I love DisruptHR.

I love it so much that I’ve presented at it four times and then came on to co-organize DisruptHR New York City events.

I mention this because like Sy Sperling — “Remember, I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client!” — I know what it’s like to be a speaker and select other speakers. I also know that cultural reference may have fallen flat for you, but guess what? I don’t care.

But I do care about helping you apply to speak at DisruptHR. In New York, we receive a lot of submissions. While it’s fantastic that so many people want to share their ideas using our platform, given the limited number of spots, many applications unfortunately means turning down many people. It sucks having to write those emails, and I’m sure it sucks more having to read them.

So, given my experience as the Sy Sterling of DisruptHR New York City, here are some tips on submitting a stellar DisruptHR speaking application.* (The asterisk is important; check out what it means below.)

1.     Yeah!

The No. 1 criteria I look for in an application is excitement — because a pitch that can give me a contact high will hopefully translate into a presentation that will leave our audience buzzed.

A common error some people make is confusing our application for an academic paper. Thing is, I know you’re smart. Also, whether you’ve previously delivered 10 SHRM keynotes, one rant about training to a call-center rep, or no talks at all, your credentials are less important than your ability to energize, entertain, and inform.

Before some people apply, they reach out to ask me: “What does your audience want to hear? What topic should I pitch?” I always offer the same reply: Talk about whatever gets you über-excited. What you think that I think that attendees think they want to hear is less relevant than your ability to speak with zeal. Besides, people often don’t know what they want to know until they hear it, so surprise them!

2.     Speaking of SHRM, this isn’t.

We’ve got a pretty unique thing going on at DisruptHR, and we want applications that are just as distinctive. We’re the rebellious future of HR. That means we value thoughts that are bold or contrarian or controversial.

Do you hold yourself back from saying something at work, or elsewhere, because it might discomfort others, or even you? Say it here. We love opinions that are… what’s the word I’m looking for… oh right… disruptive!

3.     Sell the right thing.

Sell us your idea, and sell it hard. But please, I’m begging you, really, please, do not pitch your product or your business. I can sniff a sales pitch from a mile away, and so can our attendees. We hate that. And we will hate you if you try and sneak one in. Use your organization’s work to reinforce your perspective, but not the reverse.

Besides, companies and products do not excite people. Ideas do. So make sure your pitch focuses on a strong concept — you’ll have plenty of networking time to bore people with shop talk.

4.     What’s in a name?

A whole lot. I love to see a creative title, like “Is Ugly the Next Protected Class?”, “Permission Is for Sissies,” and “Nobody Cares If You’re Authentic.” (You guys, that last one is totally a gratuitous plug for one of my talks). Those are way better than “Diversity and Appearance,” “How to Get Work Done,” and “Leadership and Authenticity.” Your presentation shouldn’t be generic; neither should your title.

5.     Clarity is hot.

While a great title will arouse me, a presentation with a clear, provocative description gets me even hotter. I sometimes see applications that describe a viewpoint without fully explaining specific takeaways. For instance, “performance management is broken”. I know, you know, we all know. But tell me precisely what’s wrong with it, and specifically what attendees can do about it. Tell me something Kronos or Bersin or that LinkedIn post with 23,000 comments isn’t saying.

6.     Seriously, though.

Really, don’t pitch your services.

7.     The pull.

Some of the best applications attack the status quo by telling attendees they are doing or thinking about something wrongly — and then reveal a solution. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking a negative approach; I’ve seen a bunch of presentations extolling the virtues of HR. But even those “positive” presentations rest on an implied belief that not enough of us recognize HR’s merits. In other words, create some tension.

8.     Cross your t’s.

We’re all adults, which is why I’m cringing just writing this, but here goes: Submit all the required information. Don’t leave parts of the application blank without explanation. And please submit on time.

Given the unusual format of talks (5 minutes, 20 slides advancing automatically every 15 seconds), I need to feel like I can trust you to prepare a phenomenal presentation. An incomplete application already breaks that trust.

And by the way, if I email or ask to speak with you to review your submission, be kind and respectful. Neither of us is doing this for the money.

9.     Do not pitch your product, service, or company. Like, for real.

The main thing to remember is that DisruptHR is exciting, fun, and builds a greater sense of community among HR and business professionals. What’s especially awesome is that we welcome a variety of speakers.

In choosing presenters, I strive to create a good mix that includes first-timers, seasoned professionals, office managers, CHROs, CEOs, vendors, practitioners, cardigan-wearing HR ladies, cardigan-wearing HR gentlemen, and a full Benetton ad of ethnicities and backgrounds. So if you have a great idea, whoever you are, please submit an application. We’d love to hear from you!

The next DisruptHR New York event is on September 13, 2017. We already have amazing speakers lined up, and you can get your tickets here.

Meanwhile, feel free to send me your questions, concerns, or hate mail.

* These tips are not official DisruptHR suggestions. Nor are they official New York chapter recommendations. Frankly, there’s nothing official about these tips. Each city has its own application guidelines and procedures, and I encourage you to contact your local organizers for location-specific details.


Vadim Liberman is a talent strategist, pundit, and advocate—a chief renegade officer advancing how we think, work, and live. With an expansive background in employee engagement, internal communications, and business journalism, Vadim mixes skepticism and hope to challenge conventions, and create better workplaces. Check out his blog, vadimliberman.com. Contact him at vadimsviews@gmail.com.

Photo credit: @JsarahwatsHR

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by DisruptHR Toronto 3.0 attendee John C.M. Cunningham MHRM,CHRP, Human Resources Advisor at Siemens, who attended his first DisruptHR event on December 1, 2016

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Last Thursday, December 1st, I attended a DisruptHR event for the first time. My motivation going in was simple – the HR field is currently exploding with change, and I want to be involved in any way that I can.

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what-i-learned-at-disrupthr-new-york-5-0-september-26-2016

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by DisruptHR New York speaker Rob Catalano, Co-Founder at WorkTango – a platform that enables managers to have better conversations with employees to create alignment, improve accountability, and develop high performing teams. Rob is passionate about helping companies succeed – by leveraging technology to make employees successful. He has also previously written about his experience at DisruptHR Vancouver 2.0. You can check that out that post here. 

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I attended my second DisruptHR event this week. (My first one was in Vancouver).

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My DisruptHR Cleveland 5.0 Experience

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by DisruptHR Cleveland speaker Bridgette Klein, Marketing Coordinator at Willory – a company that exclusively serves the needs of the HR & payroll community across the nation and globe. Bridgette shared her experience as a first-time speaker at at DisruptHR event on the excellent Willory blog, and we thought you’d love to see it here as well. Thanks Bridgette and the Willory team!

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It’s the stuff of nightmares: public speaking.

While it was never quite my nightmare, it’s not my comfort zone either. Most likely because I’ve only had to speak in front of 150+ people a handful of times. The latest was DisruptHR Cleveland a few weeks ago.

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What I Learned At DisruptHR Vancouver - May 2016

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by DisruptHR Vancouver speaker (and official Disruptor) Rob Catalano, Co-Founder at WorkTango – a platform that enables managers to have better conversations with employees to create alignment, improve accountability, and develop high performing teams. Rob is passionate about helping companies succeed – by leveraging technology to make employees successful. This makes him pretty cool in our book.

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I attended my first DisruptHR event this week [March 31, 2016]. If you’re not familiar with DisruptHR – definitely check it out. With the plethora of events and conferences out there, we all struggle to choose where to spend our valuable time, but this is a disruptive conference (ugh, sorry, I had to) that’s gaining quite a following. I’m not sure how the other regional events are, but I enjoyed and learned a lot from my Vancouver experience.

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HR's Infamous Struggle For A Seat At The Table - May 2016

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by DisruptHR Denver speaker (and official Disruptor) Ed Baldwin, SPHR, GPHR – President of HRO Partners. Ed is a global HR leader with a proven track record of success leading cultural change and aligning the HR function with business needs in a variety of organizations. So he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to where HR can sit.

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If you’re an HR professional with a desire to learn about and create innovative HR practices and you haven’t heard of DisruptHR, you have to check it out.

Events are occurring at or near you, popping up in cities all over the US and the world! The format is simple, powerful, unique and fun.

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