brought many revelations. One very important one is that being an IABC member and a long-time volunteer is not enough to ensure my place as a speaker.
I’ve submitted to speak to World Conference many times and been refused on numerous occasions; even as I speak frequently for other organizations, chapters and my region. I used to think that my long service in many different roles should have influenced my selection. One of the reasons I agreed to this last-minute assignment was to more fully understand the process. Now I do.
My PAC team – which is a remarkably talented group! – comes from 15 different time zones. There are millennials, mid-career professionals and very senior practitioners. There are people from corporate, consulting, not-for-profits and government. We even have several non-members to help us better understand what brings non-members into the fold.
These are the amazing people who evaluated the nearly 200 submissions received. This week, I’ve fielded many emails from the disappointed speakers who did not receive an invitation to present.
How the process works
Every proposal is submitted online. Prospective speakers are asked to provide session titles, descriptions, value/benefit explanation, along with their biographies, references and supporting documentation that helps us understand their skills as a presenter/instructor. Submitters are asked to consider a variety of concerns, such as the Global Standard, Career Paths and the conference theme.
Each submission is reviewed by at least two evaluators. Each is scored based on various elements related to content and presentation skills. Evaluators are able to comment on the submissions they review. Then begins a complicated process of identifying the short list of speakers to invite, considering these elements:
- Session type (e.g., traditional, workshop, IABC talk, speed presentation)
- Speaker locations
- Scores and evaluator comments
We also looked at who had spoken at the prior two conferences so as not to repeat too many of the same faces. This is in response to attendees who want to see fresh, new ideas from new faces. If we consider a speaker who has spoken recently, we review recent ratings for that speaker.
If we can’t discern the prospective speaker’s presentation skills, we may follow up with references to understand more about delivery style. Video clips help tremendously here. Only a small fraction of submitters even submitted a video clip. Evaluators often search online for these.
There are always some who decline the invitation, which sends us back to the backup list to fill such gaps. This means that a rude/inappropriate response to the initial decline doesn’t help your case for a secondary invitation. Remember, the speaker slate isn’t done until every speaker is under contract.
What it comes down to
In the end, here are my top take aways from the experience thus far:
- Evaluators may not know the prospective speaker personally. Even past chairs and Fellows may not be well recognized for their important role. Being a long-time member and/or volunteer really gives a submitter no edge.
- Submitters who do not provide clear demonstration of their speaking skills and ability will suffer lower scores. Slides alone cannot provide evaluators this level of information. Video is the best way, but providing exercises, methodology, handouts, tools, etc., can make up for a lack of video evidence.
- A high rating with one topic at the prior year’s conference is no guarantee that your new topic will make it through the PAC process. Last year’s rating is a secondary metric. If a submitter fails to impress with the new topic (e.g., vague description, poor supporting documentation), his/her score will not elevate the proposal to the short list.
- Every submitter believes his/her topic is the most important – I always thought this too – and is incredulous when it isn’t picked. What they don’t know is that there may be many other similar presentations submitted. The most competitive tracks are Employee Engagement and Leadership and Strategy. If you submit in one of these, your chances of getting selected are smaller because these are the tracks with the most submissions.
So what is really important in this process? According to the PAC’s charge, it is these considerations, in this order:
- Global representation
Clearly, many prospective speakers do not understand how to submit a great proposal. I certainly wasn’t submitting the greatest proposals. To support prospective speakers we are going to create a how-to toolkit. This will help anyone submitting put together a great proposal in time for the 2017 call for presentations.
I get it now.
2016 PAC members were not allowed to submit; a change to the PAC terms beginning with this term. There is no bias, no politics involved in speaker selection; it’s been very democratic. The team is trying to deliver the very best in service to the member, the association and the profession.
As the PAC chair, I am not allowed to submit for either 2016 or 2017. But, I can promise you I’ll be ready to submit for 2018, and I’ll use my new-found insights to ensure that my submission wows even the evaluator who has never heard my name!