My rules of thumb for picking conference talks

May 16, 2007

The yearly on-campus technical conference has just wrapped up for another year, so it seems a good time to write down my rules of thumb for picking what conference talks to go to, in the hopes that I'll remember them for next year. (This year, I only remembered them about halfway through.)

First, I should note that this is about picking interesting talks, not relevant ones. With rare exceptions, I don't go to talks at our local technical conference to be educated, partly because an hour-long talk at a general campus IT conference is a fairly bad setting for anything more than a superficial exposure to an issue.

  • discard any talk with a description written in management speak. (Around here, people write their own talk descriptions.)
  • similarly, discard any talk where a vendor is presenting directly. Perhaps they have a fascinating and interesting talk, but the odds are against you.

  • try to remember speakers with good track records; there are some people who consistently give interesting presentations, or consistently do interesting work, or both.

  • pick the talk where people are presenting about something they have built or done. These people have done something concrete and will hopefully have come out of it with interesting war stories.

    If a time slot has more than one such talk, pick the talk that's about something that's been used in the field (as opposed to things that have been built but not yet used). If there's still more than one talk, pick the subject that's closest to teaching students.

(Thinking about this makes me very glad I did not try to do a presentation this year, because I would have presented about something that's merely theoretical at this point.)

One of the interesting things that I discovered at this year's conference is that I seem to have really lost my tolerance for the typical presentation style where the presenter basically reads their slide deck to the audience. I suspect that I've just been too exposed to the Lessing Method of presentations (which I am pretty sure I discovered sometime in the past year, as I don't remember feeling like that after last year's presentations).

And for people who remember last year, I regret to say that no vendor appears to have been reading my suggestions for trade show giveaways. In fact there was less variety than last year: pens, a combination pen and peculiar calculator, a blue LED thing, and the most useful giveaway, a mini 4-port USB 2.0 hub.

(The paucity of giveaways may partly be because the tradeshow seems to have shrunk since last year.)

Written on 16 May 2007.
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Last modified: Wed May 16 22:54:05 2007
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