We tried not one but two experiments this year: specifying an overarching theme, "permanence", and requiring applications to be submitted by video.
It’s working out awesomely. Earlier this week, we announced our primary lineup of speakers. I suppose it’s a given because I’m the speaker coordinator, but I’d love to attend every one. They all tie into our theme of "permanence", yet stand strongly in their own right.
When we began planning this year’s WordCamp, I knew I wanted us to push hard to raise the bar. There are enough WordCamps happening every month, and subsequently talks making it to WordPress.tv, that the status quo shouldn’t be a generic, third time old presentation. Our idea: if we mandate video applications, and only one per person, it would encourage potential speakers to consider their pitch thoroughly. Furthermore, videos would enable us to better assess the person’s stage presence and ability to communicate concisely, both of which are important for inspiring an audience.
It’s safe to say we didn’t know if the idea would work until the day of the deadline. Up until the last 12 hours, the outcome was unknown and, frankly, a little nerve-wracking. In total, we received ~25 applications; 90% were submitted on the last day. It paid off though. Most of the applications were solid, obvious examples of much consideration, and the video format was a tremendous help for screening.
Go out on a limb every once in a while, take a risk, and see how it plays out.