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Learning from QCon

Speaking at QCon NYC about teams self-selection

Becoming a better speaker

Timely feedback, growing as a speaker, learning from my track chair and feeling supported all the way - this was my first-time speaker experience at QCon NYC!

My first conference speaking goes back to April 2014. As nerve-racking as it was, it left me excited and wanting to do it again.

Since then I’ve spoken at 40 conferences in 15 countries and organized my own ones at different scales. I knew about QCon, but didn't expect it to be very different from any other conference I've been a part of.

Earlier this year, Heidi Helfand, one of the QCon NYC track chairs reached out to me with invitation to speak at her track. There was one thing she said that made me curious about speaking at QCon:

“It will make you a better speaker!”

Now as I reflect on the overall QCon experience, I realize that I learnt so much more than that – as a speaker, as a conference organizer and as a leader.

What was so different about QCon?

First of all – the level of interactions I’ve had with my track chair (thank you, Heidi, you were awesome!) and conference organizers. There were two instructor-led virtual sessions offered to all speakers, helping us learn more about typical audience at QCon as well as providing general guidance on public speaking, structuring our talk/slides, delivering our message in the inspiring way.

Before I even stepped my foot on stage, I have already had received feedback. I had two people: my track chair and a speaker volunteer, looking at my slide deck, going through a dry run with me and sharing suggestions for improvement. That’s it - the “amplifying feedback loop” in action!

Sessions Feedback

Speaking of feedback. I’ve seen a number of ways the organizers tried collecting feedback from the audience. From a low-tech dot-voting, “learning vs. fun” graphs, putting marbles in 3 different colors buckets, and a traditional “evaluation form” method to a high-tech voting in the conference app, scanning QR code etc.

There are some Pros and Cons to all of these.

The low-tech solutions are better at engaging audience however they require a large manual tabulation effort afterwards. The high-tech solutions are awesome at removing manual post-processing. Unfortunately, they do a poor job of engaging people in the first place. It isn’t out of the ordinary to collect 3 evaluation through an app from a session that had over 50 participants. Worse of, a lot of times those 3 evals would come from the “unhappy campers”.

QCon volunteer with a feedback scanning device

QCon’s solution was brilliant – a volunteer with a custom-built device that had 3 colors on its panel: Green/Yellow/Red. Behind each color was a scanner. As participants were leaving a session, they were scanning a QR code from their badges at the area of scanner that matched a color of their session rating – Green/Yellow/Red.

Session speakers then received an aggregated feedback on their session electronically, immediately after the session was done.

Small things

The “QCon way” continued to impress me.

Each day track chairs introduced the speakers from their track before the keynote, highlighting why each speaker’s session was unique and worth attending. And then in every session there was so much more from the track chairs – big things like introductions, running around the room, passing the mic. And small things, like taking selfies with the speaker, taking photos of the session and generating buzz on social media. Small things that made a difference. And made me smile.

Selfie with my awesome track chair - Heidi Helfand

Does this level of engagement scale?

Can track chairs and organizers at other conferences learn from QCon? This blog is a first step in that direction. I am determined to give it a try.

And you, people in my network, who organize your own conferences, I invite you to try it as well.

Let’s grow better speakers together and support them all the way!

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