Outlier 2021: The Speaker Lineup

Mollie Pettit
Jan 5 · 5 min read
Announcing the Speakers!

Outlier 2021 is coming up and I hope you’re getting excited. The first ever conference from the Data Visualization Society will celebrate the global data visualization community with inspiring talks, the ability to meet and connect with others, and the opportunity for all attendees to have a voice.

As we finalize the event, we wanted to share a little bit about how we chose our speaker lineup. From the start, our primary goal was to find and amplify diverse global perspectives on data visualization, and we built our speaker selection process accordingly. Here’s what we did.

The process

We spread this call as widely as possible, translating it into 18 different languages (with thanks to our volunteer translators) and sharing the link in data visualization communities from parts of the world that visualization conferences have traditionally had trouble reaching.

Many people find public speaking a scary experience. To help address this, we created a mentorship program where more seasoned speakers can sign up to mentor speakers with less experience, and the new speakers can sign up to be a mentee. We are hoping this will provide new speakers with support and help them to feel more comfortable through their experience.

Language is another major barrier that often reduces the diversity of speakers at events. To address this, we’re encouraging speakers to present in whatever language they feel most comfortable in. All our talks will be pre-recorded and subtitled in English to improve the experience for both speakers and attendees.

We know that visualization is a wide, multidisciplinary field, which encompasses a huge range of subjects. These subjects include activism, health, finance, academia, design, journalism, teaching, and many, many more. When choosing our speaker line-up, we aimed to cover a diversity of subjects that matches the diversity of the visualization community.

Preparing and presenting a talk is work, and we believe that work should be paid. All speakers selected for the curated portion of Outlier 2021 conference will receive an honorarium to cover the costs of putting together and recording their talk. Thanks to our generous sponsors, we’ve been able to offer $300 per talk.

No matter where you live, we believe that ticket holders should be able to enjoy a full day’s worth of conference during their waking hours. That’s why we are planning ~20 hour days, with talks, discussions, and activities spread throughout. Worried about the need to stay up all night? Fear not; we’ll be releasing the recordings of the talks as fast as possible afterwards, so that you can catch up on anything you missed during your slumber.

As well as the main schedule of curated talks, we’re offering additional opportunities for people to share their ideas, expertise, and perspectives at Outlier. In our “open / unconference” sessions, anyone will be able to sign up to present on a topic of their choice. These opportunities will be unpaid. Stay tuned for more details on how these opportunities will work, and how to sign up.

Introducing the Outlier 2021 curated speaker lineup

As a result of these efforts, we received 270 speaker applications that were reviewed by our speaker selection committee. We rated applications on qualities such as: perceived knowledge of topic area, speaking ability, idea clarity, and idea importance. After the initial ratings, we took care to balance out the selection to highlight a diversity of perspectives. Members of the events committee who had applied to speak did not review any of the applications.

Originally, we intended to select 20 curated speakers, but we chose to add an extra day to the conference — doubling the amount we could select. Huge thanks again to our sponsors for making it possible to increase our speaker count! A total of ~40 curated speakers will now be presenting throughout the conference.

You can see the selected speakers here! This is not the full list, as we’re still awaiting some speaker information, so keep an eye on it over the coming weeks.

Our diversity statistics

Note: These statistics are based on who we accepted to speak. There may be some slight variation if any speakers decline or drop out.

  • Across all selected talks, 47% include speakers from North America, 35% include speakers from Europe, 13% include speakers from APAC, 8% include speakers from South America, 8% include speakers from the Middle East, and 3% include speakers from Africa. Some talks feature speakers from more than one region, which is why these numbers add up to more than 100%.
  • We asked our speakers which pronouns they prefer. The responses indicate that 52% of the speakers prefer she/her/hers or they/them, while 48% prefer he/him/his.
  • Of the forty curated talks, eight are from speakers who either indicated that they are a first time speaker, and/or described themselves as early career professionals or students.

We recognize that Western voices are overrepresented among our curated speaker lineup, and this is primarily because 81% of our speaking applications came from North America and Europe. Next time, we aim to attract even more applications from non-Western countries, and we welcome your ideas on how we can more effectively accomplish that goal.

Some of our ideas include a form for people to nominate those they’d love to see speak. We feel this could help encourage people to nominate friends who are talented, but are too shy to apply, and, in general, broaden the pool of applicants. We’re also interested in further widening our speaker selection process, allowing community members not on the Events Committee to vote on talk titles and descriptions.

We want your feedback

We did our best to select a diverse lineup, but we acknowledge that there is always room for improvement. If you look at this lineup and feel like your work and perspectives are not represented, then we’ve missed the mark and we apologize. We’d love to hear how we could avoid making that mistake in the future — so please share your thoughts with us here while they’re fresh and we’ll take them into consideration when we go through this process again next year.

Alternatively, if you want to get involved directly, then we’re always welcoming new applications to the Data Visualization Society’s events committee. (Note: We will likely wait until the craziness of Outlier 2021 has passed to add new members. If you’d be interested in helping out during the conference, though, you can fill out this Outlier volunteer form.)

It’s time to get your ticket

I hope that you’re as excited as we are about Outlier 2021. Look out for more information in the coming weeks as we approach the event. Grab a ticket at the price of your choice and we’ll see you on 4 February!


The Journal of the Data Visualization Society