Better session review cycles for conferences

I’ve been wondering for a long time if many of the review cycles for conferences are not overly long. For instance, Rob and Marc are involved in XP Days Benelux. The XP Days call for sessions opened today. The conference itself is more than half a year from now. If you propose a session today, will you be as interested in the topic half a year from now, or are you occupied by something else?

I’ve seen that both session organizers and reviewers suffer from student syndrome. Only in the week, and most often the hours, before the deadline, do people proposese sessions or review them.

XP Days tries to combat that by breaking the review process down into smaller bits, and rewarding early submissions with better quality feedback. With better feedback, you get better sessions (a win for the attendees) and a higher chance of being accepted (a win for the presenters). It also might lower the bar for new presenters, although we don’t have hard evidence for that.

It still leaves the problem of what interests you, as a presenter, today might not interest you as much half a year from now.

On the other end of the spectrum, we organized open space conferences, where the program gets created on the day itself. This leads to fresh content, and is great for in-the-moment conversations. It does not seem to work so well for sessions that require preparation (e.g. hands-on technical sessions). My guess is that people who want to run such a session are put off from preparing, because they don’t know whether there session will end up in the programme or not. I’ve found that most of the time it will, but still feel deterred from preparing sometimes.

We’re now trying something in the middle. We’re helping Software Accumen put together a new one day conference by developers for developers. It’s called /dev/summer and takes place on Saturday 12 July in Cambridge. It’s on a Saturday, so developers who otherwise would not attend a conference, because their work does not support it, can attend. The /dev/summer call for sessions also opened today, and closes Saturday 31 May already, so that leaves about one and a half week for session organizers. We will provide feedback a few days after that. That leaves us with a cycle of less than six weeks. That should be long enough to prepare a good talk or tutorial, and long enough to keep your enthusiasm up and prepare the … out of it.

The tradeoff probably is, that with the latter you get fast, but less in depth feedback on your session proposal, but earlier feedback (if accepted) on how the session works by actually running it. Which do you prefer?