Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What makes for a good talk at a tech conference?

I have the pleasure of helping select the talks for a couple of the Velocity conferences this year and after looking at several hundred proposals it is clear that there are widely varying opinions from submitters on what would make for a good talk and also a lot of cases where the topics may be good but the submitter may have the wrong focus. I'm certainly not an expert on the topic but I think that if you just keep one point in mind when submitting a talk for a tech conference (any tech conference) your odds of getting a talk accepted will go up exponentially:

It is all about the attendees! Period!

When you're submitting a talk, try to frame it in such a way that each attendee will get enough value out of your talk to justify the expense of them attending the conference (conference costs, travel, opportunity cost, etc). If all of the talks meet that criteria then you end up with a really awesome conference.

If you are talking about a technique or toolchain, make sure that attendees will be able to go back to their daily lives and implement what you talked about. More often than not that means the tools need to be readily available (bonus points for open source) and you need to provide enough information that what you did can be replicated. These kinds of talks are also a lot better if they are presented by the team that implemented the "thing" and not by the vendor providing the toolchain. For most tech conferences, the attendees are hands-on so hearing from the actual dev/ops teams that did the work is optimal.

Make sure you understand the target audience as well and make the talks generally applicable. For something like Velocity where the attendees are largely web dev/ops with a focus on scaling and performance, make sure your talk is broadly applicable to them. A talk on implementing low-level networking stacks will not work as well as a talk about how networking stack decisions and tuning impact higher-level applications for example.

What doesn't work?

  • Product pitches (there are usually sponsored tracks and exhibit halls for that kind of thing)
  • PR. This is not about getting you exposure, it is about educating the attendees.

1 comment:

  1. That text in yellow looks great on the black background, but is unreadable in Google Reader (white background), and hence possibly in other feed readers. Just thought I'd let you know.

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