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Lean Startup Conference: Seeking Speakers

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We’re seeking people who can deliver great talks, whether they’ve ever spoken at a conference before.

By Eric Ries & Sarah Milstein (Co-Hosts, The Lean Startup Conference)

Last week, we announced the date and venue for The Lean Startup Conference on December 3-4, 2012 in San Francisco.

Now we’re starting to reach out to speakers. We’re aiming for a mix of people: those well known for their work on lean startups and those who aren’t yet prominent but are applying Lean Startup techniques and have valuable lessons to share. And, although this should probably go without saying, we’ll say it anyway: we’re seeking people who can deliver great talks, whether they’ve ever spoken at a conference before.

We know how to reach people who are famous in our community. Previous speakers have included folks like Steve Blank, Scott Cook, Hiten Shah, Dave Binetti, Janice Fraser, and Drew Houston. You may have also noticed a trend: most of our past speakers have been men, and most of them have been white.

As a conference organizer, there’s always this dilemma: you want to put people on stage that you know will do good job and tell the truth. But that means you tend to put people on stage who have involved you in their work directly. And, as has been documented many times, people tend to work with people like them.

In our not-very-humble estimation, our past speakers have been fantastic. But that invite-who-you-know approach means we’ve almost certainly missed other terrific speakers with valuable stories to tell. As Eric’s written before:

“When a team lacks diversity, that’s a bad sign. What are the odds that the decisions that were made to create that team were really meritocratic? That’s why I care a lot about diversity: not for its own sake, but because it is a source of strength for teams that have it, and a symptom of dysfunction for those that don’t.”

Put another way: the past process helped us field excellent speakers, but it drew from a limited pool of candidates and thus didn’t achieve great equity. This year, we’d like to consider a broader pool of candidates, beyond those we know personally.

Many conferences and programs complain that they don’t get a diverse group of applicants. We believe that part of the reason this happens is that people naturally don’t bother applying to programs they don’t think they’ll be accepted to. We believe that doing our utmost to build a transparent, merit-based selection process will help us field a wider array of candidates.

If you’ve previously held back on applying to speak at a conference like this one because you assumed it wasn’t a meritocratic system and that you needed to know the organizers in order to land a speaking slot, read on.

So how we can find people we don’t yet know who have very useful experiences we can all learn from? By asking all of you to help us find them, encourage them to apply, and convince them their stories are worth hearing.

In our earlier selection process, we got a lot of potential speakers who were already on the circuit. So we’ve closed out that selection form, and we’re pivoting to a new process. (Note: if you were nominated through that form, we WILL follow up with you in August.)

Here’s the deal: If you have a Lean Startup experience or lesson to share – regardless of whether you’ve ever spoken publicly before – we ask that you create a two- or three-minute video in which you explain the idea that you’d like to present at The Lean Startup Conference, and that you share the link via our new speaker nomination form. For new speakers, we’ll provide hands-on help developing presentations, plus speaker training.

If you don’t think you’re qualified to speak at a conference like this, you’re probably wrong! Most of our amazing speakers also feel that way. In fact, this is a well-documented and universal psychological feeling. So we hope you’ll consider applying anyway.

A few notes:

* Although it’s impossible to review a video blind (your speaking skill is part of what’s being evaluated), we promise to review the written part of your application blind. When we’re evaluating your application, we won’t know your name, ethnicity, gender or age. (This is the blind resume screening technique Eric’s recommended elsewhere.)

* We care about the story or tips you have to share. You do NOT have to be an All-time Lean Startup Expert for us to take you seriously (indeed, that’s the whole point – we already know those people). What you do need is a relevant experience or some advice that other people can learn from. Most of the time, a straight-up story about how you followed lean principles at your organization and did pretty well with them is not that useful for other entrepreneurs. Instead, consider things like: What hypotheses did you have that you were wrong about? What unexpected challenges did you face? Where have applied a lean approach to a new problem we haven’t considered? You might also look at tactics that you’ve refined in an innovative way – say, a new take on A/B testing or continuous deployment.

* We also care about your presentation style. You don’t have to show us swank slides or a perfectly smooth delivery, but we do want to see that you can connect with people.

* We don’t care about the quality of the video. Go ahead and make it on your phone, then upload it to YouTube. (Before you share the link, though, we recommend that you make sure the sound is not ridiculously quiet.)

* This time around, you are welcome to nominate yourself.

* There are a few other tidbits we ask for on the nomination form, but it’s short. Do follow the directions and read them first before emailing questions. After we posted the last form, we got a few dozen questions, almost every single one of which we’d already addressed in the directions.

The deadline is Thursday, August 23, 2012 at midnight PST.

If you work with somebody – particularly a woman, person of color, or anybody else typically under-represented at tech conferences – who has relevant experience to share, please show them this post. Note, too, that we’re looking for speakers from different sectors, including education, non-profits, government and established companies. Again, here’s the new form.

This post was originally posted at Startup Lessons Learned.

About the guest blogger: Eric Ries is the creator of the Lean Startup methodology and the author of the popular entrepreneurship blog Startup Lessons Learned. He previously co-founded and served as CTO of IMVU. He serves on the advisory board of a number of technology startups, and has worked as a consultant to a number of startups, companies, and venture capital firms. In 2010, he became an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School. Follow him on Twitter at @ericries.

About the guest blogger: Sarah Milstein is co-host of The Lean Startup Conference. From 2009 through 2011, she ran the Web 2.0 events for UBM TechWeb, in conjunction with O’Reilly Media, and co-chaired Web 2.0 Expo. Previously, she was on the senior editorial staff at O’Reilly, where she founded Tools of Change for Publishing and led development of the Missing Manuals, a best-selling series of computer books for non-geeks. Bonus fact: she was the 21st user of Twitter. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahM.