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Tech with a Heart

Spotlight on: Taylor Banks of Cyber Summit Co.

Ahoy HeySummiteers! Welcome to Customer Spotlight #4, where we feature all the ways HeySummit has been used and loved by YOU. Here At HeySummit, we're always looking for new ways to help you make the best of your summits. Today, we're featuring Taylor Banks, Executive Director of Cyber Summit Co. Read on and get inspired 🏔️

The Challenge

Taylor Banks' mission was simple. After 23 years of working in the cybersecurity world, he wanted to use his experience and expertise to help others. Not just for those interested in getting into the industry, but for causes close to his heart. The cybersecurity industry is one fraught with high barriers to entry, high-stress and lack of diversity and Taylor was not one to sit by and watch. Well-versed in the fields of cybersecurity, e-commerce and digital marketing, Taylor leveraged his experience, skills, and networks to create Cyber Summit Co- an organisation running global summits that benefit charities and provide training and mentorship to students, professionals and executives alike.

Summits in the cybersecurity world number the hundreds- it is, after all, a field full of early and eager adopters of all things digital- so what made the events by Cyber Summit Co different? Well, for one, Cyber Summit Co, had a unique model: to promote thought leadership, mentorship, diversity and community through global summits. Their first event, the Cybersecurity Career Summit, was organised to benefit:

  • People who are keen to break into the cybersecurity industry

  • Cybersecurity professionals at various points in their careers

  • Charities doing innovative things, especially with regards to diversity, community, and thought leadership

With Taylor's ambition to become a champion of mental health support in the industry, the summit aimed to change the very fabric of the industry as a whole, its impact not limited to individuals looking for tips and tricks. Summits like this will contribute in meaningful ways to solving much larger problems than the smaller problems that each individual might be facing.

Anatomy of a Summit

Breaking down barriers to entry

An online education veteran, Taylor has several events under his belt. He launched his first global summit after noticing a large skills gap in the cybersecurity world. Despite there being plenty of people with incredible skills and appropriate knowledge to solve critical global problems; and companies needing such hires, there was an industry-wide struggle to get the right people into the right positions. In Taylor's quest to try and level the playing field, the Cyber Security Career Summit was born.

One of the major benefits of using HeySummit for this event was its ability to provide anyone who was interested free access to all of the training if they attended the sessions live. Taylor had a unique approach towards selling all-access passes: he donated a portion of the proceeds to non-profit organisations working towards some of the same goals as Cyber Summit Co, all of them close to his heart. The proceeds of his first summit went to three charities:

By making the event virtual and free to attend live, it broke down two main barriers to entry into the cybersecurity industry: location and cost. Taylor was proved right in his identification of the cause of the skills gap- over the 2 week summit, he had 341,000 people across 53 countries accessing free content across multiple platforms. Attendees from Kenya to Kuwait; Costa Rica to Canada, were able to gain insight into this lucrative and exciting field.

Diverse attendees call for diverse speakers

Having speakers from diverse backgrounds was a top priority- and pretty much the main criteria for speaker selection. Taylor leveraged his wide network within the community, which he grew over the last 20 years by founding local groups that foster mentorship, notably DC404, as well as through speaking and volunteering at events including ISSA, ISACA, InfraGard, Black Hat, BSides, Outerz0ne LayerOne, NOLACon, DerbyCon, and the world's biggest and longest-running annual hacking conference; DEF CON, where he's been on staff for over 8 years.

He reached out to people who are either sharing unique information or have a unique story about how they got to where they are. One example is Tracy Maleeff.

A former librarian, Tracy leveraged her skills as a researcher and communicator, as well as her emotional intelligence, to successfully pivot to the cybersecurity space. Taylor's aim was to show that people in his industry come from all walks of life. Taylor himself was able to excel in the field without a college degree. Other standouts include Jon Callas, co-founder of PGP, who credited improv classes for teaching him how to have dynamic conversations with people and how to respond in the moment to issues he encountered in corporate environments.

Taylor has encountered tons of other summit organisers and says the top mistake they make is they want to use speakers as marketers. Essentially, they choose speakers based on their following/ email list so they can use the speaker's reach to gain attendees, instead of focusing on the relevance or impact of what a speaker has to share. When contacting speakers via platforms such as Twitter, Taylor makes sure to address specifically why they would be a good fit for his summit's theme, objectives and most importantly, mission. He found that since a lot of speakers also supported and admired similar causes to himself, it was the extra motivating factor that helped them say- "yes, I'll speak!"

Choose your topics carefully

Taylor based his summit topics largely on his own read of the industry. While a plethora of conferences out there already offered talks on hard skills- technical skills, hacking 101 etc., what was less available were soft skills. People talk about reverse engineering; but not about how important it is to have emotional intelligence. There are always discussions on malware analysis; but not on the importance of hiring people who bring diversity of thought within their organisations.

Hence, the focus became: what are the soft skills and the human skills that are going to help people be successful above and beyond those who only possessed technical skills.

Marketing motivation

Essentially a one-person show, Taylor ran both organic and paid campaigns on a variety of social networks, and invited speakers to share and promote the summit. With most proceeds from ticket sales going to charities, event sponsors paid for around 90% of the summit's marketing budget. One key lesson learnt from the planning experience was that onboarding both speakers and sponsors at the same time takes hard work. And a lot of it. As such, Taylor recommends having a three-month runway to focus solely on sponsor recruitment. By getting the right sponsors involved early on, your summit will have a big reach and an even bigger impact (more revenue for marketing = more people reached = more tickets sold = more money given to charity, everybody wins!)

Speakers came onboard to market the event almost organically. For example, Kavya Pearlman, a Cybersecurity Strategist, strongly believed in the summit's vision after seeing it advertised on social media; emailed Taylor to get involved and became a speaker! With almost 13,000 followers on LinkedIn, her frequent posts about the event really drove up the attendance numbers. Still, Taylor supported speakers with copy and whatever they needed so that there was no pressure to be his summit's 'marketing engine'.

Top Tips

Let's talk talks

Taylor pre-recorded all talks via Zoom Webinar and BigMarker. With all of the talks free to attend live, the summit gained loads of traction and pre-recorded talks gave Taylor the ability to squash any AV issues, as well as giving speakers the ability to participate in live chat as the sessions ran. Typically, if a speaker is giving a presentation live, it's difficult to read and answer questions while presenting. With a pre-recorded session, speakers could focus entirely on answering questions on the webchat and immediately respond without interrupting their presentation.

Taylor got lucky with his line-up in terms of time-zones, and out of all the 20+ pre-recorded sessions, every speaker was available to chat during their allocated time. When speakers share your mission, you'll find they go above and beyond, as Taylor did when one speaker went the extra mile and answered questions in the chatroom via SMS- at 1 am local time.

The live Q&A format certainly complemented the topics in the summit. The most well-attended talk, with over 200 attendees, was on emotional intelligence for cyber security professionals. Throughout the session, there was lots of activity in the chatroom- with most attendees feeling like the interaction with the speaker especially, helped them to understand the importance of developing emotional intelligence in the field of cybersecurity.

Not without hiccups

One thing we know for sure about event organising is that there are bound to be a few hiccups - whether technical or user-generated we've found that how an event organiser deals with these issues makes or breaks the summit. Because of Taylor's testing of the technology and his calm manner, he was able to support his attendees during the critical live launch of his summit. In Taylor's experience, being flexible, transparent, and firm was the smoothest way to handle any issues.

Being a one-person band meant that Taylor had to schedule time for speakers to record their talks and for quality checks. For a summit featuring over 20 speakers, this took up most of his time. Most speakers were also extremely busy and sometimes didn't catch that the talks had to be pre-recorded as opposed to live- a lesson that Taylor will take with him to his future summits.

"Speakers are focused on their own jobs first and foremost," he says. He wrote long, detailed emails to all speakers explaining the entire summit process. He now sees that the key is to be concise with the messaging, really focusing on the bare minimum that speakers need to know. TL;DR is the way forward.

Prepare to plan... a lot!

With help from his wife, Taylor was in charge of recruiting speakers, getting sponsors, marketing and creating the event on HeySummit.

For summit newbies, Taylor warns that the amount of organisation and planning is more significant than most people would expect. While platforms like HeySummit automate many of the technical parts of the event, most people assume there won't be any work around integrating those parts of the process with the rest of your tools.

But that is not the case.

For example, although HeySummit manages the registration process, ticketing process, you'll still want to spend time planning your registration questions, your revenue model and ticket configuration, the information you'll add to Speaker Dashboards and more. Furthermore, Cyber Summit Co's tech stack included over a dozen other tools (including HelpShelf) that proved critical to executing a mostly-flawless event.

To manage the planning process, Taylor used online project management tools to track his progress in the various stages. With tools like these, he had an overview of all the things he had to do, in order. Ultimately, Taylor believes that HeySummit reduces the effort by probably 70%- but that remaining 30% requires a fair amount of time and dedication to ensure a summit's success.

Bootcamp incoming

So, what's next for Taylor?

Exciting things are in the works, as always! Firstly, he's launching an online course to help others kick off their own summits- especially folks wanting to donate their profits to charities. Instead of being a large-scale event spanning several weeks, he's built a concise, impactful bootcamp.

With about six hours worth of content, it can easily be digested in one day and is action-driven. Perfect for busy summiteers looking to focus solely on the most important aspects of summit planning- (which are not necessarily the most obvious steps) like speaker recruitment and sponsor onboarding.

He also has his hands full on a project with Adam Anderson, one of the speakers at the Cybersecurity Career Summit, working on a new realm of security referred to as psychological security, or PsySec. He sees it as the future of cybersecurity, where emotional intelligence and psychological safety intersect to play a crucial role in the success of an organisation.

For example, in an organisation where there's good PsySec, people trust one another. They communicate well and have strong emotional intelligence. Since they're comfortable working with their colleagues, when problems arise, they're comfortable sharing information with those capable of solving them.

The awesome result of this? The potential impact of such problems are significantly reduced. And this is what Taylor hopes all cybersecurity firms will be able to achieve in the future- with his help, of course.

Intrigued? Check out his page here.

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