From 1000 submissions to 100 slots, the story of the 10%

This year, I’ve had the enormouse pleasure of working on the agenda committee for the best developer conference in the UK, NDC London.  Obviously I’m slightly biased as I’ve been going to this conference for the last 4 years, and I love everything about it.

Being behind the curtain this year has given me an insight that I never thought about before.  That has motivated, and informed me, in ways that I think everyone should have the ability to learn from.

I have no idea whether this is a level that all conferences get to, or whether NDC do this differently.  What I will say is that the process is brutal, soul destroying, morality questioning, and somehow an utterly amazing and enlightening experience.

I’m going to share some of my insights from the few days we spent as a team building the agenda for what promises to be the best Developer event of the century.

Stand out

This year, we had around 1000 submissions, which is awesome.  The problem is, we have 100 slots.  That means that only 10% get through.

We read every single Abstract and Bio.  Over a single day (which was 13 hours).  That’s around 2 abstracts a minute on average.  Sure some of those were completely off topic, had way to little information, or were immediately discarded for other reasons, but that still doesn’t leave much time to give a thorough review.

We made multiple passes through the list, and you need to be able to pass musta at each.  But the first hurdle is that “something” needs to make someone in the room say “Yes”, even as a passing interest.

Tell us what you’re going to do!

There were way too many people posing questions in their abstract, giving us no idea whether the attendees would be left with questions to ask, or whether they would receive some (even if they’re opinionated) answers.

Tell the reader (either the committee or the attendee), what people will walk away with and be specific.  “An understanding of xxx” isn’t as good as “Know when to use xxx”.  “My opinion” is implied, unless you wrote the thing, and even then, people always use tools in different ways than you thought.

Titles CAN be important

There’s a few things I found interesting.  After a time, you grow numb to witty titles.  You get tired of “xxx is dead, long live xxx”.

Your Pedigree is important

If you’re going to talk about a subject that requires a level of experience, tell the team why you have that experience, or why you’re qualified.

Noone is going to select a talk on “Why smalltalk is better than C#” from someone who doesn’t have a noted experience in both.

Size your talk


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