The Conference Speaker’s Dilemma

After almost three years of conference speaking I achieved a first at a recent conference. The feedback from my session contained no negative comments. Normally, even if the majority of people loved your session, you get at least a few people who didn’t like the slides/code/choice of clothing etc, but not this time – this time there wasn’t a single negative comment.

So that must have made me a cert for top speaker, or at least in the top three, right? I mean I’ve been top speaker before when my talks have had a few negative comments so this time, with no negative comments, I must have rocked to the top.

Well, actually, no. You see this conference, like many others, has a metric to record how useful the attendees felt your talk was – i.e. how relevant is it to your day to day work and how soon/easily could you put the lessons learned into practice. Now my talk was on how functional programming can help solve many of the concurrency problems inherent in today’s OO language dominated solutions. By definition, of course, that meant that most of the audience were OO programmers and so none of them were going back to the office on the Monday morning to implement the lessons learned from my talk – this meant that my talk scored between 1 –3 out of 5 for usefulness. As this score counts towards the final score this placed me in the bottom half of all speakers at the conference.

Now, I know what you are thinking, who cares, right? I mean, everyone had a great time, everyone learned something, everyone went away thinking about what they had learned – the feedback says so – and that’s all that matters. Other than my ego, no one cares about the scores.

Sadly, it’s not that simple. You see many conferences will use your score from previous attendances to decide if they want you to come back again, and a low score is a low score, no matter what the feedback says. And that is the horns of the dilemma. Should speakers turn out good presentations that everyone loves, but score low and risk not getting invited back, or should they concentrate on topics that are still good, but focus on things that are immediately useful to the audience, to the detriment of their broader education?

As Sherlock Holmes would say, I think this is a two pipe problem. 🙂

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3 Responses to The Conference Speaker’s Dilemma

  1. It also helps when you submit sessions to the conference too* 🙂

    * Especially when you are on the committee that set the date for the submission deadline. :p

  2. hhariri says:

    Or they should just evaluate better :).

    That question, as it stands is not useful. If it’s not useful for your job its because

    1. You didn’t understand it because of bad speaker performance

    2. You did’t understand it because you just don’t understand the subject and stepped into the wrong session.

    3. You expected something different from that of the abstract

    4. You can’t use it at your day job because of certain restrictions, whether or not you loved the topic.

    1 and 3 are normally covered by other evaluation questions. If it’s 2, then well, tough luck :).

    As such 4 adds no value to the conference organizer nor to the speaker, as it stands. If they want to now expand that and provide reasons, then it might be a little more useful.

    Unfortunately many conference organizers just copy/paste evaluations from other conferences.

  3. Pingback: The Conference Speaker’s Dilemma

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