Learnings from a recent conference call for papers


I love conference speaking!

I spoke at my first conference as a trainee solicitor, on API access and why “API licences” shouldn’t exist - in 2006, a worrying 17ish years ago now.

Since then, I’ve performed hundreds of talks, usually about law, tech, or the overlap of the two, all over the world, and organised many, many events.

Presentations, lectures, seminars, postgraduate tuition, and more. I get such a buzz from giving a fun, engaging talk to a live, in-person, audience. I’m much less of a fan of virtual talks, sadly.

(My favourite talks have been the “tech for tech lawyers” series, for the Society for Computers and Law, which I’ve delivered with a handful of friends. The in-person course has, I think, sold out (or, if not, come very close to it) twice, and feedback was just superb. We’re running it again this year, with more external speakers, and I’m really excited about it although, in absolute honesty, I don’t find organising as fun as speaking.)

I recently saw a call for papers and, while I normally avoid events with an entry price which don’t make it very clear that they are looking to pay their speakers, I was curious enough to check if my proposed topic was one worth submitting. It was (apparently; so much for that!), so I applied… and I had the most frustrating experience.

It was of zero surprise that my talk was not selected, but I did learn some bits, which I’ll be applying to events I organise.

Requiring a public video of previous talks

This was the first CFP for me where it was mandatory to include links to online videos of yourself giving a presentation.

Not an optional field, but a mandatory field.

If I were a new or nascent speaker, unlikely to have a video, I would not feel welcome.

I’m not a new speaker. I’ve done this loads. But I don’t think I’ve ever spoken at an in-person event which resulted in a public video. Most of my live talks are not recorded and, of those which are, I can’t think of any where the video was made available online.

I guess I could have included a link to a screen recording of me giving an online talk, but the experience is just so different that I didn’t. But I did link to the online reveal.js slides I’ve used before such as this one.

I asked the organisers whether it really needed to be mandatory, and they said (I paraphrase; I don’t have a copy of the original response) that pretty much everyone they’d want to speak at the event would have a public video, so it wasn’t a problem.

Oh well. I got the feeling that I’d marked my card at that point, so wasn’t expecting a positive reaction to my submission. And I was not wrong…

I was not a fan of this question - I felt it was exclusionary - and it won’t be something I adopt for the events I organise.

Announcing speakers before sending rejections

Speakers were to be announced from early in January, but it didn’t surprise me that I didn’t hear back immediately - timelines sometimes slip, and that’s normal and fine.

But I was surprised to see the announcement of the conference schedule and a PR push about the speakers, without hearing back about my submission.

I checked the CFP system: “under evaluation” still.

So I asked them - had I been rejected?


They announced more and more speakers, so I asked them again.

I finally got a response: rejected, but if someone we actually want to speak can’t make it, we’ll consider you.

I’ve had my offers to speak turned down before - that’s fine. But the rejection always came before the conference program was announced, so that those who had submitted papers were not left hanging while successful speakers posted about how honoured they were to be selected.

As I said, I was already expecting a rejection, but if that wasn’t the case, finding out this way would have been rather demoralising.

Oh well

This seems to have rather bugged me, and I don’t know why. It was just a conference. It wasn’t going to change my world, or led to loads of work, and taking the day off to attend would have cost me quite a lot. But these things did irk me, so here’s a blog post…