Avoiding Personal Agendas and Pay-to-Play In The Speaker Review Process

Sweet Sorrow

We’ve seen it happen in almost every organization where we assessed their speaker review process.

Someone on the conference committee blackballs a great presentation or speaker. Or someone approves a presentation proposal and speaker that has had poor scores in the past.

Why does this happen? Conference committee members put personal agendas and friendships above what is in the best interest of the paying attendee.

The Primary Focus When Reviewing Presentation Proposals

Staff and volunteers should focus on what’s in the best interest of the paying attendee when choosing speakers and content. It’s not about the speaker.

Reviewers should also ask:

  • Is the session innovative and in alignment with what keeps our attendees up at night?
  • Does the presenter(s) have experience designing and delivering effective learning experiences?
  • Is the topic new or emerging?
  • Will it draw?

Personal agendas, bias, relationships and financial support need to be thrown out the window in favor of the learner!

When Staff And Volunteers Lose Focus

We’ve seen a large variety of poor decision making by volunteer committee members and staff when it comes to speaker and content selection. Here are just a few. If your conference committee does any of these, you need to reel them in and change the way you review presentations.

1. Innovative Idea In, Submitter Out

An innovative session submission meets all the criteria and excites the committee. The committee decides that someone else should take the idea and run with it instead of supporting the creator.

2. Pay-To-Play

Supplier and consultant speakers are approved or blackballed based on their financial support of the event. They are not judged based on their contribution to drive change or improve the profession.

Pay-to-Play is the archenemy of a great conference experience! Often conference stakeholders feel the conference organizers are double-dipping—getting a fee from the registrant and a fee from the presenter. Most Pay-to-Play speakers do nothing but a sales presentation anyway.

3. Inexperience Rules

Students or new members are given a chance to present based on their age and status, not their ability to design transformative learning experiences.

4. Popular And Past Successful Presenters Declined

Top rated presenters that always attract an audience and bring their A-game are declined in favor of non-proven submitter. “We have to give everyone a chance a present,” is a lame excuse! (It’s not about the speaker.)

5. Non-Practitioners Declined

Supplier submissions are eliminated because they are not co-presenting with a practitioner.

It’s Time For Presentation Blind Reviews

When I worked at associations, all of my committee members and staff used a blind review process when reviewing submitted presentations. They did not see the name or bio of the speaker.

I refused to let volunteers blackball a potential speaker based on their own personal agenda.

The blind review process included the following:

  • Presentation title
  • 50 words or less session description
  • Three leaner outcomes
  • Type of adult learning technique being used
  • Is this a new presentation or has it been presented before
  • Solo, joint presenters or a panel
  • The primary issue the topic aligned with chosen from a list
  • If that presenter was a member or not
  • If the presenter had any special requirements
  • If the presenter had presented for the organization in the past
  • Past evaluation scores and attendance

That’s all the reviewers needed to see. If they didn’t understand what the presentation was about from the description and learner outcomes, neither would the audience.

It’s time for organizations to get more professional about their call for proposal review process. It’s time for blind reviews. It’s time to stop blackballing presenters. And it’s time to squelch Pay-To-Play Presenters!

Why do organizations allow volunteers an incredible amount of authority to blackball a speaker yet don’t hold those volunteers accountable for poor speaker scores? What will it take for organizations to move to a more professional and blind review process?

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