A couple of weekends ago I had the great opportunity to attend lessconf. It was an all around great conference, and as a result of the greatness I ended up having a conversation with a few people around conference experience. I must give much of the credit to Swift, as he mentioned he’d already been thinking alot about this since Waza. In general it feels like there’s a few key themes that any conference should focus on, then a lot of small things that can really push it over the top. Here’s a few:
In general the key areas for any great conference are:
- Great people
- Ensuring communication happens
- Bonus points
Digging in deeper on the first area…
Quality talks are obviously important. A conference should at whatever cost ensure that the talks are good. This can happen a variety of ways, but regardless of the method you should ensure talks are worthwhile; since this is largely what most people are paying to attend for.
Perhaps the easiest way to do this is via invite only to speakers you know will do a good job. The downside ot this of course is that you must already know enough people to fill out a good agenda, and also you limit the ability for others to contribute.
This is not an either/or option with any of the other pieces for getting a good agenda. Having presenters do a trial run can ensure a minimum level of quality, and working with them to coach them can help make the talk even more effective. Its likely that the organizers know the audience as well as anyone, so no one better than them to help with this. Of course this is a time sink for both parties, but can give good returns. Of course this could be done independent of a specific conference such as through speakup.
At a very least getting a quick run through, outline, or something of that nature can ensure that a presenter doesn’t fill a 45 minute talk slot with only 5 minutes of content.
Likely the most common approach to getting speakers is having an entirely open CFP. Its typical then that either the organizers or a speaker selection commitee then discusses and makes selections. This can usually work to have a nice balance of experienced and known to be good speakers and newer less experienced speakers that can have great potential as well.
Open Open CFP
Going even further is an open CFP where all talks are published after the CFP then voted on. While this does a great deal to ensure transparency, it doesn’t necessarily improve ensuring theres a great line up of speakers. Being able to write an interesting talk proposal is an entirely separate process from delivering an interesting talk.
There’s a common question lately for both the open CFP and open open ones one whether to do blind review of the talks. The logic here is an attempt to be entirely fair, versus having some bias. This is an understandable goal, but can come at the expense of quality. Truth be told; I’m not entirely sure of a way to balance this.
There’s definitely not a one size fits all. If you’re goal is to provide a good list of talks then you should keep that in mind in how you decide your talks. If you’re goal is to pull others in then it should be shaped differently. Zach Holman recently talked a bit about this and had some interesting ideas to minimize risk for new speakers.