If there is one thing that I would add to XP2011 I think it would be some sort of speaker evaluation system. Right now there is nothing and I think the conference organizers are missing a great opportunity for some feedback for the speakers that they invite to the conference. Of course in the absence of any conference organized feedback system, there are still some reasonable alternatives:
Each speaker can gather feedback on their own in their session. That’s what we did in our Silo Busting tutorial this year and we got some constructive ideas out of it. By collecting the feedback myself, I get useful information for improvement, but the conference organizers don’t.
Speakers can use an online evaluation service like SpeakerRate. I noticed at least one speaker using this service and requesting feedback via twitter. I’m going to have to give this a try.
You can try to use social media like twitter to collect tweets about your session.
So why do I care? First, I want that feedback for my own use, and I want it from a source that is relatively unbiased. That unbiased part is a little tricky when you are the one soliciting the feedback – in my experience people often won’t say the really useful stuff to your face (although there have been some exceptions). Now, I’m tempted to say that conference organizers could also use the information for evaluating speakers future conferences but…I’m not so sure about that for the following reasons:
I don’t know of any conference where historical data on speaker performance is used. That’s not to say that it isn’t used anywhere, just not at the few conferences that I speak at (as far as I know).
I’m not sure that a rating that is only updated once a year or less is really going to have any relevance. Sometimes you blow a presentation. The jetlag gets you, your suitcase gets lost, you have a family crisis and aren’t as prepared as usual. Any number of things can happen that really have no bearing on your ability as a speaker on a given subject. Other times you rock the house. Let’s face it: audiences are fickle beasts.
The most well organized conferences that I have spoken at have made some sort of attempt to capture session feedback from the attendees. Regardless, there are things that we can do as speakers to own the responsibility for obtaining this feedback. Perhaps doing it ourselves is most within the spirit of XP. What do you think?