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Open Submission System VS. Closed/Blind Selection of Conference Talks

Recently, we announced the Selenium Conf 2014 to be held in Bangalore India. Based on my past experience running others international conferences for the last 10 years, I put together the following review process:

Interested speakers are requested to submit their proposals directly on our proposal submission system. All proposals will be public. Registered user of the submission system will be able to comment on your proposal. Submitters may also post comments on reviews or public comments of their own proposals to provide clarifications, explain revisions and respond to questions. Comments by public users are information that can be utilised by both the submitter and the review team. Ultimately the decision to accept a session resides with the program team, the program chair, and the conference chair.

Your proposal stands the best chance to be selected, if it’s unique, fully flushed, ready-to-go. Ensure you provide links to:

  • previous conference or user group presentations
  • open source project contributions
  • slides & videos of your (present/past) presentations
  • your blog posts or articles on this topic
  • and so on.

Following is my rationale behind this review process for conferences:

  • Fact: Writing a good proposal is one thing and Presenting on stage is a completely different thing. One could write really good proposal, but might be a poor speaker on stage. The conference attendees don’t care how good the speaker’s proposal was, they care how good was the delivery of the talk. Hence selecting proposals based on their ability to present rather than JUST their proposal becomes extremely important. I understand we want diversity and we want to give new speakers an opportunity. But do we really want a speaker on stage who has never presented anything ever? Hopefully they have presented at a local conference or a local user group or even within their company. If noting, they can do a short 5 mins screencast or video on the talk and upload that video. We want them to contribute to open source projects and write at least a blog or an article about it. My thinking is: what is the harm is asking speakers to provide us this info, so the community and the review team can make a better, more informed decision?
  • Also along with this, using an open submission & review system, has the following advantages:
    • The most important element it brings is the transparency. (Being an open community, I’m sure we all appreciate that element.)
    • It really helps create a buzz for the conference. Which in-turn helps us get really good proposals and opportunity to get sponsorship.
    • When I as a speaker, look at other proposals, I get encouraged to submit a proposal myself.
    • Also in my experience the overall quality of the proposals increase because of the open eco-system and public feedback mechanism.
    • With the help of public voting, the review team gets a good sense of which topics people are most interested. (Public voting can be gamed, but there are ways to limit it. Also we might not pick the exact proposal with the highest votes, but certainly select similar topic.)
  • In the end, if the team still wants to do a blind selection, we can certainly export the proposals into a format they want and give them just the info they need. The approach we take is more open and allows us to achieve both options.

Would love to hear your experience.


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