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You Can’t Rely on Speaker Proposals Alone for Diverse Events

2020 was a tough year. And, sadly, the problems we experienced as a society didn’t magically disappear when the calendar flipped to 2021.

If that tough year taught us anything, it’s that we as individuals, brands, companies, and teams need to work harder – together – to course correct.

Last year, I wrote an article, Content Can Perpetuate Racism and Inequity. It’s Time to Do Better, challenging content marketers to do better with diversity, equity, and inclusion. I included, “We must ensure that our content authentically reflects the diverse voices and experiences of our audiences and avoids unconscious bias. If we don’t, we are contributing to the problem.” And it bears repeating today.

We must ensure our #content authentically reflects the diverse voices and experiences of our audiences, says @EditorStahl via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #DiverseSpeakers Click To Tweet

At CMI, we’ve worked several years to bring more diverse voices and perspectives to our community through our event speakers, content contributors, and community partners. But we know we need to do more.

As we set out to plan ContentTECH Summit and Content Marketing World in 2021, I’m sharing how we program them. And I’m asking for suggestions to make sure we’re representing the breadth of ideas, backgrounds, interests, and experiences our community encompasses and meeting all your content marketing information needs.

I hope this look at our efforts to expand diversity in our event content is useful to other content teams that share this goal.

What ideas do you have to represent the breadth of ideas, backgrounds, interests, and experiences at Content Marketing World, asks @CMIContent general manager @EditorStahl. #CMWorld #CallForSpeakers Click To Tweet

How we find event content and speakers

Months before our events kick off, CMI issues a call for speakers. We get the message out by email, on social channels, and through partner organizations, asking for great speakers who have interesting content marketing stories to tell and useful lessons to teach.

For 2021, the call for ContentTECH Summit speakers is open (session proposals due Feb. 12). The call for Content Marketing World speakers begins Feb. 8 and runs through March 12.

Speaker proposals for #ContentTECH Summit are due Feb. 12 and for #CMWorld on March 12. All are encouraged to submit, says @EditorStahl via @CMIContent. #CallForSpeakers Click To Tweet

We ask prospective speakers to submit a session proposal that includes a title, a brief description, and expected takeaways for the audience. Applicants also can explain why CMI should choose their session and upload examples of other sessions they presented.

This process nets hundreds of proposals – and our selection committee happily reads every one that comes in. But the speaker search process doesn’t stop there.

We invite top-rated speakers based on the previous year’s session evaluations to return and wow our audience once again. We recruit speakers for topics we know the audience wants but didn’t come in through the call for speakers. We hunt for high-profile speakers who have something to say about content, creativity, or marketing. And we recruit for diversity in topic, age, gender, race, experience, and other dimensions. That means we go looking for speakers if our submission process doesn’t yield the results we hoped for.

Where we stand today

Where have those efforts gotten us?

We’ve made strides in recent years. Tina Fey graced the Content Marketing World stage in 2018 – the first woman to give the closing keynote. Mindy Kaling took that spot in 2019, and W. Kamau Bell joined us in 2020.

We also worked to make sure that the track presentations include perspectives from women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and people of different ages and work experiences.

But the truth is our process only gets us so far. Even with hundreds of session applications coming in, we end up with gaps in many categories. Though we work to find speakers in underrepresented categories, we sometimes fall short.

This year, we’re redoubling our efforts to fill those gaps.

Why speaker diversity matters to CMI (and the industry)

Sydni Craig-Hart, CEO and co-founder of Smart Simple Marketing, put it best in her Content Marketing World 2020 presentation:

“We as a content marketing community have a really amazing opportunity to be advocates for diversity every single day – to really show up for the people we claim we want to serve. This is not a color issue. This is not an age issue or a gender issue. It’s a people issue.

“If you really want to embrace customer-centricity, if you really want to invite diverse perspectives to the table, make sure you are creating those spaces.”

That’s what CMI wants for our events – to create those spaces (and, we hope, to help others in the industry create them, too).

We’ll continue to connect with associations and organizations that support minority marketing professionals. We’re asking event sponsors and other business partners to suggest people we might have missed. We hope that as underrepresented voices find a place on our stages, more will feel comfortable joining in.

We know our community is the best place to turn for ideas. You help each other all the time. Now we’re asking you to help us.

If you’ve seen a speaker who wowed you, if you know of a content marketer with a great story to tell, if you’ve read something by someone whose perspective is fresh, unusual, or underrepresented, please share your thoughts and suggestions with us – in the comments, tweet us @CMIContent, drop into the CMI Slack community, or send us an email.

To submit a presentation for ContentTECH Summit, follow these instructions by Feb. 12. Want to present at Content Marketing World? Complete the proposal form between Feb. 8 and March 12 at

 Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute