Andrew Nacin on stage giving a presentation.

Random Thoughts on Selecting Speakers for conferences

I just finished attending my final conference for 2016 where I once again helped with the speaker schedule without having an input on selecting speakers.  Having been on both sides of the speaker selection coin, here are some random thoughts I have on it (including some half-baked ideas).

  • Prompt notification of speakers is incredibly important.  It sucks to be playing the waiting game.
  • Blind first reviews help to reduce bias towards “big names” and other inherent biases.  This is especially important if the review committee knows people proposing talks.
  • I wonder how doing two separate calls for speakers would work.  Essentially do one far out for “Timeless” talks and one much closer to the event for “Time full” talks. That way you give people lots of time to prepare for talks that are more game changers while also allowing some slots to be filled by talks that are about the issues of the day (since a lot can change from when you do an initial call for speakers to when a conference is).
  • I always appreciate when a talk is given to an audience for the first time. If a talk has been presented at a similar event and is available on video, it has significantly less value to me.
  • Diversity is incredibly important for a speaker lineup as it helps present to an audience that all types of people are doing great, important things you should know about.  Diversity in this context means physical presentation (gender expression, age, race, disabilities, etc.), experience, reputation in the community, and employer.
  • You should know who your audience is when you are doing speaker selection.  Use personas and make sure there are a number of talks for every persona you create. Ideally, your selection committee represents these personas.
  • Some slots should be used to invite people that wouldn’t normally apply. This is people from outside the community who wouldn’t normally see your call for speakers.
  • I like seeing at least one “reach” topic that leaves many people scratching their heads, but inspired to maybe understand something new.

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