What makes speakers happy

I wish I could speak at CSSConf.eu, but unfortunately I had to decline the invitation, as it collided with a prior speaking engagement I had agreed on. I recently got another email from the organizers with an interesting question:

We want to make this event as stress-free for our speakers as possible. Since you spoke at a bunch of events, can you share a tip or two about what will make a speakers’ life easier, and their stay more pleasant? Any typical mistakes we can avoid?

I thought it was lovely that they care about their speakers enough to ask this, this already places them above average. I started writing a reply, but I soon realized this is information that could be useful for other conference organizers as well, so I decided to post it here instead. So, what makes speakers happy?

The baseline

These are things every good conference is doing for their speakers, although they often miss one or two. They keep speakers happy, but they ‘re not out of the ordinary.

  • Cover their flights, accommodation for the entire conference and ground transportation from/to the airport (with a car, not public transport!).
  • Do not expect them to go through the hassle of booking all those themselves and then sending you receipts. Offer it as an option, but book them yourself by default.
  • Do not book flights without confirming the itinerary and personal info with them first. Also, this sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many conferences have made this mistake with me: Type their name correctly when booking flights!
  • If hotel WiFi is not free, make sure it’s covered and included in their reservation. Same goes for breakfast.
  • Offer a honorarium, at least to those who have to take time off work to speak at your event (e.g. freelancers). Even if your budget is small and can only give a tiny honorarium, it will at least cover their meals, cabs etc while there. If the honorarium is small and mainly intended to cover miscellaneous expenses of the trip, don’t ask them to submit an invoice to claim it.
  • Have a speakers dinner before the event, where they can meet and socialize with the other speakers. This is also good for the conference, as they get the chance to catch up with their speaker friends (there aren’t that many people on the conference circuit, so we often know each other and want to catch up)  so they will talk more to the attendees during the conference. Make sure the speakers dinner does not overlap with the pre-party, if you have one.
  • Do a tech check before their talk to make sure everything is smooth. Have dongles for Mac laptops. Have clickers they could use. Use wireless lapel microphones. Have a reliable private wifi network for speakers to use if they need an internet connection for their talk.
  • Have breaks between talks so they have some margin of going overtime without impacting the schedule. If they are too stressed about going through their talk fast, it won’t be a very good talk.

Going the extra mile

These are all things one or more conferences have done for me, but they are not generally common so they are a positive surprise when they happen, not something expected.

  • Book Business class flights, especially for longer flights where passengers are expected to sleep. It’s so much more comfortable to sleep in a seat that fully reclines! I was incredibly grateful to the one conference that did this.
  • Cover incidentals in the hotel. Yes, it’s a bit risky but come on, we’re not rockstars. We won’t screw you over. In most cases it will be a pretty small extra cost and it looks really good, it tells speakers you trust them and want them to have a good time.
  • Offer a speaker gift bag. It can contain all kinds of things: Stuff that will make their stay more comfortable (stain remover, travel toothbrush etc), souvenirs from the place since we rarely have time to do touristy stuff, alcohol for impromptu get togethers with other speakers, snacks to eat during a late night craving in the hotel room, anything goes and I’ve seen conferences put all kinds of stuff in there. It’s a nice welcome gesture. Bonus points if they’re personalized based on what you’ve researched about the speaker.
  • Send out a survey to the audience after the conference and let the speakers know how they did. Let them know what comments their talk got and how well they did compared to other speakers.

Also, make sure you read PPK’s excellent Conference Organizer’s Handbook.