BILTNA Workshop

If you’re interested in how sessions are selected for a BILT conference you’re in luck. I’ve tried to document with a few pictures the process that illustrate the onsite review process. And you might be surprised that we’ve actually embraced a hybrid analog / digital process that has really helped us design the conference with much more ease and fluidity (thanks again Dezi!).

After abstract submissions close, each committee member reviews about half of the 360 submissions, giving each submissions Yes/No/Maybe rank. Once the individual reviews are complete, we hold a series of 2 hour online review sessions. We all discuss the previous ranking and modify as necessary. I’d estimate less than 10% of all submissions are given either a “Yes” or “No” rank. But we’re still going to review everything onsite again.

The 2 hour review sessions complete the week before the onsite meeting.

The North American committee arrives on site no later than Thursday evening. This allows an early start on Friday morning. Up at 7. Breakfast at 8. Hard start by 9. The large screen at one end of the room displays all of the sessions, rankings, comments, etc. in Google Sheets. Nick drives the spreadsheet. The rest of us can review on our laptop screens.

Note the back wall at the rear of the room. It’s blank for the time being. Not for long.

By late morning someone does a tea and coffee run. There’s a Starbucks upstairs in the hotel lobby. There’s also a great little grocer across the street that we use to stock the mini fridge in the committee room. We’re going to live in this room for the next few days – having a few snacks, nuts, soft drinks, etc. really keep everyone focused.

It’s started to snow Friday afternoon. Having a large window to the outside really helps with day lighting and keeping everyone alert – a bonus for Heidi Lam, Heidi Earl and Wes Benn. They’ve all flown in from Australia and fighting the change in time zone.

As we review the submissions in Google Sheets, the schedule for the week starts to take shape on the back wall.

We’re starting to add tentative “Yes” and “Maybe” session selections to the back wall. The walls to the far left is the bull pen, which hold additional “Yes” and “Maybe”  sessions.  The sessions on the door to the left are for an unplanned track that really made sense in the moment.  This track is just for “Roundtables”. The “No” sessions don’t make it to the wall. A “Yes” or “Maybe” session that loses it’s tape gets put in the “No” pile.

Now it’s back to Google Sheets to review and input the tentative selections that have been put on the back wall. We want to make sure that no one presenter has more than three sessions.

We’ve adjusted the grid on the wall to include the round table sessions. Now we can see all of the selected  sessions on the back wall at a time. Nine tracks and four sessions over three days equals 108 sessions. But we’ll keep the “Yes/Maybe” stack at hand  for anyone who is selected but decides they won’t be able to attend. None of the selected sessions on the back wall are necessarily in the right location.  That happens in the next step.

Now the horse trading begins. We start to move sessions around. For example:

  • Harder topics usually start at the beginning of the day and lighter topics move toward the end.
  • Spread out highly rated speakers so they’re not all speaking at the same time.
  • One person can’t submit two sessions at the same time (not even Carl Storms).
  • All disciplines should be more equally represented.
  • If we find sessions that are very similar, we’ll likely ask the speakers to co-present or share a round table.

Once this is complete we’ll take picture of the wall with all the final selections. The Google Sheet will be updated with the selected session in the appropriate day, time and track.

The end of another long day and time to celebrate a bit before dinner. This year it was Gin and Tonic. The Gin and Bitters is from Dillon’s (; a small batch Canadian distillery about 90 minutes drive from Toronto. They’re very near the Niagara Falls area and offer daily tours.

That’s it. But we’re still not done. We still have to review the floor plan, handbook, speaker gifts, delegate gifts, keynote speaker…the list goes on! I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek through the curtains into the process of selecting and creating the schedule for this year’s North American BILT conference.  Looking forward to seeing you all in Toronto in less than 6 months!

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