I am not really pro-swag, generally. Confab has fantastic attention to detail with their speaker gifts though. One year, they gave us engraved astronaut pens (their theme was space) with our names on them. I just thought the level of detail was insane. They always include handwritten notes in the speaker gift bag to say thanks.
The communication of the conference organisers of Frontend Conf Zurich was amazing. Two weeks before the conference they sent a reminder with all my travel details in it and a 9-page speaker briefing pdf. In it was everything I needed: Contact information, how to get to the hotel, how public transport works (very important), audience type, and a lot more info. I was also picked up from the airport and guided to the hotel in the metro. My girlfriend was coming along, and she also got a free ticket to the event. And finally they had a preparation room with a beamer, which was very convenient.
I have to say, although they are controversial on the subject of Codes of Conduct, I’ve had great experiences speaking at the conferences run by UIE (Jared Spool’s group). they do quite intensive speaker development with lots of feedback, and I’ve gotten a lot of value out of that. in addition, they market me - they know their audience and they take my talk summaries and craft them into marketing their audience will understand. it’s really helpful, and obviously more work than just having me send in a summary and putting it online without edits.
GoGaRuCo 2014 gave all speakers thank you cards, toiletry travel bags with our names on them, and also offered to connect our Uber accounts under their corporate account to make claiming travel easier. (I don’t like Uber, but it was an appreciated offer nonetheless!). GoGaRuCo were broadly super supportive of their speakers! Oh, and they had a speakers/organisers Green Room, which is useful for last minute preparation and zoning out.
RubyConf AU 2014 offered to pick up all speakers from the airport (or from their homes if they were locals) - something we continued in future years (I was part of the 2015 team).
ArrrCamp 2015 – My train was involved in an accident while I was on the way to the airport in Brussels. I pinged the conference organizers on twitter and they called the airline to notify them of the issue, and were extremely helpful when it came to any other travel assistance I needed.
Endpoint conf organizers paid for an extra night at the hotel as they didn’t have to pay the full price for my flight (I managed to an existing route). They also let my brother (who joined me) join the speakers dinner and gave him a ticket to the conference and breakfast at the hotel!
One time at Agile Manchester I was due to speak, but was ill. I dragged myself there not really feeling up to it and this was pretty obvious to the organiser when I got there. Within 30m the organisers had arranged an alternate speaker, and sent me home. They still covered expenses, accommodation, etc.despite me not speaking.
Goodie bags with snacks when you arrive after a day of travel is so appreciated! Confab does an excellent job of this. Organizing a speaker dinner is a big plus as well.
The organizers of OpenWest really went out of their way to be available to speakers and help with anything we needed - one detail that stands out is that they went and bought a coffee maker for the speaker lounge even though none of the organizers and most of the attendees didn’t partake of caffeine (it was in Utah).
Andy McMillan’s brass bolt left on my hotel room bed for Build always stands out. It was a really lovely gift and made me feel really valued as a speaker.
Lone Star PHP is really well organized in general, especially when it comes to transportation. One of the organizers picked me up at the airport and drove me to the hotel, and they chartered a bus for the speaker dinner. They also had a good venue, good hotel, good food, and fun after-parties.
The Ladies that UX group in Durham was incredibly welcoming. They put me up in a nice hotel across the street from the venue with a bag full of local snacks and water. They stayed in touch over a couple of months just checking in to say they were looking forward to it and did I need anything. They also promoted the event really well so we had a packed house.
UX Poland - looked after personally by conference hosts. Taken to dinner each night and shown the city. All ancillary expenses covered.
Midwest.io 2015 provided a ride to/from the hotel, a speaker dinner, let me see the venue before it was open, gave me some nice little gifts (legos, chocolates), and asked for open, honest feedback.
Best ever conf as a speaker was ‘notconf’ , a side conf for jsconf that was as well run as jsconf itself. Beautiful venue, great audio, a demo hall, snacks, a band, a proper mc. I generally like confs with social events days. Love meeting other people, especially when I’ve travelled long to be there.
Lanyards in the hotel room on arrival - I don’t really need a swag bag, it’s an amazing gesture, don’t get me wrong, but to not have to worry about getting my lanyard on the day is great.
Signal conf let me invite two friends to the conference party. Signal conf also helped me do a dry run over hangouts and gave me feedback.
It’s the small thoughtful things, like a car waiting from the airport to the hotel - this isn’t necessary at all - but it was really lovely. The same conference took all the speakers on a day trip after the conference which was also great.
I’ve had a ton of great experiences. Organizers are saints in my book.
RubyC in Kiev picked me up from the train station and generally made sure one of their team was on hand at all meal times to help with translations (English in Ukraine isn’t as common as in western Europe).
One conference, I lost my voice overnight, and had a presentation mid-afternoon. The organizers sent somebody out to get a pharmacopoeia of throat lozenges, cough suppressant, you name it, it was in the bag.
Adam Culp from ZendCon and SunshinePHP has always impressed me with how easy he has made the process of speaking and how he’s went out of his way to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable.
Concat 2015 – By far the best experience as a speaker. The smallest details were thought of and taken care of, which was appreciated since many of the speakers were international and didn’t speak German. A small example is that on the day of the conference, the organizers had already purchased tickets for the train to the venue, and they were waiting at the front desk for us. Eliminating small stresses like that make it much easier to focus on speaking and providing valuable content. Concat was also incredibly inclusive – gender neutral bathrooms, a clear code of conduct, ability to opt-out of photographs, and tampons in the bathroom.
At Front Trends, I had a SIM card in my welcome package! Super useful as a foreign / visiting speaker from another country when you arrived jet lagged and need to just tell your family that you have arrived.
DockerCon – speakers had private wifi in the speakers’ lounge while preparing and rehearsing for talks.
O’Reilly Fluent paid for my flight change fees to go home a day early because my daughter was ill. Beyond Tellerand provided handwritten personal note in my room, along with a package of special gifts arranged with some of the sponsors. Really felt valued.
NSConf met speakers at the Heathrow airport and drove us all directly to the conference hotel; we didn’t have to try to find our way around a strange country before we had cell data, and were able to just focus on our talks & the conference.
Web Directions gave me a super high-quality water bottle that I still use. It’s right next to me now.
EmpireJS organizers were really great. They put up themed posters, 1 per speaker, with the speaker’s face on them it, on an easel on the day each speaker was up. It was fun to get to take a selfie with a poster of myself! They also gave speakers copies of the posters as keepsakes. Very silly & fun & appreciated.