Behind the Scenes of a Conference Part II – Session Selection Process

In our first look at the conference programming process Bianca shared our individual review process. In this next post I’ll provide you a closer look at how we go about collaboratively selecting sessions for the conference.

After we have individually gone through each of the proposals and entered either a Yes, No or Maybe with additional context, we combine all three of our reviews into one spreadsheet. Additionally we add a relatively simple formula to help us more quickly assess the overall “rating” of a submission. For example if all 3 of us say “Yes” to a proposal then that proposal equates to an “Auto-Yes”. There is no debate. These are the strongest selections. Similarly, if all three of us say “No” to a proposal, then the proposal scores as an “Auto-No”. Again, no debate as the proposal didn’t meet our criteria to be on this program. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the submission was poor, but it may not be the best fit for the conference it was submitted for.

We then meet via Zoom video conference and meticulously move through each of the sessions that were tabbed as “further discussion” by our formula. These are the sessions where a mix of “Yes’s, No’s and Maybe’s” happened. Our process is very democratic as each of speaks in turn to support our individual decision. We collectively pull these submissions back up and read and discuss the issues within. We have unique perspectives and often one or two on the team will point out issues within a proposal that present as red flag or to highlight a key positive attribute. Some of these include a new take on an old idea or technology, an intriguing approach to a universal problem or a very clear process to help others learn something new.  Some factors that can give us pause however are a submission having too much or too little content to meet the needs of a 45 or 60 minute session, sessions that were clearly cut & pasted from boilerplate language into our form (indicating a half-hearted effort), and weak arguments as to why something should be learned; the need isn’t obvious or as sometimes as critical as presented. Our goal is ultimately to make a final judgement on each submission at this point. Sessions that are good, but don’t make the initial program due to the fact we have a finite number of speaking slots, get a designation of X-Alt. This is a positive denotation as it means the session is program worthy, and in the event that the program expands or a cancellation appears, we revisit these sessions first and reach out to the speaker for their interest.

Overall these meetings can take place as many as 3 times over the period of 2 weeks and each can last up to 2.5 to 3 hours in duration. It can be grueling but it is also a great experience, as we all learn much from each other from our unique backgrounds in Learning and Development.

Once we have made it through the entire process and identified the Auto-Yes, we need to prepare for our next team meeting, an in person gathering where we finalize the program. In an age of amazing technology we find that the 3rd phase must be done live in the same room. The program building phase has many decision-making points and elements that force us to program and reprogram the event over the course of a 1.5 days.  We’ll look closer at this complexity in the next post in our series.

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