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.

  • drhowarddrfine

    Speakers talking among themselves. Nothing to see here. Move on.

    • mojo706

      I found this really funny

  • Dor

    what’s wrong with public transportation? it’s good for the world 🙂

    • In general I agree. But usually, in that case you’re tired and want the maximum amount of comfort.

      • That and quite honestly, I don’t want to ever get lost in a unknown place while traveling.

        • Ana Tudor

          Can anyone really get lost these days anymore? I’ve been to unknown places and they’ve always felt so familiar thanks to a little exploring I had done at home with Google Street View. Plus I like to explore for real too. 🙂

          On the other hand, when the schedule is pretty tight, I’d rather be sure I won’t be late.

    • Estelle

      I take public transportation in cities that have good networks, like Portland, Boston, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, etc. But after an 18 hour trip in a city where multiple connections are necessary at odd hours when I don’t speak the language, knowing my cab fare will be reimbursed is comforting.

    • mojo706

      +1 for that 😀

  • Ana Tudor

    I can’t agree with food included. I’ve always been really, really picky, so I’d rather take care of that myself. I feel like crap when somebody makes an effort to offer me something I don’t like and won’t touch. I’m sorry, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, but I have to care about what my taste buds tolerate before anything else.

    • What are you referring to Ana? If you’re talking about the speakers dinner, you can always not go. 🙂 If you’re talking about meals, I was referring to covering the expense, not offering the meal first hand.

      • Ana Tudor

        I was talking about the breakfast included thing. I just feel really guilty if somebody pays extra for that and I don’t even like it.

  • netsi1964

    I’m just curious: All the things you mention are extra, right? You do get paid for doing a speak in a conference, right?
    I tried once to do a 45 minutes talk on XSLT. I spend a lot of preparing – hours of thinking, coding and writing slides – I received nothing but thanks and 3 red wines 🙂
    – a bit disappointed I was, though I was happy to be recognized for my knowledge on XSLT 🙂

  • cpkennit

    Excuse me, this might not be the place, but i’ve been over the css and i cant find how that little triangle you use to “fake” the wrapping in the navigation bar is defined. Please, i’m lost and i love the effect 🙂

    • Eric Guess

      cpkennit: She’s using the pseudo element :before to the div. Here’s the css for that pseudo-element:
      content: ”;
      position: absolute;
      top: 30%;
      right: -40px;
      width: 0;
      height: 0;
      border: 40px solid transparent;
      border-left-color: #f07;
      border-right-width: 0;

  • boniknik

    I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to have seen your presentation yesterday at the AEA Conference 2013 in Chicago. I have attended many conferences and I will say that your presentation made my jaw dropped and I was completely blown away. Your no nonsense approach and how you methodologically and scientifically executed your presentation just amazed me. Here’s how I viewed your method, first you identified the problem, then you showed what we are currently doing, then you showed a better way, then identified the caveats of the new method, and then explained why we should do it anyway. And you executed this presentation consistently in a way that it was very clear to the audience what is there to be learned and why. I never had to in my life approached a speaker just to get a picture of her, but I just had to yesterday because it was one of those moment when I knew I was in the presence of somebody whose greatness greatly exceeds than most of the people I meet in this industry. Thank you for all that you do!

  • Map

    I feel happy if I can find a suitable job, a vcviec not need too much money, and I can coax high school. I feel like the parents side, it’s really peaceful.

  • Ali

    thank you so much Lea Verou , I found it so useful
    but the most important thing for me is
    “If hotel WiFi is not free, make sure it’s covered and included in their reservation. Same goes for breakfast.” 😀

    thanks again for sharing this

  • I feel happy if I can find a suitable job, a vcviec not need too much money, and I can coax high school.

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