Can vendors submit sessions for our BriForum independent "call for papers" sessions?

Now that our BriForum London call-for-papers period is in full swing, I've received this question from several vendors so I thought I'd write a full explanation here. Our "call for papers" process for BriForum is how we find the experts to lead the independent editorial technical sessions for BriForum.

Now that our BriForum London call-for-papers period is in full swing, I've received this question from several vendors so I thought I'd write a full explanation here.

Our "call for papers" process for BriForum is how we find the experts to lead the independent editorial technical sessions for BriForum. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to submit session proposals. For the sessions that are accepted, we pay the presenter’s airfare, hotel, and conference admission. (Here's more info for the "call for papers" process for the BriForum London in May, and Chicago in June.)

One of the great things about BriForum is that it’s independent. To us that means that the overall show is not tilted towards any one vendor or technology, and that our presenters can speak freely about whatever they want, even if it’s about a vendor product that doesn’t work too well.

But being independent doesn’t mean we don’t have a vendor presence. Our DEMO Lab (which is our fancy name for the expo floor that suggests more hands-on and less marketing) is a huge part of BriForum and one of the aspects that constantly rates highest in our attendee surveys. We also have sponsored breakout sessions at each show sprinkled throughout the agenda as normal 75-minute sessions that go head-to-head against our regular BriForum sessions. The sponsored sessions are clearly labeled as such, and the speakers of those sessions are welcome to speak about whatever they want. (Although it’s important to remember that this is still BriForum, so we encourage hands-on technical conversations that frame the vendors’ products. In fact two years ago I wrote a post called Attention Sponsors: Here’s how to make a killer BriForum session. That post was aimed towards BriForum sponsors who wanted to make a great 75-minute session.)

But what about the regular editorial breakout sessions which we select via our "call for papers" process? Can vendors submit sessions there too?

If you look at editorial sessions from the past eight BriForums, you'll see that in many years about half of the independent sessions were led by presenters who worked at vendors. So "yes" we will accept sessions from people who work at vendors, but "no" we will not accept sessions from "vendors." Let me explain...

What's important is that the editorial sessions are not from vendors talking about their own products. So we'd accept a session called "Citrix XenDesktop security best practices" as long as that person didn't work for Citrix. We'd accept a session about "What's better: VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop?," but not from an employee of Citrix or VMware.

But employees of Citrix, VMware, and any of the other 140 vendors we track are welcome to submit sessions, just not about their own products. For example, here are a few sessions we've accepted in the past from people who worked at vendors:

  • Randy Cook, the creator of Symantec Workspace Virtualization (previously known as Altiris SVS) and current Symantec employee, gave a session in 2010 about the underlying technologies that make application virtualization possible. He talked about how application virtualization works, looking how they hook into the file system, how they trick the OS, etc. At no time did Randy ever mention anything about Symantec's product specifically.
  • Kevin Goodman, the founder of RTO Software and creator of their Profile Virtualization product, gave a few sessions last year. One session was about everything you need to know about the new "v2" Windows user profiles that are used by Vista and Windows 7. Another session dug into the differences between profile "virtualization" and profile "streaming."
  • Back at BriForum 2006, when Kevin Goodman's RTO Software was focused on their Tscale performance optimization product, Kevin gave a great session about how to read a crash dump. (i.e. What to do when your server blue screens.) That was one of our most popular sessions in the history of BriForum, and it was great because it wasn't about Kevin's products.

So you see? In both cases these two guys worked for vendors and obviously had very specific expertise, but they didn't mention their products specifically in their breakout sessions. (By the way, if either Symantec or RTO Software had been a sponsor of BriForum that year and had purchased a sponsored session, then it would be perfectly acceptable for Randy or Kevin to give a full product pitch in their sponsored session, just not the editorial one.)

We've had over 500 breakout sessions over the past eight BriForums, and I'm guessing at least 200 of those were by employees who worked at vendors. By and large we've had no problems with them, although there were a few cases when the speakers didn't "get" the concept and they basically turned their editorial sessions into commercials for their product. (And of course we know who those speakers are and won't be accepting any independent sessions from them in the future.) In one case a marketing person came up and did a ten minute presentation before the real speaker, and then the speaker didn't follow what they'd submitted and basically turned the whole thing into a commercial... yikes!

That's only happened a few times though, because as long as you follow the submission guidelines on the "call for papers" page then you'll be fine. For example, we state that all submissions must be made by the person who will be doing the speaking, yet every year we get submissions from PR people on behalf of their speakers!?! (And I'm thinking, "Yikes, if they can't even follow the submission guidelines, what kind of nightmare will they be to work with at the conference?")

We also sometimes get people who try to skirt the "don't talk about your own products rule" by submitting an "independent"' session that's so completely narrow that it doesn't pass the straight-face test and is obviously a thinly-veiled attempt to talk about a single product.

At the end of the day, you can rest assured that when we review session proposals, we do so without revealing the author. We only look at the title and abstract to come up with our initial list. So as long as your content stands on its own then you'll be fine. And if you have any questions about a specific submission, you're always welcome to email me: brian@brianmadden.com.

So if you're ready to submission a session or two for inclusion in BriForum 2011, the submission deadline for BriForum London is a month from today: Feb 25. And BriForum Chicago session proposals are due on May 6.

Also, if you're planning on attending BriForum London (May 10-11, 2011), the early bird registration period (with a £200 discount) ends next week, so register now!

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