Tuesday 2 December 2014

Conferences build community

Community is important to me. The primary reason that I volunteer my time to organise testing events is to offer people an opportunity to meet their peers and share ideas. It is the opportunity for interaction that I value, and I think that conferences are an essential part of this. Conferences build community.

A successful conference is not just about delivery of great content. It also provides a platform for every attendee to genuinely connect with another; an interaction that is the start of a supportive, inspiring or challenging professional relationship. When reflecting on a conference I find that the presentations may have faded from memory, but the conversations that spawned ongoing associations are much easier to recall.

As a conference organiser, the responsibility for setting the tone of the conference weighs heavier on me than selecting the ideas. It seems that achieving success in the community aspect of a conference is much more difficult than the content.

And everything begins with the speaker selection.

I get frustrated when I feel that a list of speakers isn't a true mirror of the community behind a conference, but instead a distorted reflection suited to a fairground Hall of Mirrors. As a conference organiser,  I am looking for strong presenters with innovative ideas who truly reflect the diversity of our profession. I am constantly conscious of creating a speaker line up that engages the brain and accurately shows who we are as a group.

This is a challenge and, when I consider diversity, I consider many attributes. As a woman in testing, I certainly think about the gender ratio in our speaker selection. But I also think about years of experience in testing, where people are employed, ethnicity, age and reputation. If I want the conference to offer something for everyone in the community, then I have to consider everyone in the community by focusing on what distinguishes us from each other.

I don't feel that I have ever had to select a speaker who didn't deserve their place. I simply consider diversity alongside the experiences and ideas that people bring. I think about the audience for a topic rather than the topic in isolation. There are instances when a proposal holds little appeal to me personally, but I feel it would be a great session for others within the community, both for its content and the opportunity to establish the presenter as an active voice.

Ideas are rarely innovative in every context. So considering ideas alone is an injustice to the community that the conference is for. I believe that every organiser should actively think about the people that they serve when selecting speakers.

When asked "What did you enjoy about the conference?", attendees at the recent WeTest Weekend Workshops referenced the topics, discussions, session and learning. I think we had fantastic content. However the strongest theme in responses to this question was the people. I believe this feedback reflects our effort as organisers to put the people of the community at the heart of our decisions on their behalf.

What did you enjoy about the conference?
WeTest Weekend Workshops 2014

1 comment:

  1. Conferences can say so much about a community. A great conference can be such an inspiration especially when it brings together many types of people and everyone feels included. It's great to see your thoughts about this and that you are so involved in organizing testing events.

    Here is some writing by Ashe Dryden about increasing diversity at conferences: http://www.ashedryden.com/blog/increasing-diversity-at-your-conference

    Perhaps you've already seen it or, if you haven't, it will spark some ideas for future events.