Run lightning talks/open mic sessions
Not everyone can or wants to prepare a full session – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a chance to speak.
Lightning talks are short, quickfire talks – typically five minutes or less. Ususally you run a series of them back-to-back. They’re fun to watch because you get a variety of topics in not very much time, and five minutes is long enough to say something interesting, without needing lots of preparation. And at least at conferences I’ve been to, the audience is very supportive and friendly. It’s a great venue for somebody to try speaking for the first time.
It’s important to make these talks a dedicated part of the schedule – for example, at PyCon US, there was a slot for lightning talks at the beginning and end of the day. I’ve seen a few events run them in the lunch break, when most people would rather have food and talk to other attendees. Making it a timetabled event gets better attendance.
At PyCon UK, the signup for lightning talks is extremely popular. We want to make sure new speakers get a chance to speak, and not just all the old faces, so we use a lottery system, with dedicated slots for new speakers.