(Here's the part many of you have been waiting for! ;-)
We had more time for lightning talks this year than ever before: 5 hours total. I'm looking forward to seeing many of them when they show up on the web (the disadvantage of chairing PyCon is that I didn't actually get to see much).
Last year we invited sponsors to give lightning talks during a special lunchtime "sponsor lightning talks" session. This year's sponsor package repeated the offer of sponsor lightning talks. We didn't have any sessions at lunch time though, because that scheduling decision had mixed reviews.
Many sponsors took us up on the offer this year -- too many perhaps. It seems that 2007 was a sweet spot, with few enough sponsors that sponsor lightning talks were feasible. 2008 saw too many sponsor lightning talks, and they crowded out the attendee talks. It seems that the nature of the talks was not communicated as well as it could have been, leading to some confusion. There was a lot of negative feedback regarding the sponsor lightning talks this year, and nobody wants that, especially not the sponsors!
We've come to the consensus that in 2009 there will be no sponsor lightning talks, at least not during a plenary session. Sponsors will still be able to sign up for lightning talk slots, but they won't have priority or be able to sign up in advance. Perhaps we'll hold sponsor lightning talks during lunch again, or in a "sponsor/business/management track" (scheduled opposite regular talks), or in some other form.
Perhaps there's no longer a need for sponsor lightning talks, since we had a very successful expo hall. The expo hall should only get bigger in 2009. That may provide enough opportunity for attendees and sponsors to interact. A few sponsors also took advantage of the breakout rooms to schedule receptions -- yet another avenue.
We also need some guidelines on what makes a great lightning talk: informative, entertaining, energetic, interesting, fun, quick. Too many of the sponsor lightning talks fell into a pattern which ended up being boring. And 5 minutes is a maximum, not a requirement.
Jacob Kaplan-Moss and Mike Orr coordinated the lightning talks this year. Along with the speakers, they should be given credit for the successes, but they should not be blamed for the problems. The problems were a result of collective decisions, circumstance, and the explosive growth of attendance and sponsorship. Thanks Jacob and Mike -- great job! (Correction: Richard Jones lent moral support only ;-)