Above is my slide deck from a Lightning Talk on ChemWriter that I gave at the Fall 2010 ACS.
Lightning what, you ask?
Lightning talks are short talks, typically given in rapid succession at a conference.
To its credit, the CINF division of ACS introduced this new format for talks at the Fall 2010 meeting. My talk lasted around 6 minutes and I didn't have to submit an abstract until a few weeks before the meeting.
Although attendance at this session was light, I'd really like to see it continue. One of the things about ACS meetings that doesn't work well for me is that talks typically discuss research that has been published already (with some notable exceptions). For this reason, ACS meetings don't serve very well as a way to catalyze new collaborations.
I've also never been a fan of saving the general sessions to Thursday because most attendees have already checked out, either physically or mentally, by that point.
I do, however, like to be exposed to random new topics introduced by smart people, like a general session makes possible in theory, but I don't want to invest 25 minutes on each talk. I can handle 6-8 minutes on any topic presented by any speaker.
So here's a modest proposal to increase the value of ACS meetings:
- Eliminate the Thursday general sessions altogether. The ACS is over by Wednesday evening for most attendees.
- In the place of general sessions, offer a single 2-hour Lightning Session on Monday.
- Don't book anything in the room for at least a couple of hours after the session so that people can hang out and talk. Refreshments would be ideal, but possibly difficult logistically.
- Give each speaker exactly 6 minutes to present as many slides as they have and 2 minutes to answer as many questions as they can - no exceptions.
- Make it known from the get-go that liveblogging/twitter/etc will be permitted (and encouraged).
- Create a permanent, publicly-viewable website, separate from PACS, that will list each talk as a separate page with unique URL. On this page, allow comments from the public (i.e., no need for the annoying ACS login) and collect reaction to the talk from the Web, possibly using Disqus.
- Get 2-3 high-profile speakers to commit to introducing new research at the session. Nobody visits an empty restaurant.
- Only allow as many speakers as will fit into a 2-hour session.
There are many ways to tweak this basic approach. The big idea would be to create the session where speakers compete for the opportunity to concisely communicate the most interesting, cutting-edge research on any topic in chemical information.