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How to create enjoyable conferences for both organizers and speakers

Chris Noring
https://twitter.com/chris_noring Cloud Developer Advocate at Microsoft, Google Developer Expert
Updated on ・6 min read

Follow me on Twitter, happy to take your suggestions on topics or improvements /Chris

Why am I writing this? I see more and more in social media how organizers and speakers take turns venting frustration on one another. It's always the same. Conf does this or that. Speaker is not professional etc, valid critique/feedback I'm sure - but we miss the point.

The point is to understand each other, so we both, speaker and organizer, can plan for the unexpected, to mitigate risks, etc. I'm in a position where I've been a speaker for almost as long as I've been an organizer and I've observed a few things I'd like to share. Hopefully, it benefits someone.

Let's discuss different situations and see how we look upon them differently organizers as well as the speaker.

A ton of details goes into planning a conference. I can't cover them all in one article. Instead, I will focus on people, Organizers and Speakers and how they sometimes don't see each other's viewpoints. You both have responsibilities but there are both things you can do to avoid the worst frictions.

Plan for the worst and be happily surprised when things just work

References

Here's a great article on a similar theme

https://dev.to/jenlooper/the-care-and-feeding-of-your-conference-speakers-mfh

-1- Speaker is not at their talk on time, risking to delay the speaking slot

This happens way too often but there are ways around, both as speaker and organizer.

Most speakers do their utmost to be there on time in my opinion. If a speaker isn't there on time something has happened, they are either:

  • Lost, Not finding the location cause your venue is a maze (Oh yes happened on multiple occasions for me),
  • Stuck somewhere They've been held up,
  • The Unexpected , Something important has happened

So what to do?

  • Organizer:
    • Provide a map to the venue
    • Send out the speaking slots as calendar bookings with time and room
    • Assign a buddy, a buddy that may be a volunteer can ensure that the speaker is where they are supposed to be at all times of importance for the venue, speaking, AMAs, etc
    • Provide a comm platform, Slack, WhatsApp, etc
  • Speaker
    • Ask for a map, it's important to ask for things too
    • Make your own calendar bookings, hope the organizer sends out your talks as meetings but don't count on it
    • Scout the event the day before, make sure you find your room when the locations are empty, try estimate time from hotel to venue, even through a packed crowd
    • Communicate, if you are running late, tell them, maybe there's something the Conf can do to help you, send someone or prep something
    • Set the alarm, If you are working on your slides to the last second then set the alarm, attendees care more about how you present, your slides don't need to have the perfect font or picture or meme if it makes you late

-2- Speaker talk is too long

  • Organizer:
    • Hold up signs with 15, 10, 5 min left
  • Speaker
    • Rehearse, You should be rehearsing your talk so you know, in most slide decks you can see the passed time as well.
    • Learn your pace, generally learn how many slides you do per minute, remember, different time for different slides, bullet slides different than code slides for example
    • Skip content, ensure that you have links to slides and GitHub repos, that way even if you didn't have time to cover it, you can still offer it to the attendees after the fact

-3- Speaker talk is too short

as an organizer, I don't see the problem tbh unless it's a lot shorter >=50%

Organizer

  • Offer support, this usually happens with new speakers so ensure you are offering extra support for new speakers like offering them feedback on slides, offer to listen in on a dry run, etc, build them up, don't blast them on social media (can't believe I have to write this, but hey don't we all just love social media ;)
  • Have a backup, ensure you have lightning talks as backups. I like it when a conf offers lightning talks as a way for speakers to try out a smaller idea or for new speakers to wet their feet. You can't select everyone even here but you can have some names as backups in case a speaker doesn't show up at all or ends early
  • Relax room, believe it or not, most attendees don't want to hear 8h of non-stop talks. For that reason ensure you have relaxation rooms, could be for board games, retro gaming consoles, arts, and crafts or just for pure rest. If a talk ends early I know that I, as an attendee, will welcome it and head straight to that old school gaming room

Speaker

  • Remove content, As a ground rule, plan for a longer talk than your time slot, it's easier to remove content than coming up with it on the fly
  • Rehearse, you will notice if your talk is too short while rehearsing, there's no excuse for not rehearsing

-4- Speaker lacks the correct adapter

This happens way too often. Thank you Apple ;) cough USB-C

Organizer

  • Send out comms early informing speakers what adapter they can expect. However plan to support HDMI and USB-C, the ones by Samsung costs 1/3 of Apples and they work, so stockpile.

Speaker

  • Bring your own Adapter, you probably know better than anyone what works for your machine, potentially bring a backup machine or even send your slides to the org team. Create videos of your demos so you can potentially deliver both slides and demos. You can prepare for this scenario.

-5- Speaker couldn't get a VISA

This happens sadly way too often cause our world is shit.

Organizer

  • Backup, Ensure you have a list of backup speakers
  • Remote possible? , Potentially offer them to deliver remote, live or prerecorded

Speaker

  • :(
  • The speaker should feel empowered to ask for a Visa invitation, well ahead of time. If they've done this before they most likely even have a draft for a letter that mentions all the essential information and increases the likelihood of getting a YES. If you have such a draft, please offer it to the organizer. With these issues, time is ticking.
  • Same goes for remote talk, just ask, if not live then maybe it can be sent to attendees afterwards. You get the exposure as a speaker. The conference looks good, cause they still delivered the content somehow.

-6- Conf does not have a diverse line-up or is not inclusive

There are a few things here. This should start way before you even consider planning for a conf. Diversity in the community is everybody's business. This is about attendees as well speakers, you want it all to be diverse. Diversity is also many things, people from all walks of life.

Organizer

  • Offer scholarships, so attendees that otherwise couldn't go can

  • Aim for the goal you want, not for how things are, I often hear that we couldn't find enough diverse speakers or why should we have 50/50 that's not how society/community looks. A conf should always strive to be better than the status quo.

  • Have a diverse org team, without a diverse org team, someone's opinion will get overrun. If you observe that, be the ally, amplify their voice without taking over it

  • Ask for help, there are experts out there that deals with this, use them, from DAY1, not last week before conf, yes pay them for it, you are consulting (again, can't believe I have to write this)

  • Don't be an a.. Never asks someone to speak only/mostly because they belong to a diverse group. Never ever say that to a speaker's face either (can't believe I have to write this).

Speaker

  • Never accept a last-minute speaking slot if you belong to a minority group, it just condones bad behavior from organizers that should know better.

Diversity and Inclusion is what happens when you worked years and years creating safe spaces for all and you encouraged and mentored speakers from all backgrounds - Diversity happens because you consciously work on it and at it.

Please share your experiences, organizer as well as speaker, let's all be better - let's empathize with one another.

Discussion (3)

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alina_yurenko profile image
Аlina Yurenko

Hi, Chris, thank you for sharing this! Great ideas and very well written! Somehow I can relate as both a speaker and an organizer:)
"A conf should always strive to be better than the status quo." - love this!👏

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softchris profile image
Chris Noring Author

Thank you Alina, really appreciate that :)

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layzee profile image
Lars Gyrup Brink Nielsen • Edited

You are missing one point: "Speaker slot is too short". We need a buffer if the previous speaker went over time, we need time to get speakers on stage/off stage, we need time to get the audience in and out of the room, we need time for the speaker to set up the tech and get wired up, and so on...

What can we do? Organizers can tell several times how long the timeslots are and whether the time between speakers is included in those timeslots. Give speakers the opportunity to do tech checks before their timeslot. Have adapters. Make longer timeslots or make room for breaks between talks. Speakers can be on time, make tech checks before their timeslots, rehearse to time their talks well, be prepared to cut some content out of the talk.