What I Look for in a Conference – Part 2 – Jes Schultz

Okay, so in Part 1 Jes Schultz talked all about what she looks for in a conference from the perspective of an attendee. She discusses the importance of diversity, cost, and much more useful information.

As we head into Part 2, she takes the stage to discuss what she believes conferences should offer, from the perspective of a speaker.

The microphone is all yours, Jes!🎤

As a speaker…🧑‍🏫

My goal as a speaker is to reach as many people as I can in as short of a time as possible with information that will be relevant to them. I also want them to connect with me and be able to reach out to me afterward to have a conversation. With that in mind, there are a few things I will look into when deciding if I’m going to submit to speak at a conference, and, if my session gets selected – if I will then accept.

First, who is the audience? In order for me to reach the right people with the right information, I need to know who attends. I think it would be very useful for events that have been run for multiple years to publish their attendee demographics; newer events can list their ideal target audience.

One early factor is the types of sessions offered. Are there options for full-day workshops, half-day sessions, one-hour sessions, lightning talks, or panels? Depending on what topic(s) I’m currently talking about, and what my objectives for speaking are, a 60-minute session may not be the right fit. I prefer conferences that have a mix of these session types and lengths to suit anyone and everyone’s preferences.

This correlates with the next question, are there opportunities to co-present? Co-presenting can be more work for the speakers, but it has a very beneficial outcome. It gives the audience multiple perspectives, such as “DBA and developer” or “Microsoft employee and consultant implementor”. It allows for a new speaker to pair with a more experienced speaker. It can also increase the diversity of the speaking pool and well as handing confidence to the new speakers. 

I always look for opportunities for new speakers, because I was once a new speaker hoping for my break to the next level. I started speaking at local user groups, then was selected to speak at a local one-day event. After that, I was excited to speak at other regional conferences, and eventually submitted to and got chosen for a national conference. I then got to speak internationally (at SQLBits 2019)! I didn’t get there by accident or luck. I worked hard. I built and rebuilt my presentations. I had mentors. I had people help me. I want to make sure that when I submit to conferences, there is space for new voices. Some of the things I’ve mentioned previously can help, such as having shorter sessions available, allowing co-presenters, and even reserving a certain number of slots for first-time-at-that-conference speakers.

I also look at what the conference is doing to find a diverse set of speakers. One of the most important factors to me as a conference attendee is the diversity of speakers (See Part 1 for more details!). As a conference organizer, I know this is not easy to achieve. Thus, as a conference speaker, I want to know what the organizers are doing to encourage, promote, and put in place a diverse slate of speakers.

To address the elephant in the room, I look at what the compensation package is. Yes, for speakers, this is an important topic. I spend a lot of time building sessions before I deliver them. First, there are the months or years I’ve put into learning and doing what I’m talking about. Then there’s the time to develop the abstract, the outline, the slides, and the demos. Then I practice, multiple times. Time is the one thing we will never get more of. Thus, if a conference charges attendees, I expect a form of compensation for speaking. Depending on the size of the conference, this could range from a set amount of money per session to all or part of travel expenses being paid for. If the conference doesn’t charge attendees, I will be more lenient, although sometimes sponsor fees can help offset a portion of travel expenses for speakers.

And, since we are still in a pandemic, I will see if there is a hybrid option available. I want to know that I can speak remotely if needed. Hybrid conferences are hard work, but not only do they enable opportunities for people who do not want to travel, but they also open the door to more attendees and more speakers from across the world!

What doesn’t matter (to me) 👈

I thought about this, and the biggest thing that I’m not too bothered about is swag. As a speaker, I don’t need a shirt. As an attendee, I don’t need shirts, bags, notebooks, cups, pens, and more stuff to take home. If a conference offers it, I prefer the option to decline it. I also like it when I get sustainable items – I don’t want a three millionth plastic pen that will end up in the garbage coming home with me. (An early job I had was in the promotional products industry, and the amount of stuff that is produced only to be seen once and thrown out is astounding!)

Thank you, Jes!👏

At SQLBits it means the world to hear people share what they would like to see at our events and what could make their overall experience better (as it would most likely help others too!). If you have any ideas or would like to share your conference must-have list for us to discuss with you, please contact us at contactus@sqlbits.com.

If you haven’t read Jes’ Part 1 already, you can do it here!

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