How to Organize an Epic Speaker Lineup for your Conference

Tina Roth Eisenber - CMX NYC

A conference lives and dies by its speakers.

Speakers sell the tickets. Speakers are what define the quality of the event experience. Everything else can go wrong but if your speakers are great, people will forget about the little complaints and just remember the content.

Speakers are your event. So you need a really good lineup if you’re going to be successful.

My experience with conferences is varied. I got my start in this world running community for LeWeb where I learned a great deal from Loic LeMeur and the amazing LeWeb team. Now I run CMX Summit, the largest conference for the community industry.

At CMX we’ve had, or confirmed CEO’s and community experts from from NASA, Burning Man, the FBI, Airbnb, Behance, Reddit, Tattly, Buzzfeed, TED, Apple…the list goes on and that’s just from three conferences. I’m biased, but I think we’ve gathered a pretty solid group so far.

Through my experience curating speakers, I wanted to share 7 lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Start with why

When we started reaching out to speakers for the first event, CMX was little more than an idea. We didn’t have a website, nothing in place for the actual event and no one knew who we were.

So how did we get high profile, busy speakers to fly out for a full day to speak at an event that didn’t exist yet? As Simon Sinek recommends, we started with “why”.

I simply wrote up a one pager explaining who I was and why we’re building CMX. I would tell the speakers honestly that this is the first ever event and we don’t know exactly what will happen, but that we truly believed in the movement of community centric business and were determined to bring this event to life.

That was enough to get our first few speakers in, which was enough for us to start selling tickets.

2. Aim ridiculously high for the first speakers 

Start by trying to get the biggest names in first. If you can get just one of them in, everyone else will be more likely to say yes.

If I dream of having them at CMX then I’ll take a shot at getting in touch with them.

You have a better chance of reaching them than you think. Most of them are actually pretty easy to get in touch with. Craig Newmark responded in minutes (though he had another commitment). Jimmy Wales took a few emails before his agent got in touch with me.

I got in touch with Robin Dreeke, our first keynote speaker, simply by tweeting at him and asked if I could email him about a conference we’re organizing. He’s the Head of Behavioral Analysis for the FBI and usually hosts huge, expensive workshops for business executives. But when I got on the phone with him he told me he read my PDF soda online and he wanted to do the conference. Just like that, he was in.

The big names don’t care about who else you have on the lineup. They care about the “why”. Try different avenues to get in touch and don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars.

If they don’t respond the first time…

3. Be politely persistent

Speakers are busy. They miss a lot of emails. And they have a lot of other commitments. Most of them are traveling a lot and probably speaking somewhere else on the same day as your conference.

Always follow up.

Keep letting them know about your next event. Follow up on the emails if you don’t hear back 2 or 3 times. Keep at it. Most of them will take it as a compliment that you’re so dedicated to getting them there.

Worse case scenario, you get a “no” but now that you’ve made contact, that can be the start of a relationship for the future.

4. Plan to hear “no” often

The real secret behind getting great speakers is that behind each speaker we confirm, there are likely 10 others who said no.

They say no because:

  • Scheduling conflicts
  • They’re busy with their real job
  • They want a speaker fee that we can’t pay
  • They just don’t want to (and usually make up an excuse)

The last one is rare. Usually, even when people say no, they’re interested and it’s a foot in the door for a future event.

Just remember that hearing no is part of the process.

5. Think about the story

A great speaker lineup is a story.

At CMX we focus on bringing a spread of unique speakers and perspectives to the stage. We don’t want it to be just CEO’s or just tech. We want the weird, the crazy, the outlandish. That’s our special sauce. This year in San Francisco we have NASA and Burning Man represented. Regardless of how different our speakers are, they’re all part of a larger story of building communities. That’s why they’re at CMX.

If it feels like a bunch of random people haphazardly thrown together into an event without a cohesive story, it won’t have the same effect and it won’t sell.

6. Make it easy for speakers to confirm and announce quickly

Don’t make it a huge process for speakers to confirm that they’re in. You don’t need all their details up front. All you need is a “yes”.

Once you get a yes, announce them quickly. Things change and there’s always a chance that a speaker will want to back out but if they’ve already been publicly announced, they’re much less likely to bail.

7. Ask speakers for recommendations

Some of our best speakers have come from recommendations from previous speakers. For example Lauren Anderson spoke at our first event and then connected me with Tina Roth Eisenberg, one of our keynotes in NYC.

After you confirm a speaker, ask them for recommendations for other speakers. Great speakers know great speakers because they often meet at other conferences.

And make it easy for them to make introductions. Have your conference blurb ready with the why and who’s already committed to speak to create social validation.

8. Balance the gender distribution in your lineup

Unfortunately, this just needs to be said in the tech world. There are too many events that are 90% dudes on stage. There are amazing, smart, talented female speakers out there. Find them. And don’t think that if they haven’t spoken before that they aren’t great speakers or aren’t interested. Some of the best speakers we’ve had at CMX are people who don’t usually speak. Make it happen.

Does Community Management Need a New Title?

fork-in-the-roadRecently I was having a drink with my friend Greg Isenberg and we discussed one of the big challenges the community industry faces.

“Community as a term, has a lot of baggage”, I explained. “People perceive community to be this fluffy, emotional thing. They don’t associate it with business strategy or real business value.”

He agreed, and proposed the solution of changing the title of community management. “Make it something more business-y, like community marketing”. Greg built and sold a consumer company, and is someone whose opinion I really respect when it comes to things like branding and messaging.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t given this exact subject a good amount of thought before. Our business, and the entire community industry, could live or die depending on how it’s perceived by the rest of the business world.

It’s an interesting thing to think about. What is the brand of a professional industry? And can you define the brand for an entire industry?

It seems like an impossible initiative…which is tough because it’s the challenge we’ve taken on at CMX.

So yes, this is a question I’ve given a lot of thought to…

Should we try to change the title community manager to something else? Like community Marketing? Network architecture? When you buy shoes for example you will have for coupon discounts.

Recently Bill Johnston described customer retention as being the big opportunity for community. Should we just rename our industry to “retention marketing”? Customer retention? Bill has also used a term called “Network Thinking” as a replacement for what many call community strategy.

My friend Sharon Savariego, CEO of Mobilize, also recommended that term “network” when we met for dinner last week. She felt strongly that community should be abandoned. I still see Mobilize as a community platform, but browse their site and you won’t find the word community in many places. They’ve made a conscious effort not to use the word community because of the response it gets from investors and partners.

Hm…that’s no good. So what are we to do? The options seem to be:

Option 1: Change the term community to something more business-y.

Option 2: Reframe how the business world perceives the term community.

I believe we should go with option two and have been working toward that goal for some time now.

At CMX, we don’t use the title “community management” though, because the “community manager” role is just one of the many roles a community professional can achieve, and it has an especially misunderstood definition. Too many companies use the title community management to describe social media managers. Community Manager also has the connotation of a low level employee (though many are not) and so that’s a bad way to describe the entire industry.

So we choose our words specifically. Instead of community management, we refer to the community industry, community professionals and community strategy.

I think we need to create a new definition of community. Community in a business context. Community that has real, provable business value. There’s too much power in the term community to give up on it. It’s really the only word that can describe the shifting business landscape toward decentralization.

And I already see the definition of community in a business context changing…

Companies aren’t just investing in communities, they’re recognizing themselves as communities.

In an recent interview with Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and former Editor in Chief of Wired, he proposed a super interesting question that “all business will have to ask themselves”. He asked, “Are you primarily a community or are you primarily a company? The reason you have to ask yourself this is because sooner or later the two will come in conflict.”

There’s a shift happening and products all exist not in isolation, but on platforms. 78% of companies run part or all of its operations on open source software.

And distributed businesses, who leverage the power of collaboration, are scaling faster than companies who try to create everything themselves. There are now 17 companies valued at $1 billion+ in the collaborative space alone.

“I think that it’s very hard to find industries in which community-driven companies won’t ultimately win”, Chris concluded in his interview.

So, I think that the way businesses perceive community is already changing. I believe the goal should be to associate community with innovation, scalability and value AS WELL AS being mission driven, feel-good and all that warm fuzzy stuff.

As more companies are becoming community-driven and successfully launching community strategies, and as more smart people learn about them and move into director and VP level community positions, businesses understanding of the term “community” will continue to shift in this direction.

And in 10 years, my guess is we won’t be talking about what community means for a business, because it they will be inseparable. Community will be woven into the fabric of business.

What do you think? Does community need a new title? Or should we work to reframe the understanding of community in the business context?

CMX Summit – A Full Day Event to Help You Become an Exceptional Community Builder

CMX-TwitterIt’s been a little quiet on this blog for the last week. I took some time off for the holidays, but I’ve also been heads down working on a side project.

That project is being announced today. It’s a new event focused on building true community. Here’s the announcement, originally posted on

Today we are very excited to announce the launch of a new conference, the first of its kind, all focused on true community building:

Say hello to CMX Summit.

We’ve been dreaming about putting together a conference like this for over 3 years and I can’t put into words how excited I am to see it come true.

I’ve been living and breathing community management for my entire career and this is the conference that I’ve always wanted to exist.

It’s the speakers I’d kill to see.

It’s the people attending that I respect and turn to regularly for advice on building communities.

It’s the community builders’ dream event.

Our vision was to bring together the world’s true professional community builders to spend a day sharing ideas, learning and getting inspired.

Our mission is you help you become an exceptional community builder.

If it’s your job to build communities, whether you’re a community manager, a startup founder, you work at an agency or you just build communities for fun, this event will equip you with a wealth of knowledge in various fields that will empower you to attack the challenges of community building from multiple angles.

That’s why this conference won’t bring on speakers who just talk about community in concept. Every speaker is handpicked because they have a fascinating, unique perspective on how to build skills that will make you into an exceptional community builder.

Lets talk about the speakers and what they’ll be sharing:

Robin Dreeke


Head of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Program

You read that title correctly. The FBI. Robin Dreeke is the head of Behavioral Analysis for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and he’ll be talking about how to build trust with individuals.

He’s joined by some of the world’s leading minds on community like….

David McMillan


Community Psychologist and Author of the “Sense of Community” Theory

If you’ve been reading our posts here at TCM for a while now, you’ve probably seen some of our posts about the psychology of community and membership. All of that is based on David McMillan’s theory. His work has defined the field of community psychology since 1986.

Ellen Leanse


The First User Evangelist at Apple

Also taking the stage is Ellen Leanse who was the first user evangelist for Apple. As one of the first professional community builders working for a brand, she paved the way for what we know today as community management. The internet was still in its infant stages and there were no case studies to learn from. She’s one of the greatest pioneers of our industry.

Nir Eyal

nirAuthor of “Hooked – How to Build Habit-Forming Products”

Want some more psychology? You got it. Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, is an expert in how to build products that keeps members coming back. Want to build a community where your members feel a need to come back and participate every day? Nir will help you understand how people think, how they develop habits and how you can use that power for good.

Ligaya Tichy


Angel investor and advisor who led community for Airbnb

Ligaya is one of my personal community heroes. She’s run community for Yelp, Airbnb and has advised countless companies. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also working on a book completely focused on professional community building. She has such a wide range of experience that it’s going to be hard for us to just choose one topic.

Dave McClure

davemcclure1Founder of 500 Startups

I’m so thrilled to have Dave join us because he so rarely has the opportunity to share his experience with building community. He’s usually asked to get on stage and light a fire under future founders’ asses.

But Dave isn’t just one of the most well known investors in the valley. He’s also the guy who has built what may be the largest, global community of startups. He’s pioneering a new way of thinking in the startup and investment world by leveraging the power of community to help startups help each other. With well over 500 startups already in the community coming from more countries than I can fit here, Dave McClure has a truly unique perspective on what it takes to build a massive and thriving global community.

…we will be announcing 3-4 more speakers over the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Who should attend this event?

If you work on building communities, you’re ready to take your game to an exceptional level and want to spend a day with today’s top community builders both on stage and in the audience, you should be there.

In attendance will be:

  • Community Builders – Anyone creating communities from the ground up, online and offline
  • Community Managers – Professionals responsible for growing and maintaining communities
  • CEO, Founders and Product Managers – Anyone creating products that require user-to-user interaction

…and anyone curious about how to build communities that can improve lives and change the world

The Details:

Tickets are officially on sale today. We have a limited amount of early bird tickets at the discounted price of $250. They will only be available until Jan 15th or until they sell out.

The event will be in San Francisco on Feb 6th.

Total space is limited so please don’t wait to purchase your tickets. Once filled to capacity, we will not be able to make more tickets available.

Curious about sponsorship opportunities? Email max [at]

Interested in being a volunteer? Email info [at]

Interested in being a media partner? Email info [at]

Any other questions, email info [at]


Breaking Down the User Engagement Cycle

Originally posted on The Community Manager.

A lot of business experts will tell your company to “engage” people and “build community”, but what does that actually mean?

It’s important, when hearing advice like this to ask “why?” and “to what end?”.

The why, for me, has always been to create a positive emotional connection with users, resulting in a user experience that exceeds a simple matter of supply and demand.

If someone were to build the same exact product as you, it’s the community that would keep your users around.

With that goal in mind, after years of experimenting with different forms of engagement, I realized that there’s a logical flow of engagement that all communities take.  This flow, when done right, results in finding your product market fit and organic growth.

It’s called…


A lot of people think about it in a straight line… like this:

User to Product –> User to Brand –> User to User

That’s wrong.  It’s a cycle because ultimately, the goal is to improve the product and user activity.

The focus on improving engagement between users (step 3) should have the goal of improving engagement between the user and the product (step 1).

Let’s break it down so you can see how it’s cyclical…

Step 1: User to Product: People get value out of your product and they want to come back and use it again.

Step 1 -> Step 2: User to Brand: Because they like your product and keep coming back, they develop an emotional connection to your brand.

Step 2 -> Step 3: User to User: Then because they feel an emotional connection to your brand, they begin to connect with other users who share that emotional connection.

Step 3 -> Step 1: User to Product:  A userbase that is highly engaged with the brand and with each other makes the product more valuable (community as a feature), uses the product more often, and provides you with a clear product roadmap based on real users’ needs.


So… the Community Manager should have two goals:

1. To facilitate the cycle because 99.999% of the time,  it won’t happen naturally at first.  If a community isn’t automatically forming, the CM should be reaching out to users, engaging them with your brand, and then connecting them with each other.

Note: If your product really sucks (doesn’t solve a problem or fulfill a desire), this is pretty much impossible.  

2. Educate the product roadmap until the product is so engaging in itself that the cycle occurs naturally. That’s what product-market fit looks like and that’s when you can start to scale your business.


Lets dig in a little deeper into each phase…

1. User to Product (Engaged Userbase)

In order to build a community, your product needs to solve a problem or fulfill a desire.  If you’re providing a product that people actually enjoy using, they’ll feel engaged with that product.  How engaged people are with your product will depend on how much value they get out of it.

A well designed product with an intuitive user interface that creates value and keeps people coming back will create an emotionally engaged userbase.

2. User to Brand (Engaged Audience)

Once someone is engaged with your product, you’ll want to get them engaged with your brand.  This can happen in one of two ways:

1. Your product is so good that your users automatically feel engaged with your brand.

2. Talking to people.  You can talk to people through social media, through customer service by being very responsive, through events, emails, phone calls etc.

If you get in the habit of having genuine conversations with your engaged users, you’ll be able to create an engaged audience.

3. User to User (Engaged Community)

Now you have an engaged audience of people who feel an emotional connect with your brand and product.  Time to start connecting them with each other.  You can do so using conversation platforms like forums, facebook groups or build something yourself.

This too, may happen naturally.  Again, 99.999% of the time, it won’t at first.  You have to facilitate it.

By creating an emotional connection between users, they no longer perceive themselves as just a customer.  Now, they’re a part of a community that they care about.  You’ll have yourself a community of highly engaged users with a strong emotional connection with your brand, helping guide your product toward organic growth.


“If the goal is to build an amazing product, why not just focus on product?”

Apple is a terrible example for a lot of business cases because their products are perceived to be on such a different level, but the reason they’re on that level is because they’ve reached the point where this cycle is happening organically.  It only took them a couple decades and almost going bankrupt to figure it out.

So yes, technically, you can focus 100% on your product without manually facilitating any “user-to-brand” or “user-to-user” engagement.  But they can only help you reach the organic cycle faster and more efficiently.

Now go! And build something epic.

Understanding the Difference Between Internal and External Community Building

Photo cred: Amato Luis

Originally posted on TCM

A very important distinction for a community builder (or someone looking to hire one) to make is whether they’re focused on building internal communities or external communities.

The way I see it, you can build an internal community within your existing userbase, customers or audience.


You can build external communities which aren’t part of your internal audience.

Still confused?

Here’s a simple example:

Say there is a company that sells sports equipment.  There are two ways they can approach community management. On the other hand, concerning property selling, Arbor View Properties is a great help.

1. They can work to connect their customers with each other online and offline through their online platforms and by hosting live events offline. This is internal community building because they’re connecting people around their brand and vision. This community is tied directly to the company.


2. They can build existing communities.  Perhaps they can host a weekly happy hour for sports fans, including tournaments from TVG, or create a fan page for recreational athletes.  This is external community building because they’re connecting people through a common interest, not the brand. This community is loosely tied to the company, but really focused on a common interest.

Internal and external communities are both valuable.

Internal communities are valuable because:

1. A strong internal community is your support system.  It’s a group of people who believe in your brand, and will defend you.

2. Your community members can drive their own networks to your community, resulting in more customers or users.

3. You can call on your internal community members for feedback on your product, testimonials and ideas.

Internal communities can be built into your product in some circumstances, if your product includes a conversation platform. is a great example.  People can chat within and so users can connect and interact with each other.  When you create the right dynamic within your product, internal communities develop on their own.

Twitter is another good example.  Conversations take place within the twitter platform, so internal user communities develop on their own.

External communities are valuable because:

1. You can create awareness and leads.  In the case of the example I gave before about a sports equipment company, by connecting people with each other through their love for sports, those people will relate that back to the company because the company facilitated the relationships.  They’ll then become more aware and confident in the brand.

2. You can learn a lot.  Sometimes it’s really important to get feedback from people who haven’t already used your product.  You can pick up on trends, and identify new opportunities by talking to people in external communities.

3. They’re less work to maintain.  Really, if you’ve done a good job, the community will be self-sustainable.  The community members will drive discussions, and bring their own networks into the community.

You can also engage with existing external communities instead of building them from scratch.

There could always be overlap. The people in these external communities may also be part of your internal community.  The goal is really to convert external community members who are loosely tied to your brand into internal community members, who are closely tied to your brand.

With external communities you don’t want to inject your brand into it too much.  You don’t want to be forceful.  Build the community around a common interest, and because it was your brand that brought those people together, they will naturally relate the experience back to your brand like from heating services ogden ut which got their reputation by building quality heaters.

With internal communities, the people are already connected to your brand, so focus on enhancing that relationship.  Make the power users and best customers feel special.  If you do this properly, they’ll help you build your community further.

Are you building an internal community or an external community?  Which one do you think is more important?