In 2015, I gave a few different talks. In the past, I’ve talked at large conferences, like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Computing (which is so well put on, it’s mind-blowing), I’ve talked at tiny conferences held in hotel ballrooms and I’ve talked at conferences at various sizes in-between. Throughout all of this I’ve had both good and bad experiences in terms of the logistics of speaking at conferences. So today, I’ll share my $0.02 (or 0,139 DKK where I live) on what I personally think conference organizers can do in order to make speakers want to return and give a talk at their conference again.
1. Inform Speakers about the Demographic of the Audience
To give a good talk, it’s important for a speaker to know the demographic he or she will be talking to. This is especially true for technical talks, where lack of knowledge about the audience ahead of time runs the risk of the speaker over- or under-estimating the average technical knowledge of the audience. Try to provide some information about the size of the audience, as well as their background and average level of technical knowledge.
2. Provide Information about the Technical Specifications of the Presentation Equipment Ahead of Time
In order to prepare good slides, speakers need to know the resolutions supported by the projector (and whether sound will be supported in the A/V setup at all). They also need to know what kinds of inputs the projector accepts and whether or not they need to come prepared with their own adapters (though, to speakers, I say always come prepared with your own adapters — it’s just easier).
It’s also important to have a time/place where the speakers can test their computer (if they are presenting from their own machine) against the A/V equipment before the talk. At a conference I was at this past year, we didn’t have this, and I actually watched another presenter give an entire talk with no slides due to input detection difficulties.
3. If Your Schedule Gets Off of Conference Day, Don’t Try to Solve It by Suddenly Taking Time Away from the Next Speaker
Good presenters rehearse carefully before their talk so that their timing is correct. The talk is often designed to exactly fill the allocated time slot. At a recent conference, the people running the conference decided to delay the post-lunch talks by about 5 minutes to give everyone extra time to get settled. This itself is fine, but I ended up having a moderator start rushing me 5 minutes before the end of my carefully-rehearsed, correctly-timed talk to wrap-up so the rest of the afternoon could stay on schedule. Please don’t do this. 🙁
4. Don’t Schedule Speakers Who Don’t Know Each Other in Shared Timeslots
…unless you’re going to do something to ensure that each speaker in the slot doesn’t run over on time. This is related to the previous point: good presenters have well-rehearsed, well-timed talks and they can’t present well if they suddenly don’t have the amount of time allocated to them that they were expecting.
5. If You Will Introduce Speakers with a Bio, Ensure Your Facts are Correct
I’ve been introduced with the wrong job title and as coming from the wrong country, as immediate examples. The bad thing about this is that it’s awkward to correct on-the-fly. Luckily, it’s easily preventable. Just double-check the facts before-hand (or ask the speaker to write their own bio and don’t improvise).
And that’s it. Of course none of these issues makes or breaks a conference, but in my opinion, they’re a few simple steps you can take to make speakers enjoy talking at you conference and want to return.