Thoughts on Conference Submissions

The last week I’ve been in Oslo, Norway where I had the pleasure of being on the NDC Sydney 2019 Agenda committee and speaking at the conference.

Whilst I’ve had a fair bit of experience creating agendas via DDD Melbourne and user groups it was very interesting to see how a large commercial (and one of my two fav Australian conferences along with Web Directions) handles putting an agenda together.

Opinions are mine and mine alone
I should probably start of by saying what follows is my opinion and may not reflect that of other agenda committee members or NDC organizers.

The agenda we proposed will also be reviewed by NDC organizers before speakers are informed so is likely to change a bit (and no I wont tell you who got in etc you’ll have to wait until the official emails!).

With that out the way there are a few things I wanted to talk about and things you can do to maximize your chances of getting in.

NDC

Sometimes you may do everything right and not get in
First up don’t be put off if you are declined from a conference.

NDC Sydney 2019 received over 800 submissions and there are a lot less spots. This means many people are not going to be successful and includes some well-known names.

You not getting in isn’t necessarily (but might be!) a reflection of your speaking abilities, how your talks went previously or your topic it is simply impossible to squeeze everyone in.

There was more than enough awesome content to fill multiple conferences.

What can you do to maximize your chance of speaking well I have a few thoughts but the main thing I’d encourage you to do is simply keep submitting!

Commercial conferences need to make money
Whilst it would be wonderful for a conference to be able to support every speaker and topic a commercial conference is significantly different to a community event such as DDD Melbourne and needs to attract customers.

Whilst these are not the only drivers having well known great speakers and interesting topics will likely equal more customers

Have a think about your subject – would you or your colleagues pay to see the talk you are proposing?

If the answer is no then your talk may be better placed in a local user group.

Choose a great title
Major conferences get many submissions and the title is the first thing the agenda committee sees.

A good title is interesting, enough to draw the reader in for a deeper look or makes it obvious what the session is about and I guess in an ideal world all of the above.

Also avoid cliché titles such as Make SAP great again (it’s probably not possible), in the trenches with Silverlight etc as these titles suck.

Write a clear & concise abstract that describes what your session is about
With many sessions to review you want to make the agenda committee’s job easy.

Some session summaries were like mini novels and despite all the text it was still difficult to work out what the presenter wanted to actually talking about!

Writing a good abstract is hard (as is concise writing) and needs practice. Get someone else to read your abstract does it make sense?

Also avoid swearing (many of us enjoy a good swear but this isn’t the place for it) and slang as it may not make sense to the reader.

Tag your session correctly
If a conference asks you what category your session fits in please don’t tag it with every subject.

Most sessions have 1 or 2 primary categories they fit in.

Categories are one way of ensuring a distribution of subjects in a conference and if you tag your session with everything it just makes more work.

Proofread and spelling
Just do it, there’s tools to help and if you are crap at this stuff get a friend or colleague to help.

Review pre-booked speakers at conference
If you can see a conference has a well-known expert, author or contributor to a library, language or framework talking you probably don’t want to be submitting a what’s new in X or introduction to Y talk on the same subject.

Whilst some subjects will warrant multiple talks guess who the general public would rather hear from a) the author of a framework/library or b) an unknown speaker?

Having said this it is certainly not impossible to speak about the same topic as a big name speaker (we accepted sessions that did on popular subjects) but you’ll probably need want something unique to make your session relevant.

Avoid intro level talks unless its something very new
If it’s a subject that has been around for a while and is well understood I think you’d be better avoiding an intro-level talk for a commercial conference.

Attendees will likely be familiar with what you will discuss or can quickly learn about it and it wont draw people to the conference.

Well known speakers can however probably revisit any topic they want as will still draw a crowd but if you are reading this article this probably is not you (yet!).

Consider the conference you are submitting to
NDC has a wide range of development talks with probably a lean towards the Microsoft platform. A talk on very niche subjects of say Perl may be better suited else where.

Consider avoiding personal story/philosophy style talks
Whilst you may have some awesome stuff to say unless you are well known or have a particularly interesting story to tell the general audience we may not be that excited about how your cat gave you a different perspective on Angular (I’d love to hear over a beer however).

Some subjects are going to be a harder sell
Its no surprise that the development world has trends and there are some subjects that just aren’t that popular right now.

Something that is very niche such as run SQL Server on custom Finish Alpine Linux kernel reverse proxy docker container on Google cloud is probably only going to be relevant to a few people so likely wont get in.

Other subjects such as old JavaScript libraries or stuff that has fallen out of favour will also be a harder (but not impossible) sell.

Make it easy for us to find your past talks
You do have past-talks right?

A commercial conference likes to see a speakers history so they have some assurance you will do a good talk.

If you have no history then you are a risk which is a shame as you may be awesome and have lots to say!

There’s an easy way to deal with this and that’s to go and talk at various user groups and meetups and do talks.

Practice is also going to make you a better speaker full stop.

Expecting a commercial conference to take a chance on you if you have no history of speaking is a bit of an ask – but does happen.

We do look in detail into short listed speakers, try and find a quick look at videos of previous talks etc so make them easy to find!

Summary
For those of you that wont be successful this time to NDC Sydney please don’t be put off -keep submitting talks, talk at your local user group & DDD events and try again next year.

I’m really excited about the agenda we have for NDC Sydney 2019 and (I’m biased) but its seriously the best ever!

 

 

BuzzConf 2015

Last weekend I had the opportunity to talk at the inaugural BuzzConf.

BuzzConf is a bit different to other technology conferences with bands & DJ’s in the evenings and a family/kid orientated track with workshops on robots and Minecraft!

The conference was held in the beautiful but somewhat cold Phoenix Park to the west of Melbourne and attendees had the choice of either camping or staying in dorm/cabin style accommodation.

 

Free Internet access was provided to all attendees & a number of catering vans offered drinks and food for sale.

The theme of BuzzConf is emerging technology which certainly led to some interesting talks – I have to say currently I am enjoying these type of talks a lot more than how to use a new framework or language feature style ones.

I gave a 30 min talk on brain computer interfaces which has been one of the more interesting talks I have put together.

Putting this talk together made me realize:

  • Brain/Computer interfaces are further advanced than you may think
  • Although it is less comfortable it is possible to put together a talk on something you have a shallow knowledge of..
  • Everyday work can seem a bit trivial when compared to developers dealing with real tricky problems such as decoding optical neurological impulses
  • I want an Emotiv (a consumer BCI device) to play with

You can see my slides under the download section of my site.

I only spent a short time at BuzzConf due to parental responsibilities but my favorite thing about it was there was a nice feeling of community at the event.

I left the conference feeling very optimistic after a number of inspiring talks.

BuzzConf will be held again in 2016 and you can register your interest on the main page of the site – I look forward to attending the whole weekend next time with family.

DDD Melbourne 4 thoughts

A few weeks ago we held our 4th DDD Melbourne event. The feedback’s all in (thanks Mahesh for consolidating it) & I wanted to jot down some of my thoughts on what I thought went well & what er didn’t work quite so well. This is my opinion & may or may not be shared by the other coordinators & helpers 🙂

First of all we asked what delegates overall rating was of the conference:

  • 37% of people were very satisfied
  • 47.7% of people were satisfied
  • 13% dissatisfied
  • 2.2% very unsatisfied

We haven’t really tracked this previously so it gives us a good basis to see how we improve in the future.

I have to say from the feedback I think some people probably haven’t been to too many conferences & might have some unrealistic expectations from a $25 community run conference but I like a challenge!

This was by far our biggest event and we had over 320 delegates, speakers and organizers. I have been running user groups, conferences and events for a long time and we normally expect around a 30% dropout for free or low cost events – it’s been very consistent over the previous years at both a DDD & user group/event level.

This year however just 12% of registered delegates didn’t turn up! – which is awesome but also gave us quite a few more people than we were expecting.

Our day probably didn’t get off to the best of starts with one of our coordinators falling sick (although he bravely still talked later in the day). Unfortunately he also had most of the food & snacks in his car which were instead kindly delivered by John Azariah – thanks John!

For a DDD event the start of the day is always the busiest with putting up of signs, unloading of vehicles and registration of delegates. We accidently left our nice printed direction signs amongst all the other items we had to bring which meant a mad dash to pick up some card board and to draw up some direction signs!

After a rushed start I think the registration process was pretty smooth – I know a few delegates missed out on a conference bag but suspect some people must have been pinching an extra bag as we should have had enough for all the delegates grrr.

This year we had a key note speaker – Joe Albahari Author of C# in a nutshell and LinqPad. From the feedback we received I know a lot of people really enjoyed Joe’s talk so we will certainly be continuing with something similar in future conferences.

I personally like that our DDD events are a mix of well known, experienced speakers and also some new guys – everyone has to start somewhere and it’s great to see some new people getting out there & doing a talk.

I know some people didn’t like the conference being split across two buildings but it seemed a shame not to make the most of the big ATC building (where the keynote was). I guess ideally we would probably restrict everything to one building but having the bigger room also enables us to open the conference up to more delegates.

We also moved our registration from the engineering to ATC building which I think may have confused a few people – however it seemed silly to get everyone to register in one building and then go to another for the keynote. Something we need to plan better from the start.

Some commented that we could open up the event to more delegates. I have to say I fight this battle with my fellow coordinators Lars & Mahesh every year J

I’m glad we didn’t. The logistics become so much more complicated with more money, vehicles, people etc that we are better off increasing our numbers gradually and learning how to handle the larger numbers.

Probably the main area we received feedback about was the food (51% saying it was good but not enough of it). In previous years we have ordered pizzas but this year decided to try something different with professional caterers.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the food – not in terms of the quality but just the amount that we got. I know that some people missed out entirely on food – sorry!. Believe it or not we spent around $3500 on morning tea & lunch & this isn’t taking into account the snacks and drinks. One individual involved in running dev events recommended to me that we need to order 25% more food for developers than a “normal” group – I suspect they might be right!

I really don’t feel there was a lot of food for the money. The catering company also didn’t provide any plates (they apologized for this) which meant a quick dash to buy some throw away plates. Sadly due to this myself and a few others had to pick up some of the dropped food which was a particular low point in the day for me 😦

Vegetarian options should also have been properly labelled (it’s not something that occurred to us) and probably should have been done by the catering company but it’s something for us to think about in the future.

We received some comments about lack of vegan & diabetic friendly options – we’ll always provide a vegetarian option but I’ll be honest in a community run event with limited funds & resources we are going to struggle to cater for specialist diets. I am open to ideas about how we could cater for these sorts of requirements through?

Amusingly last year we received feedback that some wanted healthier options and this year some said they wanted the pizzas back – maybe a mix next year?

The other item we received some feedback on was lack of afternoon tea – this was actually my fault as I put out the food the break earlier & it had pretty much all gone by the next break. Either way we need more food so we have enough to last throughout the day.

This year was the first year we tried to have more interactive workshop based sessions. We received mixed feedback on these – some people loved the idea and others thought they were too short to really work. This will be something we talk about with the other coordinators but I suspect we may keep it albeit in a slightly different fashion.

Some people said there was a lot of web content – this however reflects what people voted for (there were a number of sessions I would have liked to see get in which didn’t) & we are never going to be able to please everyone.

Finally this year we introduced an after party with sponsor funded drinks. It was great to meet some new people and we had a good night however not as many people as we hoped turned up so not sure we would be putting funds into this next year.

In summary my list of todo’s for next year:

  • More food & snacks (obviously!)
  • We could do signs earlier in morning so it’s all set up
  • I liked the idea of people submitting ideas of sessions they want to see prior to call for content opening
  • We need to be clearer about cut off times for voting
  • Drop out rates were much lower so need to take into account for show bags etc
  • I liked the pre conference guide LAST conference put together – a pdf with lots of info on speakers etc people could download saving printing costs
  • Not sure showbags were worth effort
  • Need more helpers and to divide work up better as this year it felt hard work and was exhausted by end of day
  • After party didn’t really work – let’s go down pub instead

Overall I think the event went pretty well and thanks to all the helpers, sponsors and everyone that came to make the day a success.

DDD Melbourne will be back in its 5th year probably sometime around May/June 2014.

Microsoft Silverlight 5 and Windows Azure Enterprise Integration and Visual Studio 11 First Look Cookbook

A lot of people seem to be writing/have written books at the moment, my self included.

The first book I want to mention is David Burela’s book Microsoft Silverlight 5 and Windows Azure Enterprise Integration that is available now (more info at  http://www.packtpub.com/microsoft-silverlight-5-enterprise-integration-on-windows-azure/book).

Disclaimer – I know David as a friend & assisted with the technical review of this book so am somewhat biased!

This book will take you from Azure basics to using advanced features such as caching and load balancing. The book tries to simulate real world problems you will experience and the reader works through a number of simulated examples .

Having had the opportunity to work on a number of Azure projects the last few years it was great to be able to give input to this book’s best practice section and how to avoid various Azure pitfalls (and there are many!). Readers shouldn’t be put off by the Silverlight bit in the title- if you are working with Azure much of the advice will still be relevant.

The second book I want to mention is the upcoming Microsoft Visual Studio 11 First Look Cookbook by Richard Banks. This one isn’t quite ready yet and I haven’t read it but if Richard’s writing is as good as some of his presentations, podcast (http://www.talkingshopdownunder.com/) and blog articles it’s going to be a great read.

Technically I guess there is a slight overlap here with my own book Introducing .net 4.5 although Richards seems to be more focussed on a step by step guide for specific issues rather than a broad overview.  Richards also does have a slightly better cover than Apress’s stockstandard black and yellow!

I say buy both – but probably mine if you only buy one 😉

Web Directions – What do you know – Navigation API talk

Enjoyed the Web Directions – What do you know event where I presented on the Navigation API. I love the idea of 5 min talks and it was all run very smoothly. Think we will try this at DDD this year. Think I need to practice slowing down for this format 🙂

My slides etc are at:
https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=6cc4124890b9458b&sc=documents&link=1&groupUpsell=0&id=6CC4124890B9458B%21151#cid=6CC4124890B9458B&id=6CC4124890B9458B%21257&sc=documents