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Traditionally, the conferences organized by us (Toska osk.) haven't had a Call for Papers (CFP) process. Often conferences implement a full or a partial CFP. The idea is to capture ideas for talks in form of titles and abstracts describing them.

Running a CFP comes with at least the following advantages:

  • It lets you attract a diverse group of speakers depending on how you target the CFP.
  • It promotes the conference indirectly as it will appear in services aggregating CFPs.
  • It makes the conference feel more open to speakers.

The downside is that you'll need to manage the process and choose speakers from all the proposals you might get. I know that the most popular conferences may receive hundreds, or even thousands of proposals.

Going through such an amount is far from trivial and it means you'll have to be able to judge the proposals well. How do you know which proposals would fit the conference? I imagine this is a skill of its own entirely and often conferences handle this daunting task using a committee that makes the final decisions.

Toska conferences don't have a CFP process yet#

Although running a CFP comes with definite advantages, so far we've kept our events (Freezing Edge, GraphQL Finland, React Finland) mostly invite only. For React Finland 2020, we've implemented a lighter process for lightning talks as it provides us a platform to bring more diverse ideas to the conference while getting perhaps more inexperienced speakers on stage on a more relaxed setting. When it comes to the selection of full talks, we have a mixed process.

Previous conference gives a starting point#

When we complete running a conference, we'll ask the attendees who to invite back as a speaker. This gives us a starting point and fills perhaps four to five slots out of twenty. We offer free access to the conference for our earlier speakers as a token of good will and a way to say thank you for being a speaker in our conference.

We find speakers by scouting#

I participate in quite a few conferences each year and this gives me a chance to scout around and discover speakers that might be a good fit. We try to go for a good mixture of more and lesser known speakers to get a good mix and put specific attention into designing the program around specific topics.

Sometimes the speaker comes before exact topic. When it comes to technogies such as React, it's difficult to be prescriptive when it comes to the exact topic. Avoiding a CFP and focusing on speakers lets us fix exact topics later and be more flexible with our speakers.

Sometimes we get tips from fellow developers about interesting speakers and then they find their way to our conferences as we feel the fit is there.

Speakers before topics#

We place speakers before exact topics although its important to have the favorite themes of a speaker in mind. While designing the program, we try to pair speakers with others to form sessions that feel cohesive. The idea is to avoid unnecessary explanations while letting speakers build on talks of each other.

We're still learning how to do this process effectively as it's different from most conferences but I believe based on what I've seen so far that using a themed session as a basic building block for a conference makes sense.

Conclusion#

Although there's value in running a CFP, we haven't run one yet. Especially when we began to run conferences, there was almost an overwhelming amount of things to learn so we skipped the CFP process initially and it became one of our "trademarks" as we run invite only conferences now.

That said, it could be interesting to run a CFP even in a partial form to see how it would work out. Likely we wouldn't seek for exact topics in that case, though, but rather perform the call around the way we structure our conference schedules.

Lunch time in React Finland 2019 by [Nick Tulinen](http://nicktulinen.com)

Lunch time in React Finland 2019 by Nick Tulinen

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