In Free and Open Source Software culture, conferences became an important part of the community. Most of the projects or communities do the work over this beautiful thing known as the Internet, people are taking part from the warmth of their home. Conferences are the only time when we all get a chance to meet, discuss new ideas, share the knowledge among ourselves. Conference speakers are generally the volunteers who agree to spend a lot of time to prepare and then give the talk, do the QA session. This also involves a lot of travel, for any mid-sized to a big conference, you will always find at least couple of speakers traveling half of the world to give those talks.
We, the organizers of many of these conferences can do a few things which helps the speakers to have a trouble free mind.
Inform the talk selection result as soon as possible(aka. visa takes time)
We should inform the speakers about the talk selection result as soon as possible. International traveling still requires visa for many countries, and generally, they are difficult to obtain in less time. For example, I am an Indian, and for getting a visa for most countries, I will have to submit my last three years income tax documents, last 6 months bank statements, office leave letters, and many other documents. Obtaining the documents take time, and we should make sure that the speakers have plenty of time to get this done.
Help with the travel timings
The organizers are local to the conference host city, it is better you provide some insight about travel timings to your conference speakers. They may not want to take a redeye flight, or maybe taking that early morning will provide a much better experience by skipping all the city traffic.
Be in touch during local travel
For all the conferences we organized in Pune (FUDCon 2011, 2015, PyCon Pune 2017), many of the international speakers landed in Mumbai, and then we organized cabs to pick them up, mostly all of these are between 12-4AM. They had to travel next 4 hours in the cab, we made sure to club at least 2 of the speakers in each cab, and also making sure that the drivers can speak English. Remember the language problem, as not every country speaks English fluently, and that goes same to all speakers too. If the speakers are coming on their own from the airport, make sure that they have all the details, and please try to have someone waiting for them at the airport. It is better that you introduce your volunteer to the speakers before the conference. That way when the speakers come out of the airport, they will see a familiar face waiting for them.
One of our tactics was to operate the whole speakers travel from the same hotel speakers were staying. I was awake for the 2 nights and started talking to the speakers as soon as they entered their cabs. We also talked to them during their trip to make sure that everything is okay, and they don’t uncomfortable. Only sad part was that due to lack of light many missed the beautiful view of Mumbai-Pune expressway.
During the conference days, before or after, we make sure that we have enough local volunteers to provide any help as required to the speakers. Many times it happens that the speakers prefer to visit some of the tourist locations before or after the conferences. As hosts, it goes also to our list of responsibilities, helping with the cab booking or providing suggestions for the sightseeing.
I remember the long list of speakers, and the checkbox(s) beside their names to mark that the speaker has boarded safely in the flight for their return journey. Our job is not done till the time they reach back to their home, and we make sure to keep an eye for any emergency. Many of the ideas also go to the speakers who are coming for the first time to the city from other parts of the country. In a country like India, where we have 24 official languages, it is difficult for most of Indians to understand or speak the local language in any state other than their own.
Previously, we had experiences where someone felt sick during the conference, and we have to take them to visit doctors, and making sure to check that they are okay. Telling that we have a large conference, and we can not take care of all of the people is easy, but remember the amount of effort these speakers are putting to make your conference as their own, and providing a great experience to the conference attendees.