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In August of last year, I left Codeworks where I had spent two years bringing the DIBI Conference to life and making it in to a web conference which people wanted to go to. One of the main reasons I left which I detailed
There’s been many discussions and raised opinions about conferences being that ‘same old, same old’, ‘friends of friends’ type of affair with the usual suspects standing on stage doing a talk.
There are of course a few different sides to this;
Marketing a Conference
In a general way, it’s easier to market a conference when the potential attendees know who the speakers are. This is of course true, if a speaker is currently a bit of a trend then they have a heavy following on the likes of twitter and their own blog or website. A conference organiser can utilise the following they have to sell tickets so a conference organiser could be asking them to speak for that reason alone.
Over time you notice that there is a trend of hot topics, whether it’s responsive web design, mobile apps, User Experience there is always a current hot topic and usually a person behind it. This person can go from not speaking at all to speaking at every web conference conceived and most of the time they’ve prepared one talk to be done over all of the conferences. Typically speaking from both a speaking and organising stand point, there is no problem with this unless the speaker is being paid to come up with a unique talk and most of the time it doesn’t happen.
Lack of Curated Content
Sometimes conference content isn’t curated. And by curated I mean, designed for its audience. This means that a conference becomes the same old faces due to the conference organiser not curating their content well enough.
Lack of ‘known’ speakers
There will never be a shortage of speakers but there is a lack of awareness of people who speak at conferences. It’s not for everybody and can be very daunting so a lot of people don’t like to put their name forward. So when the ‘pool’ of speakers is relatively (supposedly) small it would seem like there is only a few to choose from thus the ‘same old faces’ comes back to haunt us once more. Of course this is absolute rubbish if you just push yourself to look a little harder.
Over the two years I ran DIBI I never opened talk submissions but I did my best to curate the content to the attendees wants and needs. Much of this data was gained from doing surveys after each event and from my own research. I did however receive a couple of emails from people who were interested in speaking at the conference and it was rare to receive such an email, I made some direct decisions as to why they would or wouldn’t speak at the conference and I held myself to account for doing so.
In November 2011 after having a subscriber list setup for a couple of weeks at industryconf.com I announced that I was opening up talk submissions for the conference. This came as a slight surprise for some as it was something which I hadn’t done before. I had no idea how it would turn out but I did have a goal in mind for the amount of submissions I wanted to receive. My goal was 5 total submissions and I hoped (my hope is for a different article) that at least one female from our industry to put their name forward.
For established conferences with some notoriety it would be quite easy to request speaker submissions and be inundated with them, you’d think. However, it would seem it might not be the case. Recently I saw a tweet or discussion by Andy Budd that he receives little amount of submissions for his own conferences and Jeremy Keith had also written around the time of New Year this little note about the changes you want to see.
I hoped just from my own seemingly small place and group of friends and followers on the web I’d perhaps reach my target. I opened talk submissions for just over a month and the result was somewhat surprising.
Over that short period I received 52 talk submissions. Without disclosing who submitted talks proposals below I’ve detailed the data from the people that did submit.
There was a very minor few submissions which came in from people that I personally knew. There were a lot of submissions sent in from people who I’ve never met nor knew of. And that is a great thing as it was exactly what I was wanting. It’s obvious from the result that I was completely blown away by the amount of submissions I received.
I’d been thinking about it for a while yet also been very closed to the idea of doing it previously. For some people I could come across as a bit of a hypocrite and rightly so. Our industry should be thriving off new content and new speakers rather than being close minded and it just took me a while to realise and after thinking over it for a while, I made a decision to go for it. There are people in the industry that want to speak that I don’t know and this was a very good way to find them. I wanted to let people know that speaking at conferences was an open gate at which people can put themselves forward to do. The fact that you haven’t spoken before should not be a barrier as long as the content you’re submitting is a right fit for which the conference organiser is looking for.
Content curation and the desired attendee experience is everything to me. And this is just one small step towards that.
Thank you to everyone who submitted a talk, I really do appreciate it. Now, to go through them all.
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