Parental Advisory label

Last week, I have had the pleasure to travel to Denmark with a few colleagues and visit the JAOO conference in Arhus. As with all conference visits, drinks, late nights and early mornings for the first presentation make it a interesting but tiring experience.

Although you spend some time to thoroughly read through the descriptions of the different sessions, for some reason, the presentation was not at all what you expected. Whether it is a session about something you’re not really interested in, or that the speaker only says things you could have presented yourself, the result is the same: you get bored.

What conferences need, in my opinion, is some sort of “parental advisory” or “rating” that movies have. They ex licitly say what type of content you can expect.

In this blog, I am not trying to throw my opinion on the world, but I would like to know from you as a conference visitor/organizer or technical enthusiast what you think about a rating system for conference sessions.

So please read on and let me know what you think.

Just as with the rating on movies, the congress organization should “rate” the sessions to give visitors an idea of the contents of each session.

Reasons to get bored
Of course, it wouldn’t make much sense to just apply the existing movie rating system to sessions. To find out which out which categories do make sense, I looked at the reasons why visitors are bored. I came up with the following reasons:

1. Bad speaker
There isn’t much you can do about this. Some people with interesting talks aren’t really that good at presenting it. I don’t think it would be fair to add a rating for how experienced or talented a speaker is.

2. Wrong topic
Topics are typically explained in a short introduction about the session. However, sometimes these descriptions lack the level of detail necessary for a visitor to make a good decision.

3. Wrong level of abstraction
When you expect an architecture level presentation, and end up in an in-depth code reviewing session, the chances are that you end up being disappointed.This level of abstraction would make a good candidate as a rating value.

4. Wrong level of detail
Sessions don’t last forever. A typical session lasts up to one hour. In that hour, the presenter can either give an overview of a large topic, or go very much in-depth on a smaller area. Since the depth of a topic doesn’t relate to the level of abstraction, the level of detail is a good candidate as rating value.

5. Too theoretical / practical
Some people love to think about possibilities while others judge topics on their readiness for the real world. Perhaps another rating candidate.

6. Too easy / hard to understand
When you have very little experience on a topic, and the presenter expects an experience audience, chances are big that you can’t follow what the presenter is talking about. On the other hand, if you end up having more experience than the presenter, you probably end up bored and wondering whether the other presentation wasn’t more appropriate for you. Just like movies, there should be an advised age – read: level of experience – on each session.

The rating categories
That brings me to the idea of the following categories and value for the rating system:

  • Level of abstraction
    • Coding / operational
    • Architecture / design
    • Management
  • Level of detail
    • In depth
    • Overview / introduction
  • Applicability
    • Theoretical / physiological
    • Practical
  • Level of experience
    • All audiences
    • 1 year
    • 3 years
    • 5 years

The last few days, some other rating categories popped up that could be interesting too:

  • (New) Product presentation
  • Interactive session (audience actively participates)
  • Scoop! Has never been presented before (perhaps often in combination with the product presentation)

Displaying the ratings
As with movie ratings, it would be nice to have a set of icons available that organizations may use to display the rating for each sessions. Typically, the booklets containing session information have some space left next to the title to display some small icons. A page in the back or front can explain what these icons mean.

Tell me what you think
I am very curious what you think of this idea. Is it something you would like to see in a conference guide? Can you think of any other categories or find the ones mentioned above useless? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment. Thanks!

5 thoughts on “PG-3 for theoretical content and lack of depth

  • October 9, 2008 at 7:54 am
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    Ok, just for clarity… I didn’t see Jettro’s comment while typing mine (see time). Our choice of words is purely based on coincedence :)

    Reply
  • October 9, 2008 at 7:53 am
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    Ben,

    the best moment to rate a session is indeed afterwards. However, that wouldn’t help anyone. I don’t think that presenters intentionally try to lure people to their presentation using false promises. But since the “Free text box” with the explanation doesn’t quite say what we want to hear, I’d like to see some standard categories that all session presenters have to choose from.

    That means that, not like the movie industry, the presenter will have to choose the ratings for each category himself. If you get bored because the presenter chose a wrong rating, you’ll at least have good arguments to step up to his desk and…. well…. tell him ;-).

    Reply
  • October 9, 2008 at 7:52 am
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    Of course I think it is a great idea, what beer can do to your creative mind. As a response to Ben reaction, I do get your point. Still I do not agree, even if the presentation is done only once. For every talk that you give you have to think about your target audience. If the target audience is a free format text box, it is hard to come up with a consistent rating system. When we do use this default rating, we can setup some rules and attendees can use the provided rating to comment later on. That way the speaker can improve his rating next time he gives a presentation and maybe the organization can challenge the speaker the next time he submits a presentation somewhere, based on his previous achievements.

    Reply
  • October 9, 2008 at 7:31 am
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    Ben, I do not agree. Presentations are rarely held only once. Furthermore, even if the presentation is new, it is in the speaker’s best interest to rate his/her own presentation correctly.

    Reply
  • October 9, 2008 at 1:23 am
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    Allard,

    I think you raise a good point about conferences and I think it would be nice for the attendees of a conference to have such a rating. However… don’t you think that one problem might be that such rating can only be applied a posteriori by somebody who attended the session? That’s not a problem for movies, which are repeat performances. But sessions tend to be held only once.

    Reply

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