FEATURE

Speak at Claris Engage 2020

 

Mark Baum

 

Rosemary Tietge

Mark:

Hi Rosemary, thank you for getting together with me to talk about the new Claris Engage conference. We’ve both worked on producing its predecessor, FileMaker DevCon, and you’re a key member of the team that’s taking the event into the future. Since both of us want to encourage people to apply as speakers, we thought that publishing this conversation could inspire people to come up with sessions that align with the conference’s goals.

So, what is Claris Engage?

Rosemary:

This year -- on the twenty-fifth anniversary of FileMaker DevCon -- we’re starting something completely new called Claris Engage. We want to broaden the vision of the conference to explore how small and medium sized business and teams can leverage the benefits of digital transformation and the digital economy using Claris technologies.

We’re envisioning an energetic and broadly relevant event that embraces every aspect of digital transformation for small and medium businesses and teams. In addition to technologists, we hope to see more business people who are learning to use technology to move their business forward. We’d like to see sessions that explore the benefits of cutting-edge technology such as the internet of things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, and then show how the Claris platform can empower any problem solver to leverage these technologies to their benefit.

Mark:

But isn’t digital transformation something of a buzzword right now?

Rosemary:

It’s true that if you look at the world and the trade press, business transformation is a theme at every technology conference. However, it’s almost always speaking to the enterprise; it’s Gartner and McKinsey and Booz-Allen and all the other big consulting firms talking to enterprise CIOs and CEOs.

The scale at which they are working isn’t applicable to the core Claris customer; that is, the smaller business and the team. Claris has always been about making complex technology accessible to that market, and Claris Engage will hone that message and empower those problem solvers to achieve the same kinds of results at the SMB scale that the big consulting firms are achieving at the enterprise scale.

Mark:

It sounds like the content will be relevant to anybody interested in digital transformation, whether they choose to use the Claris platform or not. I bet that’s going to change my approach as a speaker. If my wheelhouse is talking about specifics of the platform, then I need to re-consider what I think of as a “Mark” session. I’m sure this will be true for quite a number of people who have spoken before -- perhaps more than for people applying to speak for the first time.

Do you see any special areas of focus in terms of the platform?

Rosemary:

I imagine that a lot of people are going to want to talk about Claris Connect because it’s new, but we’re still interested in how people are using every part of the platform. The key thing to remember is that we’re shifting away from sessions talking purely about the technology to sessions talking about goals, problems, and solutions. Don’t share cool techniques for their own sake; share how those techniques enable you to solve a problem in a better way.

Another way to put it is this: the FileMaker suite can’t be an island anymore. For a long time, many businesses and developers have used FileMaker Pro – often very effectively -- as an all-purpose tool. But with the way that the cloud application economy and the business world in general is evolving, the FileMaker Platform and Claris Connect are now strategic pieces in a much broader application puzzle.

Mark:

There are so many cloud-based tools out there offering such a wide range of features. What I’ve been hearing from my colleagues is that you don’t want to waste your energy -- or your client’ s budget – using FileMaker Pro to re-develop solved problems. Is that what you’re talking about?

Rosemary:

Yes, you’re much better off leveraging existing code in the cloud and focusing your custom effort on what makes the business unique. I think it was Todd Geist who said a few years ago, “Why would I parse addresses in FileMaker Pro? There’s an API that does it much better and that can account for every exception around the world much better than me custom coding it.”

Mark:

You know, I’ve understood all this intellectually but when you give me a concrete example like that, I realize how often I’m still falling back into old habits. I have a project right now where I need to parse some really messy addresses. Yikes! If that’s what this conference is about, then I need to be there.

Rosemary:

You and me both! (laughter) But you’re right: examples make all the difference, and stories do too. When I think about the best sessions I’ve seen, where I learned a lot, the speaker did a really good job of having a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Sometimes the technology is the story, sometimes the speaker or developer is the hero of the story, but regardless there’s some narrative thread throughout the entire session. It helps if there’s a case study informing the talk: here’s the problem, here’s the vision, here’s what we did with the technology, and here are the results.

Even if there isn’t a case study, you can still keep the focus on problem-solving. Let’s say your session is taking a deep dive into best practices for passing data among a series of APIs. Be sure to ask, “Why am I doing this? Where was I before I started following these standards? Where did this new information take me?” The bottom line is that we’re looking for some element of storytelling in every session.

Mark:

Stories are basic to how we take in information and how we learn. People need a framework to hang information on.

Rosemary:

And it’s a skill that we all can get better at. The more you develop your storytelling ability, the more effectively you can advocate for technology as a consultant or in your business.

Mark:

Absolutely. You’ll be a better salesperson for your services. And a better guide.

Rosemary:

I like that word, “guide”. It’s about guiding a business or an organization through the labyrinth of what’s possible with emerging technology.

Mark:

It’s a co-creative process: you’re telling a story collaboratively with your client about the problem they are encountering. You start by describing the problem together and then tell possible stories about how you might fix it. What quest you might go on! (laughter) It’s the classic hero’s journey: the world is disordered, you gather your company of helpful companions, you go through a series of trials, and when you are done, order has been restored. The world is back in balance.

Rosemary:

Joseph Campbell and the Power of FileMaker! (laughter) I do want to say that while it’s important to tell a story, when you’re writing your speaker proposal, please don’t send us an epic. We want a session description in 600 characters or less. It’s not supposed to be your full session or a description of your entire thought process. We just want to know what you’re aiming for, and to judge whether it’s relevant to the conference we’re putting together.

Also, please don’t forget to proofread your application. There are a lot of picky editors on the committee, and typos will turn them off right away.

Mark:

That’s a given. Whatever you propose should reflect your care and values. I wouldn’t be too OCD about it -- well, I might, but I don’t recommend it to anyone else (laughter) -- but it’s important to demonstrate that you value this opportunity and that you’re going to follow through with a quality session.

Rosemary:

Bear in mind that your proposal, or some version of it, is what becomes your session description on the conference website. So first you need to get us excited about it, and then later you’ve got to get the attendees excited too.

Fortunately, there are many different groups of people you can appeal to. One of the things we look for when we are putting together the program is how to represent the entire Claris community. By that I mean partner businesses, both the owners and the developers who work for them, plus customers and their in-house developers, and all the people who use the apps that the developers create.

Mark:

I’d like to see speakers with a wide range of experiences with the platform, too. Isn’t it so satisfying when some new developer steps up and says “I have something worth sharing” and then they blow everybody away?

Rosemary:

Yes! I want everybody to hear this: if you’ve never spoken before and you don’t think you have anything to say, think again. You probably do.

It’s true that we have a limited number of spaces for speakers. Hundreds of people apply and we can take maybe fifty or sixty… but if your proposal isn’t accepted that doesn’t mean that you have nothing to say. This year we’ll invite some applicants to give webinars and we’ll also make an effort to connect people with local user groups and other speaking opportunities throughout the year.

Mark:

It’s great that you’re giving people ways to grow and a path towards speaking in the future. Those opportunities matter in terms of opening up the pool of speakers, and a wider diversity of viewpoints can lead to stronger solutions and stronger communities. I’ve always wanted to see more women and people of color speak, and when I started coming to DevCon in 1992, queer people were basically invisible, so I’m glad to see groups like Women Innovating Together providing mentorship and people just generally opening doors for one other. Supporting each another is key.

Rosemary:

It’s really helpful if you can find someone who will listen to your proposals and encourage you, and who gets excited about what you have to say. Someone to help refine your proposals with you, and if you get chosen, to help develop your topic.

Mark:

An encouraging buddy can give a big boost to your confidence. And the more people who have the confidence to apply, the more choices you and Claris have got for putting together a more diverse conference with really rich content.

Rosemary:

That’s the plan. I’ve said many times that speaker selection is the hardest thing I do every year, and I want the community to keep making it harder, because we have such an incredible pool of talent with great ideas to share.

Another way we’re expanding the reach of the conference is by broadening it geographically. In March, we’ll begin the selection process for the new Claris Engage Europe conference.

Mark:

I want to go! How similar will it be to the US conference? It is worthwhile going to both?

Rosemary:

It is absolutely worthwhile. In overall structure the conferences will be similar, but we plan to recruit a completely different set of speakers. If we have a couple of sessions that are standouts for the US, and those speakers are willing to go to Europe, we might pick them up, but our goal is to provide distinct, and local, content.

One big difference is that we will include sessions in several of the European languages. That way, attendees for whom English is a second language won’t have to spend the entire time processing in English.

Mark:

That’s great. What about Claris employees? Who gets to go to Europe?

Rosemary:

We plan to send a big team from Claris to the event, with keynotes given by the project management team. There’s another difference -- they won’t be sharing exactly what they shared at the US conference.

Mark:

Right, because the timing is different, among other things.

Rosemary:

Exactly. We could have things to announce in late October that we weren’t ready to announce in early August.

Mark:

Hmm… I realize it’s not your primary goal, but selfishly I like the whole send-a-couple-of-US-speakers-to-Europe angle. What a great incentive to apply – and then to do a fabulous job speaking!

Rosemary:

Whatever gets you fired up! (laughter)

Mark:

Honestly, anything that can distract me from the self-doubt is a good thing. Applying to speak is intimidating! Every year I’m on the fence about whether to apply at all, and I go through all the same insecurities that I imagine most people have.

But talking to you has really helped. It makes a big difference to know what you are looking for, and our conversation has got my creativity kicking into gear. I’m feeling more optimistic that there’s some way that I can contribute.

Rosemary:

I’m glad you feel that way. I hope it our conversation encourages many people to apply and to attend Claris Engage.

Apply now to speak at Claris Engage.