#UXRConf Behind the Scenes: Our Speaker Selection Process 💯

How we evaluated over 150 speaker application proposals to create our conference lineup

Workshops from #UXRConf 2018.

Hi there! My name is Maggi and I lead the Experience Team here at the UX Research Collective (UXRC). As a team, we design and operate all of UXRC’s in-person events, from food and venues to speakers and content.

As you might have seen on Twitter, our conference team just wrapped up the Speaker Selection Process for Strive: The UXR Conference. I thought it might be nice to shine some light on what exactly that process looks like.

It’s evolved a lot since last year, the first year we ran The UXR Conference. UXRConf 2018 started with a phone call to one of our friends, Aryel Cianflone, the founder of Mixed Methods, to see if she would be interested in speaking at our bi-monthly meetup. It turns out that she was! And so was another great researcher, Matt Gallivan, who she had just finished interviewing for her podcast.

In that moment we realized this could be something much bigger than a meetup. A conference, maybe? Yep, definitely a conference!

Within a couple of weeks we had our presenting sponsor, a venue, a date and a few weeks to find exceptional research speakers. We used our network to pull together a great lineup of speakers, and honestly, we’re still over the moon with the content we were able to provide our audience last year. If you weren’t there, you should be shaking with FOMO. Or, you can just watch all the talks here.

This time around, we knew we wanted to create a more democratic and transparent Speaker Selection Process. We broke it down into five steps.

1. Find an amazing Content Advisory Committee (CAC).

It’s nearly impossible for one person alone to create an open and inclusive Speaker Selection Process for all.

This is why our first step was to create the CAC — a group of researchers with various backgrounds, from Toronto and abroad. They represent great research companies like Shopify, Oculus, Salesforce, Home Depot, Mozilla and more.

We were hoping to learn from their past experiences speaking at conferences and organizing speaking events, but as it turned out, there wasn’t a part of this process that our CAC didn’t help shape.

2. Create a Speaker Application Form.

Because we wanted to promote the Speaker Application Form as soon as possible, we kept our form simple and to the point, focussed on teasing out essential information about potential speakers’ backgrounds and details of their content.

Our Communications team really went above and beyond, promoting this on our social media, other Toronto and international research-related Slack groups, through community research leaders and more. They even ran a UXRC-wide contest to see who could share the application the most!

3. Define our values and create a Grading Rubric.

While our community was filling out the Speaker Application Form, our CAC took time to think about what we valued in both speakers and content.

For speakers, we needed them to have a strong connection to their talk and the ability to communicate extremely well. No professional speaking experience was required, but they had to show in their application that they could communicate their ideas clearly and concisely.

For content, we were looking for innovative and important material that would either provide our audience with practical takeaways or a challenge to their current perspective. We weren’t looking for the typical “stakeholder management” or “getting research buy-in” talks that we could read about on Medium.

After we agreed on our list of values, we translated them into measurable criteria on a Grading Rubric.

4. Individual Speaker Application Grading.

After we closed the Speaker Application Form, our CAC took a month to review all applications against this Grading Rubric. Each application was reviewed by at least two members of the CAC. From this initial review, we were able to identify top applications, which we then discussed at our Group Review.

5. Group Speaker Application Review and Final Recommendations.

For one entire weekend, almost everyone from the CAC came together to discuss each of our top applications.

Key learnings from V2

This process took around three months, but we’re thrilled with where we ended up. There’s always room for improvement and we’ve already started compiling a list of changes for next year, including:

  • Defining our values and Grading Rubric before creating our Speaker Application Form. I can imagine that each CAC, every year, will want to re-evaluate and re-define our values and Grading Rubric. Next year, we’ll definitely want to lead with this exercise, so that we can create better questions on the Speaker Application Form to more easily tease out the information we need to evaluate each criteria.
  • Figuring out more and better ways to encourage people who wouldn’t usually apply to speak at a conference, to apply. There are some folks who are less likely to apply to be a speaker at a conference. We want to be more proactive in finding these people and welcoming them into our application process.

If you have constructive feedback on our Speaker Selection Process, I’d love to hear from you — especially if you’ve organized speaking events before or have been a speaker. I’m always curious about hearing the good and the bad. Feel free to DM me on Twitter or email me at maggi [at] uxrcollective [dot] com.

Thanks for reading!

Join us at #UXRConf 2019 on June 6–7, 2019 in Toronto.

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