In case you haven’t heard, we’re tinkering on something special for December–Coalesce’s inaugural run (check out the landing page for more). Recently, we made a call for speakers eager to pitch a 10 to 25 minute talk. Our topic wish-list included transformation, testing, deployment, documentation, structuring the data stack, and building the modern data team.
Weeks later, we’ve reviewed dozens of Coalesces pitches, the lion’s share coming straight from the dbt community. And while we can’t provide detailed feedback on every talk, we’d like to share some retrospective thoughts that
- outline a general schematic for shaping a strong conference pitch
- illustrate how speakers were
select-ed for Coalesce.
Good rules of thumb
Follow the directions. Several pitch submissions lacked a video, a description, or both. Sometimes, talk descriptions were a sentence or two long. For these, we couldn’t figure out what the intended discussion was about.
Structure your content. Introductions are arguably the most important section of formal communication. In record time, you have to hook interest and draw a roadmap for your audience. A pitch is no different. Slides and outlines weren’t required, but speakers who used these tended to offer a clearer, better-structured pitch. Their vision was easier to see.
Go beyond the hype. Several pitches had energy but left us wanting more substance. For example, a very common theme was “the relationship between analysts and business stakeholders.” Our response was “but what exactly are you going to talk about? Which part of the relationship between analysts and business stakeholders do you want to explore?” Others had no narrative. They were just a grab-bag of ideas.
Know your audience. Whereas some pitches were best for meet-ups and intro-to-dbt sessions, others were specific to a fault (e.g. here’s a demo for a new adapter, here’s how to resolve nasty loadtimes in warehouse Y). Although these are certainly great talks for segments of the community, we decided neither were a good fit for Coalesce’s attendees. Hence, ask, "Who is my audience? What are their needs? How can I phrase/package my ideas to leave the biggest impact?" After all, interesting ideas and clear structure make for good talks. But, great talks cater to their listeners.
Things we were impressed by
Several submissions made us say ‘wow.’ Our favorites had a problem statement or a complete narrative--a beginning, middle, and end--outlined from the get-go. “This is how our team solved X,” and “This is our ongoing internal dialogue about Y” grabbed our attention and made us feel along for the ride.
So about that structure--the ideal pitch was only a few minutes long, but even in that time, it was obvious when a speaker had concretely envisioned their talk. They knew the points they wanted to get across and clearly outlined them. Now, is an energetic speaker a plus? Yes. But, showier talks were never prioritized over those with consistent delivery and clear ideas.
Here are two of our favorites:
Things we’ll keep for next time
Video pitches were an irreplaceable part of our decision making. Through them, we got to know the speaker's energy and got a feel for how they communicated to an (online) audience.
Before this, we didn’t ask for prior speaking experience. As mentioned above, we agreed good speakers shouldn’t take precedent over good ideas. Sure, it’s possible to both revise content and to coach someone how to be a solid speaker. But we believe the merit of a good talk for Coalesce comes first and foremost from a place of curiosity and a desire to share knowledge with others.
Things we’d like to change
This was our team's first time reviewing conference pitches, and we discovered what we wanted the more we reviewed. Next time around, we intend to publish clearer selection criteria beforehand.
Lastly, diversity is really important to us at Fishtown. We believe folks from underrepresented and marginalized communities should feel empowered and be encouraged to put themselves forward. The truth is, we’d like to have a lineup that represents the many different faces in our community. We’d like to see more women and people of color make pitches. And I’d like to remind everyone that sometimes the most powerful thing a would-be speaker can do for their team and the community at large is to nominate another team-member.
A big thanks to everyone who submitted a pitch! If we didn’t move forward with your talk, rest assured we’d be delighted to see you as speaker or spectator of a future community event--a meetup, office hours, or the like.
And for those of you reading who either didn’t know about Coalesce before the speaker deadline or decided not to apply for a different reason, get those pitches ready for Coalesce 2021. We’d love to see them.