An open letter to conference’s organizers

I got my first international speaking opportunity in 2012. After sending countless proposals and getting just as many rejects I got an email from DevReach telling me I got accepted – I remember reading it twice just to make sure. Speaking on DevReach was a big change from the user group talks I’ve done until then (and still do) – it was an amazing conference and I had the time of my life. Since then I’ve spoke at many other conferences and enjoyed every single one of them. However over the years I’ve noticed several things that some conferences did better than others – I’m not talking about the venue, number of speakers or the food/snacks but rather I’d like to focus on the relation between the single speaker and the conference’s organizers.

But first of all – if you’re a conference organizer I’d like to say one thing:

Thank you!

I’d like to say it again – thank you!

If you ever helped organize a conference – you’ve helped make our craft better and made a difference to countless other developers. You’ve labored for days (and nights) so that other practitioners of our craft can learn things that will make them better at their job while having a damn good time on top of that.

Thank you for providing a place to share ideas and learn new things – and if by chance you’re responsible for a conference I was fortunate to speak at – I will ever be in your debt (or owe you a beer).

Having said that, there are three things I’ve noticed some conference employ which I  wish all conference would do – I guess that the whole purpose of this post – and so without further ado let’s talk about the very beginning – how to find out about your conference: 

Please help me find out about your conference

As a speaker there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that you’ve just missed a conference’s CFP (Call For Papers) – that magical time in which you can submit talk abstracts to be considered, evaluated and even be selected as a fitting topic for that conference.

Some conference have a notification in place if you’ve already spoken at a conference in the past or it has a speaker mailing list. Otherwise a speaker needs to scan the internet with the hope of not missing another conference for the third time in a row. I do try, but I miss conferences CFP all the time even with good friends helping me catch CFPs, and following many twitter accounts as well as searching the internet on a monthly basis – I still find that catching the right conference is just too hard.

So if you want to make potential speakers lives easier – just create a mailing list and send us an email so we know when your conference is looking for speakers.

Make the speaker’s “benefits” known upfront (I.e. reimbursement)

Some conferences offer travel and/or hotel reimbursements while other offer different forms of compensation and some conferences don’t offer any – which is ok.

Not all conferences have the same budget – some have sponsors and ticket sales, while other are free and so cannot help the speaker with any travel or boarding costs – what you can or would provide your speakers it strictly up to you. All of this is well but the least you can do is let me know up-front.

The first thing I look for before submitting a few talks is if I’ll need to pay in order to speak, I need to be able to decide if the cost of travel and/or hotel on top of lost work days is worth speaking at your conference – if you let me know in time I might get an employer to cover some of the costs or even sponsor your conference, or I decide not to waste both our time.

In the last year I had to refuse a few speaking opportunities because the conference organizer notified me that I’ll need to cover my plane ticket only after my talk was already accepted and it was too late to do anything about it – other than cancel my appearance.

Help be become a better speaker (a.k.a feedback)

Everyone want to improve. If you’ve just rejected my session(s) – take a minute and tell me why. I used to send emails back to organizers asking what they did not like about my proposals – and gained a lot from their response. One conference which I like and respect did something even better – they post the reasons they have rejected your talks in your personal space on their site – so you get an explanation on how you can improve the next time you send session proposals.

Once a talk is over I like to talk with the audience to find out if they liked my talk and which parts they think were better and which should be tossed away. Some conferences do a good job of providing valuable, usable feedback as quickly as they can – and I wish I had proper feedback for each session I ever given.

Conclusion

This post is not a rant. Most of the conferences I spoke at over the years employed at least one of the practices mentioned  above. It’s all a matter of thinking about the speaker which in turn would help you make your conference great.

So if you’re planning a new conference or about to have the 99th year of an existing conference I wish you take the points I wrote about to heart.

And for the rest of you – the next time you go to an conference remember that someone worked hard to make sure you have a good time and be able to learn new cool things – and say thanks the organizers.

 

Until then – Happy coding…

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