Having a diverse lineup of speakers is essential, and this should be kept in mind when choosing both invited speakers and advertising the CFP.
When you're publicising the CFP, it's worth reaching out to local and international groups that focus on parts of the community that are traditionally under-represented. Such groups include:
Keep in mind that gender is just one aspect of diversity, so also take into account other axes (race, sexuality, experience, location, etc).
The topics being presented should also be reasonably diverse. This can be challenged by invited speakers not having clear topics, so it’s probably worth making a polite request of invited speakers to get their likely topic early. Of course, they may change their mind, and that’s fine.
Another aspect of speaker diversity to keep in mind is how many locals to have present, as the conference is a great opportunity to show off the talents of local developers. Of course, it's also a good time to bring international speakers to Australia that locals would not otherwise get to see.
Over the last few years, the conference has used a modified version of RubyCentral's open-sourced system, and it has worked well.
Whichever tool you use, it is important to have a blind reviewing round where the reviewing team can only see talk details (not speaker details).
It is recommended to have one person from the core organising committee in charge of the CFP (setting the system up, confirming the timeframes, etc), and then a separate team that reviews and selects the talks. This reviewing team does not need to be members of the organising committee - and again, some diversity in the team is wise: an array of skills, backgrounds, and preferences.
For the 2015 edition, our process was as follows:
It is highly recommended to have backup speakers selected as part of the CFP process, as it's not uncommon for selected speakers to cancel or fall ill. These backup speakers should be treated like other speakers (for things like events, flights, hotels) - they'll need to put in just as much effort to prepare their talk, and likely without the glory of presenting.
Having a clear picture of how long talks should be, and how many session tracks you have, is important, and you should figure this out before the CFP closes. This is critical to knowing how many speakers you have to select.
Some conferences in the past have had two tracks, others have had single tracks. Some kept all sessions at 20 minutes, others gave all speakers 40 minutes, and others again have opted for a mix. Figure out your preferences on all of this sooner rather than later and plan accordingly.
RubyConf Australia has a record of being very supportive towards their speakers. This includes flight and hotel allowances (usually with upper limits in spending around $2000 per speaker).
Certainly, if speakers wish to pay their own way, that is welcome, and there's the option for their employer to become a minor sponsor of the conference in recognition of this.
It's recommended that the flights are managed by an event manager and travel agent. Some speakers will want special itineraries, and it's up to your team to decide how much to accommodate that - sometimes it's easier to reimburse speakers rather than paying for the flights directly.
RubyConf Australia is one of the few Ruby conferences in the world to provide this level of support, and it is a great way to support speakers who might otherwise not be able to present. Financial flexibility is another aspect of diversity, after all.
Most international speakers will require visas to vist Australia. In some cases, this can require a fair amount of effort, and if an event manager is engaged they will be able to assist with this.
It's worth noting (because in previous years it has been forgotten) that speakers from the USA require visas. In at least some cases, these can be done completely online, but still, make sure all your international speakers are aware they should research this.
Previous conferences have offered to organise complimentary transportation for visiting speakers from the airport to their hotel. It’s a nice touch, and makes that last step of the journey all the more pleasant.
In both Sydney (2014) and Melbourne (2015), the OmniCar group was used. At conferences elsewhere in the world, sometimes organisers have picked up speakers themselves, which is certainly another option (and a bit more personal, though potentially quite a drain on organiser time).
It is nice to give each of the speakers a thank-you pack as a recognition of their effort and contribution to the event. These packs can include things such as:
Being an MC is not a small thing. It requires the people filling this role to be always on, ready to inform and entertain across the entire conference. It requires preparation to be done well. So, it's very much recommended that MCs get the same perks as other speakers - flights, hotels, gifts, etc.
It's important that your MCs reflect the values of the event. Thus, some consideration of diversity, styles of humour, and other such aspects is recommended. Even if they're known and loved by many in the audience, these are people who are in charge of welcoming everyone to the conference.