Dylan shares why he scouts out local speakers and why they've changed the game in making HalfStack such a unique conference.
Sourcing From Local Talent
Taylor McKnight: How do you find your speakers for your HalfStack Conferences?
Dylan Schiemann: Most speakers are people that are fairly localized to that area. So, we’re not just bringing the same 10 speakers around the world.
TM: Do you think that that mix of local and international speakers are providing a better connection for attendees in Charlotte or Phoenix?
DS: Yeah, it sort of started out by accident. In our first couple years we were a small conference that couldn’t really afford travel. So we started local but then realized there are amazing speakers who travel worldwide that we would love to have at every event,
but if we just had the same people at every event, we’d just be like every other event.
We wanted to find a way to discover or highlight people that were local, that maybe were not as well known, but had really interesting things to say. So, I look for people that have a very new, creative, or alternative twist on a topic that I haven’t seen before.
Where Do I Even Begin To Look?
In a previous blog post, Dylan shares how he likes to partner with local Meetups to find his potential audience. Starting in the heart of that community is a great way to find up & coming speakers who are knowledgable but might not have the speaking experience. In those cases, HalfStack loves to help craft those talks.
Seeing the Potential in Up-and-coming Speakers
DS: People can submit their talks, we review them, and the answer is yes, no, or maybe.
Yes is like, “We have to have that talk!” and it’s an immediate yes.
No is, “Okay, that’s probably a great talk, but it’s not right for our conference and here’s why.”
Maybe is kind of like, “That’s cool, but maybe, have you thought about doing this instead? Or this in addition to it?” We see some potential in the talk, but to make it a true HalfStack talk, maybe morph it in some way that makes it a little more edgy, more fun, or a little more creative.
Most conferences would just say no to those, but that maybe, where it has the potential, is kind of where you find your undiscovered speakers.
Because the yeses are people who know how to write a really good abstract and have given a lot of talks before. The maybes are often our first-time speakers, so it’s just looking for those people who might need a little bit of nudge in the right direction to help create a really good talk.
TM: Can you give me some idea of the suggestions that you give potential speakers?
DS: For example someone might propose a talk on machine learning with plants. And the talk itself is very much about the machine learning and algorithms.
I’m like, “Well, what’s the demo? How can people realize this being a real thing?” Because we’ve all heard talks about machine learning, algorithms, and how it works. So, skip that part of the story and instead focus on the really unconventional thing you’ve done.
Make it something the audience can see, experience, and make it real.
The goal is to tell the story of what you can create, or why you might create it, rather than how you create it. Because a lot of the like, “How do I create this really complex tech demo,” is really a blog post, or a tutorial, or a workshop. It’s not necessarily a great conference talk.
The greatest part of conference talks is the story that got you there.