Techshow Speaker Roster — Just the Usual Suspects?

Near the end of Casablanca, there is the classic scene in which police captain Louis Renault commands his men, “Round up the usual suspects.” Unfortunately, there is a perception among some that this is how ABA Techshow goes about its faculty selection process. I’ll admit, I’ve expressed that very concern at times, and I’ve heard it from plenty of others over the years.

Already this year, I’ve heard it again. But this time, my curiosity got the better of me. Is it true that the same faculty appear year after year? How common is it for Techshow to bring in fresh faces to speak? Finding myself snowed in on a recent Sunday, I decided to find out.

As it turns out, the “usual suspects” do not dominate the speaker roster. In fact, in recent years, infrequent speakers — the not-so-usual suspects — have made up half or more of the Techshow faculty each year. In two of the three most-recent Techshows (counting the upcoming 2015 show), a third or more of the faculty has consisted of speakers who are appearing at Techshow for the first time.

My Unscientific Survey

Before I go any farther, let me be very clear about a couple of points — maybe I should call them disclaimers:

  • Having faculty return year after year is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. To the contrary, many of those who speak at Techshow are among the best and most knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. That was why they were there in the first place and they deserve to be perennials.
  • If I felt strongly that there was a problem and wanted to do something about it, I had my chance. I was invited this year to serve on the Techshow planning board, but I declined because of other commitments.

Having made these points, I also strongly believe that, for a legal technology event, change is good. If it is to evolve and keep pace with the times, it needs some churn, in order to make room for new ideas and – dare I say it – new generations. Come to think of it, even keeping pace is not good enough; Techshow should be operating ahead of the pack.

So here is what I did on my snowy Sunday afternoon. I found the names of all the speakers at all the Techshows from 2009 to 2015 and dropped them into a spreadsheet. That showed me who spoke and how many times they spoke. Then, I played around with the numbers to see what I could find out.

Now, more disclaimers:

  • I go back only to 2009. I may show someone as a first-time speaker who was not, in fact, a first-timer, if the person spoke prior to 2009. I could not readily find rosters from prior to 2009.
  • I never found the full 2010 roster but I am pretty sure I have most or all of it.
  • If someone was listed as a speaker but never showed up for whatever reason, I have no way of knowing that.
  • My spreadsheet is embedded below. Feel free to check my numbers, if it matters to you.

OK, on to the results.

Techshow, Mythbusters Edition

The primary question I set out to answer is whether Techshow simply brings back the usual suspects year after year. As I said above, when you look at the big picture, this is not the case. In fact, infrequent speakers — those who spoke three or fewer times in the last seven years — make up half or more of the Techshow faculty each year. In two of the three most-recent Techshows, first-time speakers have made up a third or more of the faculty.

Let’s start with the most-frequent speakers. Yes, there are those who return year after year. (See above disclaimer.) Of the 171 total speakers over the seven years I surveyed:

  • Nine have spoken all seven years.
  • Seven have spoken six of the seven years.
  • Thirteen have spoken five times.
  • Thirteen have spoken four times.

So out of 171 speakers, 42 have spoken four or more times in seven years. (I’m using the past tense, but I’m including this year’s upcoming show.) That is a frequent-speaker rate of roughly 25%.

But what I was really interested in was how many new or infrequent speakers there are in any given year. For the upcoming 2015 Techshow:

  • There are 68 speakers.
  • Twenty-two are first-time speakers.
  • Three are second-time speakers.
  • Eleven are third-time speakers.
  • Twenty-eight did not speak the prior year (2014).

That means that:

  • 32% of this year’s speakers are new to Techshow.
  • 53% will have spoken three times or fewer in the last seven years.
  • 41% are different from the year before.

For last year’s 2014 Techshow, there were fewer first-time speakers:

  • There were 60 speakers.
  • Nine were first-timers.
  • Ten were second-timers.
  • Eleven were third-timers.

But when you looked at the overall percentage of those who were not “usual suspects,” the result came in close to 2015’s:

  • 15% were new to Techshow.
  • 50% had spoken three times or fewer.

I’ll go over one more year, 2013:

  • There were 54 speakers.
  • Twenty were first-timers.
  • Nine were second-timers.
  • Four were third-timers.

That works out to:

  • 37% were speaking for the first time.
  • 61% had spoken three times or fewer.

Thus, for the three most-recent Techshows, first-time speakers made up between 15-37% of the faculty and infrequent speakers made up 50-61% of the faculty. I consider that a more-than acceptable churn rate.

So Who Are The Regulars?

I know that some of you reading this will want to know the most-frequent speakers are. Here are the speakers who have appeared most consistently over the last seven years.

All seven years:

  • Calloway, Jim
  • Henley, Barron
  • Nelson, Sharon
  • Pinnington, Dan
  • Reach, Catherine Sanders
  • Schorr, Ben
  • Simek, John
  • Stevens, Ben
  • Trautz, Reid

Six of the seven years:

  • Burney, Brett
  • Foster, Debbie
  • Kennedy, Dennis
  • Petro, Nerino
  • Richardson, Jeffrey
  • Svenson, Ernest
  • Unger, Paul

Five of the seven years:

  • Best, Steven
  • Bilinsky, David
  • Levitt, Carole
  • Linares, Adriana
  • Mead, Lincoln
  • Medina, Victor
  • Metzger, Mark
  • Mighell, Tom
  • Neff, Donna
  • Ries, David
  • Rosch, Mark
  • Serpe, Richard
  • Siegel, Dan

So what does this all mean? Well, if nothing else, it satisfied my idle curiosity and occupied a home-stranded afternoon. Plus, the next time someone complains to me that Techshow is always the usual suspects, I’ll have an answer for them.

Or maybe I’ll just say, “Your problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”