COLT had an impromptu session which seemed as interesting or more interesting than any other single technical session (despite being only an hour long). There are several roles that an impromptu session can play including:
- Announcing new work since the paper deadline. Letting this happen now rather than later helps aid the process of research.
- Discussing a paper that was rejected. Reviewers err sometimes and an impromptu session provides a means to remedy that.
- Entertainment. We all like to have a bit of fun.
For design, the following seem important:
- Impromptu speakers should not have much time. At COLT, it was 8 minutes, but I have seen even 5 work well.
- The entire impromptu session should not last too long because the format is dense and promotes restlessness. A half hour or hour can work well.
Impromptu talks are a mechanism to let a little bit of chaos into the schedule. They will be chaotic in content, presentation, and usefulness. The fundamental advantage of this chaos is that it provides a means for covering material that the planned program did not (or could not). This seems like a “bargain use of time” considering the short duration. One caveat is that it is unclear how well this mechanism can scale to large conferences.