Over the recent conferences, I’ve had several people ask me the follow:
I would like to better understand the expectations from the organising committee on the talk proposals. In particular, I would like your feedback on my talk submission so that I can work on improving the same.
I think, this is a very valid question:
What is the selection criteria for the talks?
I’ve been organising conferences for a decade now and following is my perspective:
In terms of the overarching themes or values, we look at the following during selection:
- Diversity – As a conference, we want to be more inclusive (different approaches, different programming languages, gender, countries, back-ground etc.)
- Balance – We want to strike a good balance between different types of presentations (expert talks, experience reports, tutorials, workshops, etc.) and different types of experience the speakers bring to the conference.
- Equality – We encourage more students and women speakers. We won’t select a stupid proposal just because it came from a student or a female speaker. But given we have to pick 1 out of 2 equal proposal, we’ll pick the one, which was proposed by a student or a female speaker.
- Practicality – People come to a conference to learn, network, have an experience and leave motivated. Proposals which directly help this are always preferred. While a little bit of theory is good, but if the proposal lacks practical application, it does not really help the participants. Also people learn more by doing rather than listening. If proposals has an element of “learn by doing” it wins over other proposals. Take people on a learning journey.
- Opportunity – While we want to ensure the conference has at least 2/3 rock solid speakers, we also want to give an opportunity to new speakers, who have real potential
- Originality – Original ideas wins hands-on from copied one. People always prefer listing to an idea from its creator rather than second or third person. However, you might have taken an idea and tweaked it in your context. You would have gained an insight by doing so. And certainly all of us want to hear your first-hand experience, even though you were not the creator of the original idea. We are looking for Thought-Leadership.
- Radical Ideas – We really respect people, who want to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo. We have a soft-corner for unconventional ideas and will try our best to support them and bring awareness to their work.
- Demand – Votes on a proposal and buzz on social media gives us an idea of how many people are really interested in the topic. (We fully understand votes can be gamed, but we’ve a system that can eliminate some bogus votes and use different types of patterns to give us a decent sense of the real demand.)
Once the proposal fits into our value system, here are some basic/obvious stuff we expect when we look at the proposal in the submission system:
- Is the Title matching the Abstract?
- Under the Outline/Structure of the Session, will the time break-up for each sub-topic will do justice to the topic?
- Is there a logical sequencing/progression of the topics?
- Has the speaker selected the right session type and duration for the topic? For Ex: 60 mins talk might be very boring.
- Has the speaker selected the best matching Theme/Topic/Category for the proposal?
- Is the Target Audience specific and correct? Also does it match with the Session Level?
- Is the Learning Outcome clearly articulated? Ideally 3-5 points, one of each line.
- Based on the Outline/Structure, will the speaker be able to achieve the Learning Outcomes?
- Based on the presentation link, does the speaker have good quality content and good way to present it?
- Based on the video link, does the speaker have a good presentation (edutainment) skills? Will the speaker be able to hold the attention of a large audience?
- Based on the additional links, does the speaker have subject matter expertise and thought leadership on the proposed topic?
- Are the Labels/Tags meaningful?
Proposal stands the best chance to be selected, if it’s unique, fully flushed, ready-to-go. Speaker please ensure to provide links to your:
- previous conference or user group presentations
- open source project contributions
- slides & videos of (present/past) presentations (other conferences or local user group or in-office)
- blog posts or articles on this topic
- and so on…
When selecting a proposal, we pay attention not only to the quality of the proposal, but also quality of the speaker, .i.e. whether the speaker will be able to effectively present/share their knowledge with others. Hence past speaking experience (videos & slides) are extremely important. If you don’t have a video from past conference presentation, that’s fine. Try to setup google hangout in one of your upcoming local user group meeting or internal office meeting, where you are presenting and share that link. This will give the committee a feel for your presentation skills and subject matter expertise.
While this might look very demanding, it is extremely important to ensure we put together a program which is top-notch.