Speaking - What I Expect When Speaking At A Conference - Part One

In October 2019, while traveling to speak at a conference in Arizona (USA), I saw the tweet below. Since this is my 26th year speaking at conferences, I have been thinking about writing an article on what I expect when I speak at a conference… so here it is!
 
Speaking - What I Expect When Speaking At A Conference 
 
I will state upfront, that what I will discuss in this article is what I expect when I speak at a conference. Everyone is different, but these things are what I have found that works for me so I can give the best session that I can. I will also discuss what I expect for recognition for speaking at an event. Since there aren’t any .NET conferences where I live anymore, unless I’m speaking at the .NET User Group, I must travel to every conference, which costs money.
 
I’d also like to state upfront that there is NO MONEY in speaking at a tech conferenceNONE! Unless you are Tim Cook, Bill Gates or Satya Nadella, who I am sure are getting large speaking fees, the rest of us don’t. The last time I spoke at one of those big paid conferences, I only received $500 per session. This does not even come close to the time it took for me to create the session, especially since I put in at least 40 hours of time per session. That turns out to be around $12 an hour. I can make 10 times that if I didn’t speak and spent that hour consulting.
 
While thinking about writing this article, I estimate that I lose $1,300 - $2,000 per day when I speak at a conference, including travel days. So why do I speak? Well, that is a subject for a future article, this one is about what I expect. I just wanted you to understand where I’m coming from for the rest of this article.
 
If you are a conference organizer for a community-driven conference like a Code Camp, I hope you will find some helpful information in this article called “Community Conference Organizer Tip: How to Get More Out of Town Speakers”.
 

Submitting Papers

 
I expect that conferences use a service like Sessionize.com or PaperCall.io to submit papers (sessions), not something that the conference wrote on their own. The biggest reason is that these sites make it easy to submit sessions, especially if you have submitted that session to another conference. For me, it just takes a few clicks to submit a paper. I like easy!
 
Also, put as much info as possible on these sites about the conference.
  • If travel assistance is provided.
  • Information about what types of sessions the conference is looking for, including session length.
  • Information on other events, such as the speaker’s dinner, after party, etc. This helps me figure out how many days I need to allow for travel time.

Paper Acceptance

 
I expect to get an email that my paper was accepted at least two months before the event. This is needed to schedule time off, purchase travel and get my sessions ready. Also, organizers need to make sure that the paper acceptance was confirmed by the speaker. The reason being is that I was accepted to speak at a conference in Atlanta, GA in 2019, but I didn’t know since the email somehow was routed to my spam folder.
 
It would also be nice to have a way to know if one of the papers I submitted might be chosen if there is a last-minute cancelation… and there always are cancelations. At one conference I spoke at, there were 16 session cancelations the week prior to the conference.
 
It would be helpful in the paper acceptance email it would include the following items,
  1. The closest airport to the event or the best airport to fly in to.
  2. Recommended hotels. It would also be nice if conferences would arrange a group rate or something similar, to lower our costs… if the conference isn’t paying for the hotel.
  3. Things to do in the area. Whenever I travel to a city or country I haven’t spoken at before, I try to include a day or two to go sightseeing.
One other thing that should be included in the paper acceptance email is if the conference will be recording sessions to post online. Some people might not want this to happen, and for me, since I post my sessions to be viewed via video on-demand, I would like to know. Also, provide a way for speakers to opt-out.
 

Paper Rejections

 
Since most sessions do not get accepted, I expect to know why my sessions were not accepted. I do not like getting a generic rejection email which helps me in NO WAY on how I could improve my submission for the next conference. Below is an example of what I am talking about from my submissions to Build in 2019.
 
Speaking - What I Expect When Speaking At A Conference 
 
Below is an example of a rejection I received while writing this article which is more helpful.
 
Speaking - What I Expect When Speaking At A Conference 
 
Speakers take time to submit papers, so conferences need to take time to give us helpful feedback! Speaking of rejections, I have a new rule. If a conference rejects my sessions for three years in a row, they are off my list of conferences to speak at. Especially if they didn’t tell me why they were rejected! Most of the big paid conferences like VS Live, Dev Intersections, Dev Connections, Build and more are off my list, unfortunately.
 

Pre-Conference

 
There are a few things that conferences need to remember to communicate to speakers when it gets closer to the conference date.
 

Speaker Email

 
At least a week before the event, I expect to get an email for speakers to let me know the following information.
  1. Where to go when checking into the conference.
  2. Requests for special meals (since I eat gluten-free). Conferences need to cater to any special food requests by the speakers. Some conferences I have spoken at refuse to do this at all. Others will send someone out to pick up a fresh hot gluten-free pizza, just for me.
  3. General room setup including if the projectors support VGA, HDMI or Bluetooth.
  4. List of events like speaker dinner, after party, etc.
  5. Parking instructions.
  6. Map of the rooms.
  7. Any slides the event wants us to include in our deck, for example, the slide promoting the sponsors. The night before or the day of doesn’t work, since my slides are done!
  8. Contact information including the cell phone number of whom we should contact at the conference if we run into issues.
This email should also ask if there are any session timeslots we prefer.
 

Scheduling Email

 
At least a week before the event, I expect to get an email about my session scheduling. This is important if I need to move my session slot. For example, I do not prefer the first or last session of the event. Some other things that need to be included are,
  1. Time of the session and room number.
  2. Size of the room (how many people it holds). I use this to determine how many books I will bring to sell or give away along with the amount of software and swag I bring to giveaway (which I do in every one of my sessions).
Also, if my session time or room is changed, I expect an email or text reflecting the change.
 

Summary

 
Well, that is the first half of this article. In the next article, I will discuss what I expect at the conference, after the conference and more. What do you expect when speaking at a conference? Please make a comment below or email me at dotnetdave@live.com. I just might incorporate your comments in part 2!