BriForum Behind-the-Scenes: Call for Papers Process

Things have finally settled down after the BriForum Call for Papers process ended last month. Sessions have been selected, and the agenda has been created.

Things have finally settled down after the BriForum Call for Papers process ended last month. Sessions have been selected, and the agenda has been created. From the outside, it seems to take a long time, but from our perspective it’s been constant work, tail-chasing decisions, and some really tough choices early on. I wanted to take the opportunity to write an article about the behind-the-scenes process that supplies BriForum with content so that anyone now or in the future can get a glimpse of what all goes into it.

What follows is Part 1: The Call for Papers Survey, which talks about the inner workings of the the first step in getting content at our show. For Brian, Jack, and I, this is one of the main reasons that BriForum has been so successful over the years (second only to Events team here at TechTarget that brings it all together).

Want to go to BriForum? There are two shows this year, one in London, 19-20 May, and one in Denver July 20-22. You can learn more about the shows and register to attend at BriForum.com.

Part 1: The Call for Papers Survey

The process starts in December when we put together the Call for Papers survey. It doesn’t change much year over year, but in the survey we try to ask all the questions we can think of to help Brian, Jack, and I pick sessions as well as help Kaitlin, BriForum’s “Speaker Mom” (I don’t know her real title) arrange all of their travel.

When we launch Call for Papers in early January, there are a few super-motivated speakers who submit right away. These are almost definitely new speakers, because the speakers we’ve had for many years know that they can wait until the last second to submit.

(Fun Fact #1: Only two BriForum speakers have spoken at every BriForum–Brian Madden and Tim Mangan)

Following that week of activity, there is usually a lull that lasts until there is about two weeks to go until the deadline. Leading up to that period, we might get a session or two per day, with our total number of submissions at around 75–or 8 sessions short of the number of slots we have between both shows. This is when Brian and I receive panicked phone calls from the other people on the BriForum team, asking if we’ve “seen the survey numbers,” and if we “have a backup plan in case we don’t get enough sessions.” Having done this for 18 shows over 11 years, our response is typically “R-E-L-A-X,” which is not usually well-received.

We’ve had our moments, too. At BriForum 2005, there wasn’t so much as a Call for Papers as a “Hey, Person From The Email Lists, wanna speak at our conference?” email. Over the years, though, we’ve learned that nearly half of all submissions for BriForum come in the last week of Call for Papers. In fact, we leave the survey open over the weekend for those that really feel the need to snatch their hat from the other side of a closing door, Indiana Jones-style.

Before we even start deliberations, we have to go through all the submissions. This year there were 192 sessions submitted. We had 106 submissions a week before Call for Papers ended, which means another 86 sessions came in during the last week!

(Fun Fact #2: Of the 86 sessions that arrive in the last week, 13 of them were over the weekend. Nine of those came from the same person–Ian Parker!)

To prepare for deliberations, we download the survey and clean it up. It’s in this phase that we do our first rejections (and the ones we feel the least bad about). You see, no matter how specific we are when announcing that the survey is live, there are still people that don’t follow the rules. Our golden rule is that you have to submit the session by yourself. If you don’t value the show enough to submit your own session, we don’t want you. So any session with the speaker of John Q. Saunders and an email address of MHamilton@JellyBeanPR.com is going to get rejected instantly.

Just about every other session gets a fair shake. And it’s the next phase where we get down to the business of picking sessions. We’ll get into that next week.

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First it's great you give away the videos the year after, for those who can't attend. Thanks for giving back! One critique I have is that it seems like you use the same speakers in too many sessions. It's cool that there are regulars, but more new people would be cool to see also. Perhaps just a limit of good sessions to be fair, but doesn't seem to be from the number of submissions.


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Oh I'll tell you flat out that's a budget thing. We have a fixed budget for speaker expense (which is their hotels & flights grand total). So we have to balance out things like trying to get European speakers to London and North American speakers to Chicago, etc. We'd love to have 55 different speakers for 55 sessions, but there's just flat out no way that works. So instead of having only 29 sessions, if we can get each person to do 2 (average), then that's 55 sessions on 29 speakers.


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@brian start trolling with more banner adds then to raise the money. :-) Seriously though, i understand budget pain! Thanks for the explanation.


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We've actually ended up with 10%-20% new speakers each year in the past, and this year in Denver 1/3 of the speakers (14 of 42) are new to the show!


In London, we have 20 speakers, of which 4 are new to the show (20%).


I'm actually pretty proud of that, because it shows that our process works. No speakers are sacred, and it all comes down to writing a killer abstract and then following that up with a great session.


But I'll echo what Brian said...at the end of the day we still have a budget to work within. You'll see more Europeans in London and more North Americans in the US. That allows us to have more speakers & content overall. Otherwise, we'd be asking every American in London to do 4 sessions to make it worthwhile, and vice versa.


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Nice!  I think @Ian Parker should have to wear an Indiana Jones Fedora during his presentations this year!


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