Firsts: organizing a workshop (part 2)

In the previous post I wrote about getting started with organizing a (sattelite) workshop. In this post I cover a few specific topics that you will want to include in the workshop proposal.

Invited speakers

In most cases a workshop will feature one or more invited speakers. This is something to be arranged early on. Typically already when submitting the workshop proposal, you will need to specify who you plan to invite, and whether the speakers have already confirmed or not.

You might already have a wishlist of people who are famous for their work on the topic of your workshop. If not, it might help to have a brainstorming session, and make an (overcomplete) list of people you could invite. Places to look are:

  • Papers you cite often. Look up the authors, and see if they have recent work, related to your workshop. To do this more efficiently, try SemanticScholar. Here’s what comes up when I search for myself:.Of course, my supervisors are here! The other authors are people in the field whose papers I cite most of the time.
  • Google scholar. Authors on Google Scholar can add keywords under their name. For example, on my profile I have the keyword “machine learning”. By clicking on it, you will see authors who added “machine learning” to their profile, sorted by the number of citations. Note that keywords are author-defined! Therefore, you will not find everyone working on machine learning, and subtopics are not taken into account.
  • Search for your topic of interest and watch some lectures. Bonus: you already have an idea what kind of a speaker somebody is!

To brainstorm, you can create a spreadsheet where all organizers can add potential speakers, roughly with the following fields:

  • Name
  • Website or Google scholar profile
  • Relevance/motivation (i.e. well known for topic X)
  • Whether we have any personal connections
  • Whether the person usually attends the main conference

The last three questions are good to consider, because they influence how likely the person is to respond and accept the invitation. Where the person has to travel from is important because, if you are inviting somebody who wouldn’t normally be at the conference, you probably want to offer to cover the travel costs.

Once all the data is there, you can use the relevance and the chances of the speaker accepting to make a selection of whom to invite first, and who to invite in case the first person declines. It’s also good to decide who will be sending the invitations – usually the organizer who knows the speaker best.


If you want to allow participants to present their work (either as a talk or a poster), there are two main ways to do this:

  • “Type A” contributions, which are novel contributions and which can be published in proceedings.
  • “Type B” contributions, which are abstracts of previously published work, or not fully worked-out ideas and open questions.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. Type B contributions are interesting for people who are already at the conference, but do not have new material to submit to the workshop. Because the threshold for joining is low, you are likely to have more participants. On the other hand, Type B contributions may be problematic for researchers who are not already at the conference (and need a published paper to be able to claim travel expenses). If the conference acceptance rate is low, it’s probably a good idea to have Type A contributions to encourage those authors to participate. A caveat is that you will need to have enough contributions to actually publish proceedings! To combine the advantages of Type A and Type B contributions, several workshops call for both types of contributions.

The mix you choose is likely to influence the schedule of the workshop. If you only have a few Type A contributions, each author could give a talk. If you (also) have Type B contributions, you will probably want to host a poster session. Personally I think poster sessions are great opportunities for the participants to get to know each other, so I would recommend including one in the schedule.

In the workshop proposal, you will likely have to specify what type of contributions you want, how you will collect the contributions (for example, via Easychair) and how you will select the final contributions (i.e. your reviewing process).

Anything else?

By now your workshop program has invited speakers, talks by participants, and a poster session. That’s all, right? Well, that is up to you. Just because most workshops (*at least at the conferences I attended – this might be different in other places!) only feature these building blocks, doesn’t mean that you have to as well. For example, you could also consider:

  • A panel discussion
  • A brainstorming session where participants have to work in groups
  • An ice-breaking activity to encourage discussion throughout the day

Although for the proposal, you probably don’t need to specify a detailed schedule, keep in mind that you also want to leave enough time for breaks, so don’t try to fit too many things in a single day. You might also want to think about organizing lunch (if this isn’t already done by the conference) and/or drinks at the end of the day, so that participants get more chances to interact with each other. This, however, requires a budget – something I will talk about in a later post!

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