We have probably all seen Swiss Army knives: multi-purpose pocketknives with fold-out blades, scissors, nail file, corkscrew, screwdriver and many other tools. Small enough to carry in a pocket or handbag, they are extremely versatile tools for almost any everyday need. 

What does this have to do with event management? We feel that many events teams are missing out on a real ‘Swiss Army knife’ tool: a call for speakers or papers.

A norm in academia

Calls for papers are standard in academia. Academic conferences routinely call for papers and posters, because the organisers know that they don’t know what is happening in every lab or department in the world. Conferences are launched six to nine months ahead with a call for papers. Around the world, researchers will respond by sending abstracts setting out their latest research, explaining why the conference audience will be interested.

A selection panel will then consider all the entries, and choose which ones to include. Some will be included as papers—that is, a speaker giving a presentation, and potentially publication within a summary of the event. Others will become posters: a presentation of research in the form of a paper poster. These will often be included in an exhibition for attendees to walk round and view. The authors of both papers and posters are likely to attend the whole conference. You might therefore find yourself discussing the work with one of the authors when you stop to look at a poster, or during a coffee break.

This is a very egalitarian world. Despite the strong hierarchy of academia, anyone can submit a paper, and have an equal chance of having it accepted. Submissions are often ‘blinded’, so that the selection committee chooses on merit, and not on the researcher’s reputation. Junior researchers’ posters (and their authors) rub shoulders with professors with 20 years’ tenure.

Courage to be open minded

Commercial conferences and events are very different. Events teams spend a lot of time looking for speakers and carefully selecting their targets. This makes sense, because we know that speakers make and break an event.

However, the problem with this selection approach is that you tend to get the same people speaking at every event—and that’s very dull. Using a ‘call for speakers’ approach could overcome a lot of issues, just like a Swiss Army knife:

You will get different—and better—speakers

Calling for speakers means that you will get a very different range of potential speakers. Crucially, you will get people who have something that they want to say on your subject. This often means that they have something new to say—and that is extremely important. You may even discover new experts within your own company.

You can check out the speaker’s likely approach before the event

Potential speakers have to submit a proposal, which means engaging with your objectives, and showing you how they can benefit your audience. You can then assess who will do this best, and choose the speakers who you think will be most interesting. 

You get to promote your event early through social media buzz

The call for papers and speakers goes out several months before your event, to give people time to respond. This creates early buzz on social media, as people tag their colleagues or peers, and suggest that they should put themselves forwards. The few events that call for speakers see significant engagement. There is no question that people like to engage and involve their friends.

You can put out your key messages in quite a subtle but tangible way

Putting out a call for speakers or papers requires you to set out your event’s key messages—after all, without that, you won’t get the right people responding. This means that you have to develop them earlier, and also share them. This is both tangible and relatively subtle.

You can encourage your customers to submit papers

This bolsters your customer success work, and gives you ready-made case studies. It also builds your relationships with your customers, as they see that you value their success, and want them to share their experience with others.

You might find new topics to address

Finally, just as in academia, you don’t know everything about what’s going on. Your call for speakers or papers may uncover new topics that you have not considered. This will strengthen your agenda—and in turn make your event even more attractive.

What have your experiences been?

These are some of the tactics we have seen work. How have you benefited from the ‘call for papers’ routine?