Brian BourneAn update from Brian Bourne, director and co-founder of Black Arts Illuminated Inc.

We are regularly asked how to have a talk accepted at SecTor. We strive to give every submission the diligence it deserves and as the conference has grown, we have moved from simple email submissions to a submission portal at cfp.sector.ca.

The portal allows us to make sure that nothing gets missed and that every advisor can review every submission. We’ve kept the sign in burden as minimal as we can, and we are absolutely committed to protecting the privacy of each submitter. We will only use the information you provide for the CFP process. An FAQ on that can be found here.

Now without further ado, let me tell you our approach to selecting speakers and content for this year’s conference.

THE SPEAKER SUBMISSION PROCESS

Each year, SecTor has two submission rounds. This year, the first-round ends April 28, 2019 and the second on July 14, 2019.

We have two separate rounds of paper submissions to help balance our audience’s needs. In an ideal world, we’d leave the entire selection process until the last possible moment to give our audience the freshest content. In the real world, people want to sample what they’ll learn before buying a ticket. The first submission round lets us start shaping the event and gives the audience an idea of what to expect, while the second round gives us sufficient space for the latest content.

HOW WE SELECT PAPERS

We accept submissions up until midnight of the deadline, and then the entire advisory group takes a week to review all submissions and meets as a group to debate the merits of each paper. This involves some spirited conversations, soapboxing, quiet research and then some more high-volume conversations. The whole process lasts five or six hours and it is as exhausting as it is fun.

Our advisory committee are a group of security veterans with no financial interest in the event. They leave all bias at the door, and completely disregard the submitter’s travel expenses, employer, or sponsorship status. This leaves them free to vote for the talks that they really want to see.

Our bias-free mandate may upset some sponsors who are used to favoritism at other events. It can also be bad news for us financially, because we cover speakers’ travel expenses regardless of where they come from. But it’s great news for our attendees, because they’re guaranteed high-quality content judged purely on its merits.

OUR SELECTION CRITERIA

Over the years, SecTor’s organizers have developed an acute sense of what makes a good conference talk. The selection criteria we describe in our stock response email includes:

  • The applicability of content to the audience
  • The balance of content in our overall program
  • Technical depth, with a preference for unique, bleeding-edge material and research

This list has real meaning for us. It reflects SecTor’s underlying ethos. We want our attendees to take away something new and actionable, because that’s where the value lies for them. They should be able to apply what they learn at SecTor immediately to improve the security posture at their own companies.

In addition to content, we also ask our reviewers to evaluate the speaker. We have set a high bar and we want to make sure that attendees learn new and actionable content. Part of that is making sure the speaker is an effective communicator. We do recommend sharing a link or two of videos of you presenting. It really does help.

SUBMISSIONS THAT ARE QUICKLY DISCOUNTED

How can you avoid falling into the list of proposals that definitely won’t make the cut? Over the years, we’ve noticed a few recurring issues that lead us to decline speaker submissions:

  • Submissions that appear to be a lightly veiled product pitch
  • Submissions that are rants without research
  • Submissions that lack an action the audience can take away and apply without buying the speaker’s product
  • Submissions that have been presented many times before
  • Speakers who have received low feedback scores at previous SecTor events
  • Vendor annual reports. Apologies to the hard-working folks that assemble these. Many have great content, but attendees to SecTor can get them from many other sources.

We don’t automatically decline submissions done by a marketing and PR team, but let’s be clear. We accept a talk based on unique research delivered by a specific researcher/speaker. We expect that individual to present their content at SecTor regardless of their employment status at the time of the show. If the content is corporately owned and presented by an individual who was hired to promote the business, then this really is a flag for us.

We also sometimes decline a talk that might have been awesome but didn’t include enough information for us to be sure. If a submission only includes an abstract, we are left guessing what content might go into it. Submitters that include a proposed talk outline or wireframe enable our advisory committee to see how their talk will flow and what topics they will cover.

SPEAKERS AND RESEARCHERS MATTER TO US

From our inaugural SecTor talk back in 2007, we have always focused on making sure our speakers have an amazing experience. We cover their travel, pick them up at the airport and treat them like the stars of our show that they are.

The experience interacting with us starts with the CFP submission. We value the time and effort each and every submitter puts into their work. Without these proposals, and the amazing community that creates them, SecTor wouldn’t be the conference it is. We’re very thankful and look forward to reading your next submissions and seeing you at SecTor 2019!