Start a conference with a big introduction session where every speaker has to present a 45 second version of his or her session. This would make it easier for the attendees to decide which sessions to go to, and also increase the quality of the sessions.
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I was recently at the Agila Sverige 2008 conference (which I guess some would call an unconference since it was made up of lightning talks and open space sessions, instead of normal 45-90 minute breakout sessions and keynotes). I presented a lightning talk version of Real Retrospectives – Not Just Talk (download pdf).
I really liked the constraint of presenting the same ideas as before, only this time I only had 10 minutes. In fact, since I am a big fan of the elevator pitch, I started by presenting my content in 45 seconds. After this I told the audience that I had now delivered my core message to them. If they thought the ideas where not that interesting or they already knew the topic, or just did not like me for any reason, they could switch to a parallel session. If not, I would spend the rest of my 10 minutes to build upon that core message and hopefully give them some more value for their time.
This got me thinking, it would be an interesting idea to have a conference start with a general session, where every speaker had to present their session in 45 seconds. This would force speakers to really think through their content and boil it down to the key ideas they want to convey, which in turn I think is a good recipe for improving the quality and consistency of the content. It would also be a lot of help to attendees who are trying to decide which sessions to attend with multiple concurrent tracks. For one thing it would of course be helpful to see what the key ideas are, but also just to see and hear the speakers in action would make the decision easier in some cases.
Photo from mag3737′s Flickr photostream
To take this idea even further, a variation could have the attendees voting for the sessions they think should be included in the schedule after getting the elevator pitches. Attendees could have an Emergency Stop button (for stopping the elevator, giving the speaker more time) to indicate that they liked the idea and would like to hear more about it by attending a full session (however long that is). This would not work for every conference of course, but it would be an interesting idea to try…