Thoughts for better conferences

Good conferences are about managing expectations: the speakers’ and the audience’s. They’ve paid to attend, the speaker has probably paid to fly over and add their professional profile to making the event worth going to in the first place. Both parties should be cared for.

At the end of a realllly long year and looking at Dopplr I’ve spoken or organised workshops at 12 different conferences this year and thought I’d come up with a few points about what I know makes me a better speaker. This might not apply to others, but I know it would make a world of difference to me.

1. Don’t ask for the presentation in advance. Chances are you’ll never get it. I’m usually juggling running my business and thinking about your event about 2 days before it starts, writing my talk in the plane/train on the way there and ready about 20 seconds before going live. So don’t bully me or treat me like a child on email with reminders. I’ll delete them.

2. Tell me who is in the room. Out of the 12 conferences only 1 gave me a spreadsheet with details about the attendees. Simple, efficient and got me to tailor my presentation to the crowd. Online communities for the conferences are only good for the attendees themselves, I don’t have the time to engage.

3. Don’t give me one of those awkward neck microphones. I’m a woman with short hair. I care about how my hair will look with your contraption on which is usually shitty.

4. Keep emails short. Just like you would if you were emailing someone you work with. I just want to know where to go and when I’m on.

5. Introduce me to people. I’ve just spoken, everyone knows about me, I don’t know them. Take me around and think about who I would get along with. This is incredibly important and I’ve found that the number of times I’ve been approached after a talk has decreased steadily as people consider adding me to twitter as a way to connect. I’m here, I’m present, this should be an opportunity to make a real connection. Help me out.

6. Pay for my travel and accomodation if you can. If you can’t, give me reasons for my I should go especially if you’re charging attendees a ton of cash. (Back to number 2 really)

7. Don’t do the whole backchannel projected behind me thing. Super distracting because people just can’t listen to you , look at your slides, a live twitter stream and their own laptop without getting totally distracted, laugh at the wrong moments and therefore totally putting me off. danah’s post is more than enough regarding that particular issue.

8. Make my badge readable and don’t make it too long. I don’t want people staring at my navel or crotch to read my already unreadable name. Actually, this applies to all badges for any conference ever made. The only 2 pieces of information you need to show is someone’s name and their company. That’s it. In BIG. No logo, no funky colours, maybe a distinction between a speaker and an attendee but make that easy too. It’s such an important piece of communication but so many conferences get it wrong or over-think it. Here’s a suggestion of what it could look like:


As we move towards an ever increasing professional connectedness and conference fatigue sets in, I think these could really make a difference.

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