RSAC Goes Hybrid & Top Tips for Speaker Acceptance:A Sit-Down with Britta Glade of RSA Conference

Sep 11, 2020 Jessica Bettencourt

Whether you’re a cybersecurity marketer, CISO or threat researcher, RSA Conference (RSAC) is the marquee security event we all look forward to each year -- and 2021’s revamped program is no different.

Under the fitting theme of “resilience,” RSAC 2021 is scheduled to take place on May 17-20 with both a traditional physical event at the Moscone Center in San Francisco as well as an immersive virtual experience. Conference veterans will also notice the program has been condensed to four days (Monday - Thursday) as opposed to a full work week, based on past attendee feedback.

Britta Glade, director of content & curation, RSAC

With the Call for Speakers closing on Friday, September 18, many in the industry are spending the next few days ensuring strong proposals are submitted to RSAC 2021. To help understand some of the event changes, as well as how to break through the noise and get your speaking submission to the top of the acceptance pile, we went straight to the source. We’re thrilled to have sat down with  RSA Conference Director of Content & Curation Britta Glade -- here’s her expert view on all things RSAC 2021:  

JB: To start, can you tell us a bit about the updated event format?

BG: There’s a lot of unknowns when hosting both a physical and virtual event. Right now, our plan is for an immersive, hybrid event, but I like to think about this like an accordion. If the accordion is really stretched, how much is physical or virtual is largely going to depend on the state of things come May. Right now, we’re working really closely with government and health officials to ensure we’re planning a safe event experience, but their guidance is regularly changing. Overall, our goal is to plan a hybrid event and make it an optimal experience, no matter what platform attendees are engaging on. The top priority will be safety, of course.

We also condensed the program from five days to four. We’ve been considering making this move for several years, and this year felt like the right time to do so. This change stems mostly from past attendee feedback: Most want to head home for their weekend -- it also allows organizations to optimize time and travel budgets. The goal is to have the same access to quality content, educational offerings and networking engagements, but just spread out differently during the week. I think attendees will really like this format.

This year, we’re also really proud to announce the roll out of RSAC 365, a new program that provides year-round learning opportunities for the cybersecurity community. The new program is essentially a virtual RSAC, but throughout the year -- filled with relevant, unbiased and educational content such as free webcasts, podcasts, blogs and videos. This allows us to amplify the fresh ideas, unique voices, and expertise of the community year-round -- it seemed like the perfect year to introduce this to the security community. The year-round call for papers for RSAC 365 is now open.

JB: What are some of your top tips to submit a strong speaking proposal to RSAC? What really stands out to the program committee?

BG: Truthfully, these best practices don’t change year after year. First and foremost, it really behooves the speaker to submit a talk that they were heavily involved in drafting. Our program committee has technical expertise and industry knowledge -- they love reading submissions that come directly from the SME that’s “in the trenches.” The submissions that often get rejected lack the deep domain knowledge that someone like a cloud architect, network engineer or vulnerability researcher has, but ultimately, a marketer wrote the submission for them without involving them in the process. The talks shouldn’t be viewed as an extension of a marketing campaign. We quickly notice when that’s the case. Submit a proposal for a session that you yourself would be really interested in attending -- use yourself and your peers as the litmus test.

The way the online application is formatted is very purposeful. Yes, it’s great to have a snazzy session title, but really focus on the session details. This is the most important part of the submission from a program committee perspective. We actually never publish the full session details section in the application, but this is what’s most important to us when evaluating the talk -- the words being used, the ways the speaker is approaching the issue at hand. We can quickly tell from there if this was truly from a security subject-matter expert, or if this is just another peg in a marketing campaign.

You can also view more top tips for submission on the RSAC website.

JB: What are some common mistakes that applicants often make in their speaking proposal that’s bound to receive a rejection?

BG: We expect more than 2,000 submissions this year, so differentiation and depth are key. I’d say somewhere around 90 percent of the rejected submissions lack the technical detail or specifics needed for our security-focused audience. For example, we’re expecting countless submissions based on “securing the home network during a time of COVID-19.” If this is a topic you want to submit, get specific -- use examples and propose vendor-neutral strategies to combat the issue, aligned with your bio and expertise.

I mention vendor-neutral -- simply put, avoid the vendor pitch. RSA Conference will always be vendor-independent. We also publish real submissions that were previously accepted at RSA Conferences -- marketers and security SMEs should both read up on what’s previously worked and evaluate if their draft aligns with that type of format.

JB: With COVID-19 impacting nearly every aspect of life, including increasing the importance of security, we can expect a lot of speaking submissions to cover the effects of the global pandemic. How can applicants break through the noise? What areas of COVID-19 are RSAC looking to in its talk tracks?

BG: This is something we’re definitely anticipating and trying to get ahead of. We call the first call with our program committee members “blue sky.” During this call, we think about what belongs in a track before we’re influenced by inbound submissions. This year, we published some of the ideas that resulted from the “blue sky” process and created preliminary tracks, which should help applicants understand what we’re looking for as it relates to COVID-19 and beyond. One of the preliminary tracks listed on our website is “Securing the Remote Workforce.” The program committee has listed some of the ideas and guidance of how speakers should go about addressing COVID-19 under this talk track.

The reality is that the event will be held in May, and we’ll be over a year into the pandemic. For this track, we’ll be accepting a very small percentage of talks that take a “rear view mirror” type of look at COVID-19. Those that do get accepted will have a very specific, granular view of critical lessons learned through 12 months of this pandemic, with actionable guidance. But again, we’re not looking for a general talk track based on “you should be worried about securing your home network.”

The majority of the COVID-19-related speaking submissions we’ll accept for this track will focus pretty heavily on future-forward innovation. For example, what security projects will accelerate or decelerate due to the pandemic? What will achieve prioritization with leadership? How to retain top security talent amid the new norm? These types of topics will strike a chord with the program committee as long as the session details are actionable with specific lessons learned.

JB: There’s always a lot of excitement in the lead up to the event, and this year is no exception. What are you personally most looking forward to when planning for RSAC 2021?

BG: Besides the theme (which is so awesome), I am most excited about the opportunity to carefully and safely bring some members of our community together again in San Francisco to listen, learn and network together. We recognize that virtual engagement is here to stay as a component of everything we do, and we’ve been very purposeful in our expansion here and delighted with the engagement we’ve had with our community from every corner of the globe. But we’ve also really missed the connection that comes from physically being together. I think all of us humans share this need for real, true, in-person human interaction. We are focused on delivering an amazing in-person experience, and what that looks like exactly will continue to be informed by the state of the world. We cannot wait to be able to be together again with our community. We’re working hard to optimize the experience for those who are able to be with us and help it to be special. And, we’re excited to further build out the virtual element of our event and bring the two together at the same time, helping us to connect and extend our community and the reach of the great experts in our industry who’ll be sharing what I know will be high-quality content. This has been a great opportunity for us to turn ourselves inside out as we re-examine what we do against our mission of serving this community and ultimately helping to make the world a safer place.

Britta, thank you for taking the time to chat with Inkhouse -- we, too, are excited for what’s to come from RSAC 2021! For additional resources to submit a strong speaking proposal to RSAC, please visit:

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Topics: Security, Speaking Opportunities, RSAC, PR tips
Jessica Bettencourt

As a vice president at Inkhouse, Jessica co-leads the agency’s security practice, running strategic, integrated communications programs for brands such as Raytheon Intelligence & Space and VMware. With over a decade of communications experience, Jessica is passionate about upleveling her clients' technical expertise to tell compelling stories that resonate with key audiences.

Read more from Jessica Bettencourt

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