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Airfare and Two Nights in the Hotel

Dear Reader,

This is a rant, feel free to skip it. Also, I am talking about myself in this rant. There are a lot of other speakers who fall into this bucket with me, but everything I’m saying here applies to me.

The Problem

PHP conferences are changing very slowly, and not in a way that I like. I blame myself. As a frequent speaker I am getting lazy. I get caught up in the excitement of the CfP, I write up 5-10 abstracts and shotgun them into the CfP system hoping that something hits the mark. I’ve not actually written these talks. In most cases, I’m pretty sure I can get 45 minutes on the topic, but I don’t know for sure because I’ve not bothered to write it yet. Adam Culp talks about this very thing in his post “Are Conference Talks Getting Too Soft?“.

The problem is that I’ve lost my focus. My focus should be the cool thing am I dying to share with other developers.  Instead, I’m chasing that “Airfare and two nights in the hotel”. I know this because my focus is writing abstracts. That and abstracts that don’t get accepted, I never bother to write. This is backwards. I should be so excited about sharing something that I write it up anyhow. I should blog about it, prepare the slides, and contact my local PHP User Group and see if they will allow me to present it. The local PUG is the lifeblood of our great community. It is important to me that I support them first, then conferences.

Being the Change I Want to See

To help me refocus, I have set myself two goals for 2015.

  1. I want to present at 5 local PHP User Groups in 2015.
  2. I will not submit to a conference any talk that I have not written and presented at a local event. (The exception I am making is keynotes because some conferences I speak at ask me to write a new keynote.)

I am refocusing my speaking efforts on talking to the local level. There are probably 5-6 PUGs I can reach by car and can speak at. So as I come up with an idea for a talk, I will first submit it to any and all PUGs that will have me. Then, if that talk seems solid and is helping people, I will submit it to conferences.

This is not to say that I won’t be submitting talks to major conferences, but I will not be submitting talks that I’ve not already written and presented at least once locally.

Looking to Others for Help As Well

I am privileged enough to be asked to help score talks for several of different PHP conferences. in 2015, I will start be a lot more picky in the talks for which I vote. I will look for – and up vote – talks where the presenter makes a note that they have given this talk at a local event already.

Wrap Up

So next time you are starting at a CfP, don’t brainstorm a lot of talks, submit them all and write the ones that get accepted. Look at the talks you’ve done for your local PUG, and submit them. You know they exist, you know they work, and you know you are supporting your local PUG.

Wouldn’t it be great if PHP User Group leaders had to start scheduling talks 6 months out? I’ll take that problem any day of the week. :)

Until next time,
I <3 |<

p.s. If you are considering writing a talk and need some help with your abstract, let me help.

13 thoughts on “Airfare and Two Nights in the Hotel

  1. Hi Cal,

    I think you may be do a little disservice to the conference organisers that select topics. While you may be sending in 10 talks in a scattershot way, the organisers want the best speakers they can giving the best talks. It is their job to do select correctly for topic and ability to speak.

    I don’t think you need to have given the talk before you can submit an abstract on it, but you do need to be sure that you know that topic in-depth enough. Personally, I write about the topics that I talk on. For any given talk, you can find articles on my website about that topic as that’s where I do my thinking about it.The only exceptions I can think of is when I’ve done talks directly related to my day-job, such as my talk on project management. It’s really important that a speaker knows their topic and can prove it via GitHub, articles or speaking at user groups.

    I have however submitted abstracts that focus on different aspects of my given topic, as I don’t always understand which area most interested the conference’s audience. Given the time required to write a talk, I will write the one which fits the conference best and I don’t know that until it has been accepted.

    I do agree completely that an accepted talk needs to be rehearsed. I personally prefer at private recorded rehearsal first and then a public talk at a user group, before I give a talk at a conference. I like talking at user groups and have also decided to speak at more this year.


  2. Hey Cal … Speaking as a conference organizer … I completely understand your POV, and respect that. I want to see good talk submissions.

    However, I also want to see a variety of them. The selection process is a painful/complicated one. You are trying to put together the ‘perfect schedule’, covering all the topics that you need to hit that year, with some good names, and some new faces, and do it on budget (which, we always go over because we want so many awesome talks *sigh*)

    Having a broad selection of talks from speakers (the 5 shotgun you are speaking of) … really helps us out, as it helps us go through the process of: “OK, we need 1 talk on , how many submissions do we have on it, which is the best one, which ones have speakers with other talks that hit other topics we want”, etc, etc, etc.

    Which actually helps us to assemble the conference schedule.

    Now that being said. It does NOT help us (to which you are right), if those submissions are ‘thin’, if the speaker doesn’t know if they can actually pull it off. If they don’t know if they really have 60 minutes of content to cover. etc. Because then we accept that speaker, and that speaker fumbles. (And then we don’t invite that speaker back again until they’ve reproven themselves).

    So I agree, speakers should only present on topics that they are SURE they can present on. Either because of intrinsic knowledge of the subject, and/or having already made the presentation.

    But, please don’t stop shotgunning 5 of those ‘awesome talks’. It really helps us.

    Eli – Conference Chair for php[architect]

  3. Cal,

    I absolutely see your point, but in my opinion you are drawing some wrong conclusions. I think what you suggest would not work out in practice. Here’s why:

    First, major conferences would not be able to offer original content (everything has been heard and seen somewhere else before, and frequently those talks are videotaped).

    Second, and worse, we live in a fast-paced world. Submitting only existing talks in CfPs would mean that the content of major conferences is, on the average, 6-9 months old. On the internet, that’s practically eternity and would kill off all talks that deal with recent events or trends.

    Sure, the speakers might update the content. But then again we are sort of back to “this person has given a similar presentation before”. As far as I know, this has always been one of many decision factor for acceptance or rejection.


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