A couple of years ago we wrote a blog post about what happens once the CFP closes. Much has changed since then, so we thought we’d write something up to date.
What The CFP?
Most of what happens today is basically the same as back in 2017. We now have our own CFP platform (Gambit), handling submissions and reviews. Aidan and I run the CFP platform and process, with help from Marizel, Sam, Nathalie and our review panel.
We have 100-200 submissions a year, mostly in the last week and the last day. We expect a slight reduction in 2019 submissions due to Brexit-related uncertainty. Submission quality mostly follows a classical bell curve, with most talks being reasonable, some being outstanding and a few being a bit meh. Sadly, we don’t have 100-200 speaking slots. This means that we have to conduct some form of triage. We use a panel of former speakers, people involved in other events and longstanding attendees to select talks.
How We Review Talks
There are 21 voting panel members this year. Our panel members cover a range of skills, experience and involvement in other events and come from all over the world. The overwhelming majority of submissions are International, and our panel reflects that. We don’t disclose the identity of our panel members. Individual panellists may choose to announce themselves independently. This year roughly 25% of our panel are women. The panel comes from a mix of places including the UK, across Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa and the Americas.
Voting starts once the CFP opens. Once the CFP closes, we enter a two-week voting period in which most votes are cast. Because early votes tend to anchor later reviewer expectations, there’s a significant benefit to getting a talk submission in very early. This year we hope to achieve a minimum of 3 votes per submission. Each panel member gets a single vote, with scoring from 1-5.
Submissions are not reviewed anonymously. An overwhelming majority of received submissions are International. Few submissions contain links to prior talk videos. Our reviewers often research a speaker to see what else they’ve done. This lets us learn more about presentation style, speech clarity, and experience. We also look for the same or similar talks being submitted elsewhere. Our reviewers also check sites such as YouTube and Vimeo for the same material being presented previously.
In the third week we remove any votes with potential conflicts of interest and generate a list based on each submission’s mean average score. Talks and workshops are separated. UK-based submissions are separated from International submissions. A small proportion of speaking slots are reserved for UK-based speakers (as indicated in their submission). Talk and workshop slots are allocated in order of mean average score from highest to lowest.
Acceptance and Submitter Feedback
At this point I contact submitters with talks scoring a mean average of less than 3.0. I individually email each submitter with personal feedback for their talk. The feedback is pulled from panel reviews and often contains some interpretation, or suggestions. It’s a huge personal drain and it takes an enormous amount of time. If someone takes the time to submit a talk or workshop to our event, I owe them the time to give them personal feedback. The purpose of this is to improve submitters’ chances at future events, both 44CON and others.
This is why you don’t get an immediate automated email. I aim for around 20 personally-written feedback emails a day. This can take around two weeks from the end of the reviewing period to complete. If, for whatever reason you haven’t received an email by mid-June, contact us and we’ll figure out what’s gone wrong.
At the same time we send out time-limited acceptance emails from the top mean average scoring entries. We work down through the list until we run out of slots. Not everyone can make it to 44CON in the end. In this case, we free up slots and work down the list until all slots are filled. Once all slots are filled, the remaining submitters are notified with feedback.
When Will Talks Be Announced?
We normally aim to make a first round official talk announcement at BSides London. For 2019 we plan to release the full list of talks, workshops and speakers at June’s 44CONnect, with a mailing list announcement the following Tuesday.
In the past, we’ve had direct and indirect contact with people who held strong views about aspects of the final speaker selection for various reasons. By the time the talks list comes out it’s usually too late for that year, but not too late for the next one. We’ve always been transparent about the process, are always happy to take on ideas and always want to improve. If you have questions or want to talk to us about the CFP past, present or future, we’d love for you to email us.