I’ve attended a variety of conferences; vendor, OSS, education, technology, developer. I’ve delivered a few talks, lead a few discussions, and sat through a ton of sessions and through it all I’ve realized something: most conference talks are terrible. Like really terrible.

Here is (some of) what makes a good talk:

  • 30 minutes long
  • As few words as possible on slides, with a goal of **
  • Clear point
  • Clear take away for the audience
  • Speaker is confident (enough)
  • Speaker is knowledgeable (enough)

Notice I didn’t say “speaker must be a trained orator” or “speaker must be expert in field”. Those things aren’t bad, but they don’t guarantee or preclude a good talk. A good speaker can share their experiences and try to save others the trouble they went through, or connect through relatable grief/success. A good speaker can pose questions for discussion (extra points if it’s weird/unexpected and really makes the audience think).

Here is (some of) what makes a crap talk, and what I’ve been seeing entirely too much of:

  • 60+ minutes long
  • Speaker is obviously unprepared
  • Speaker has no point and rambles
  • Audience doesn’t know what the take away was
  • Slides are ugly walls of text
  • Speaker reads directly from slides

My plan to combat this tide of boring badness is

  1. offer constructive feedback to bad speakers and encourage the good ones
  2. give more talks!

Yes! I want to be part of the solution! Maybe these bad speakers don’t know they’re bad. Maybe the good ones need more kudos so they’ll keep giving talks. Most importantly, I need to walk the walk. It’s easy to complain, but I can do a lot by trying to give my own quality talks and helping to set an example.

From here on out, I won’t attend a conference without submitting a proposal. If they have lightning talks, those are also a must. Together, we can help end terrible conference talks.