December 20, 2010, 8:32 PM — Giving talks is becoming an important part of many security professionals' careers. It boosts your credibility in the industry and can open doors. But it's time-consuming to put a proposal together. And when the good folks who run the RSA conference, Black Hat, Def Con or Interop turn down that hard work, it can be close to heartbreaking.
Still, it's possible to emerge from the rejection wiser and better positioned to get accepted later. For a glimpse at what it's like to endure the process, we spoke to several industry leaders.
What it's like to...
James Arlen, a Toronto-based security practitioner and contributor to LiquidMatrix and Securosis, has been turned down more than once. And, he says, it can hurt.
"I was rejected from several big-name conferences for several reasons," he said. "A proposed talk for Black Hat wasn't technical enough, not timely, and the material was not new enough. ShmooCon turned me down for not being technical enough, and because, apparently, 'no one wants to hear management material.'?"
RSA, meanwhile, has deemed some of his proposals too technical. What stung more, though, was being dismissed for not being an experienced-enough speaker, despite having spoken at several conferences.
"A whole lot of the time, I'm fairly certain that the selection committees don't know what they're looking for until they see it," Arlen says.
Jack Daniel, community development manager at Astaro AG, knows what it's like, too. He wishes selections committees would share their reasons for passing him over.
"I would really like a little feedback," he says. "I don't expect a detailed explanation, but something like: This event isn't the right venue for that topic; we're buried in (whatever topic) submissions this year; the talk is too technical or not technical enough for our audience; or we're simply sick of you."
To be fair—and Arlen and Daniel readily acknowledge this—there are plenty of good reasons to reject a talk. Organizers must balance providing opportunities for new voices and ideas while still attracting an audience, sponsors and vendors.
Michael Smith, security evangelist for Akamai and organizer for OWASP's AppSec DC event, says he sees several types of proposals:
Speakers that will always draw a crowd.