Lightning Strikes First: GUADEC '22 scheduling proposal

Howdy GUADs,

I’ve got a radical scheduling concept I’d like to toss out regarding how the GUADEC presentation lineups look. I’m not in charge of any of this stuff, but I’d love to put it in front of the crowd – while there’s still lots of time – state my reasons, then hear where the discussion takes it.

Here it is in a nutshell: I propose that the first session slot of each day at GUADEC be used for lightning talks. We’ve historically had several lightning-talk sessions (e.g., there’s a general one and an “intern”/"student"y one), so this is not necessarily adding more weight to the calendar, just rearranging some deck chairs.

The main reason a lightning-first day would be great is that the lightning-talk sessions are high on energy, low on pressure (from the speakers’ POV), and they provide the conference with an unequaled opportunity to put lots of new faces and voices up front and center.

For the attendees, you hear from a bunch of different people, not just the same ol’ slate of regulars, and together they’re telling you about a dozen things that they’re passionate about, not some ponderous slog. Not that I have anything against ponderous slogs; I just prefer them after lunchtime.

For the speakers, being in the lightning line-up makes you part of a team, and gives you the chance to talk about Your Thing without the burden of filling an entire hour and standing still waiting to see if somebody has a question (much less a this-is-more-of-a-comment-than-a-question). Your other lightningtalkers are there with you, and even if you’re less than 1000% at-ease with conference talking, by the time it’s your turn, the pressure has melted and you’ve already heard half a dozen rounds of applause.

Beyond the main “why”, there are some other benefits. Lightning talks are, for the audience, also really low-risk + high-reward. They’re a fast-paced session, and if you don’t click with Talk N, the good news is that Talk N+1 is gonna start before you know it.

You also get the benefit of seeing a lot of names-with-faces right at the beginning of the day, potentially from people whose name you might be fuzzy on since last GUADEC.

Lots of GNOME community members have little projects that they know wouldn’t really fill a full-hour slot. Some people might have several. Encouraging MORE folks to talk about these bite-sized projects helps everyone get to know other people’s interests and skillsets more broadly, and it often shows off the less-Enterprisy, more-personal kinds of work.

GUADEC has always been rather unique among FOSS conferences for actively promoting “Users”, and not only “Developers” as part of the program. Lightning talks are a good opportunity to recruit and showcase user perspectives, which a lot of times are perspectives that don’t fit neatly into one of the designated “track” topics.

Reality is that traditional “keynote” talks are the generic option for an opening-session slot, but I’m here to contend that they don’t need that special treatment. An exciting keynote speaker isn’t why GUADEC attendees decide to come to the event, and keynote sessions in the real world can be pretty hit-or-miss. Sometimes the subject is heavy, sometimes it’s odd. You know. It’s the flip side of the risk/reward calculation from above.

Lastly, at a simple chronological level, people getting to the venue and settling into their hard-wooden uncomfortable folding stadium seat is a challenge. But with opening lightning talks, if you lost a couple extra minutes trying to find the right door in the right building on the right street, you haven’t missed the entire game by being a couple of minutes later than expected. And that’s true every day of the event as well, after those late-night “hacking sessions” do a number on your wake-up alarm, too.

Practical side:
The opening slot is often a plenary session anyway; there’s already room required to do general announcements, welcome-to-GUADEC intros, and so on, so that sort of shorter material would dovetail nicely with a lightning session AND let the plenary MC take the podium back and smoothly segue into introducing the opening “full” session.

Setting the list of the first day’s lightning talks is obviously the big hurdle. Traditionally, the non-student lightning talks have been a “sign up the day of” sort of affair, which doesn’t work for T-minus-zero. And simply putting the student/intern session first might make some of those speakers unduly anxious. But I’d suggest that this hurdle could be surmounted somewhat by having a few lightning talks signed-up-for in advance, perhaps from people who have talked at GUADECs before, or from “User” cases that are interesting in their own right. Plus, the opening day’s “intro” content is going to be lengthier anyhow, so fortunately it wouldn’t be the longest lightning sess to fill.

The other challenge is, of course, juggling all those slides & VGA adapter dongles. But I have boundless faith in the AV crew.

So I think that’s it. Pitch over; I would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts, field any questions if something I said above makes no sense, or get into any other nitty, gritty details!


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  • Ooh; one additional point-in-favor that I forgot on include in the original list is that, as far as I can tell, no other FOSS conference does this already.

(Presumably, it’s safe to say, because they’re all COWARDS…)

We me, @kprogri and @Chenriksen discussed this on the GUADEC meeting this week, don’t think we will have it first thing in the morning, but maybe move it to the afternoon (but nothing has been decided yet)

Weren’t the lightning sessions already in the afternoons, prior years?

More in the evenings (but i guess it depends on your timezone), this year it will be a real life event in Mexico however with Online streaming, so its hard to do them directly in the morning

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