Lead a Session

After the opening large group session, we’ll start posting breakout sessions on a schedule grid.  This post is everything you need to know before posting your session.

Don’t be scared of speaking!

Sessions are typically 45 minutes, but if 15 minutes feels better for you, then no problem! Speaking at Barcamp is not scary. It’s a non-judgmental crowd that wants to hear you speak. Everyone has something to teach, and everyone wants to learn.

There are several key points about a BarCamp

  • You do not need to do any preparation in order to convene a session. If you get an idea the day of the event, call a session.
  • There is no ‘right way’ to lead a session. However, there is a bias towards interaction and discussion.
  • Choose a format for your session that will help you achieve your goals.

Types of Sessions

  • The longer formal presentation
    This is tricky because it’s difficult to make a formal presentation interactive. But if you have a big, well-developed idea you can pull it off.
  • A short presentation
    Five to 15 minutes of prepared material/comments by the session leader to get things started, followed by an interactive discussion.
  • Group discussion 
    Someone identifies a topic they are interested in, then others come to join the conversation and an interesting discussion happens.
  • My Big (or Little) Question
    You have a question you want to know the answer to, and you think others in the group could help you answer it. This format could also just be the seed of a conversation.
  • Show and tell 
    You have a cool project, a demo, or just something to show and let people play with that is the springboard for all the conversation in the session. Alternatively, you can invite others to bring their own items to show and tell (perhaps with a theme), and everyone takes a turn sharing.
  • Learn how to do “X” 
    If you’re inclined to teach, this can be simple and effective. Bring the equipment that you need, and have a plan that will let you teach five, 10, or 15 people how to do something all at the same time.

Advice for Leading a Session

  • Don’t assume people in the room know more, or less, than you do. You never know who is going to be interested in your session. You might want to start by asking people to hold up their hands if they’ve been involved with the topic for more than five years, for one to five years, or for one year or less.
  • Don’t be upset if only two people show up to your session. Those two people are the ones who share your interest.
  • Don’t feel that you have to “fill” up 45-50 minutes of time. If what you have to say only takes 15 minutes and the group has finished interacting—then the session can end.
  • Don’t feel pressure to have everything take “only” an 45-50 minutes. If you start with a short presentation, then a group conversation gets going, and your discussion needs to continue past an the session time—find a way to make this happen. You might be able to move to another part of the conference area, or post “Part 2″ on the agenda for a later slot of the BarCamp (continue right then or put a “Part 2″ on the board).
  • Be Brave! Others are interested in making your session work.
  • Do think about the ideas that you want to cover in your session, and how you want to cover them. But don’t feel as though you need to prepare a great deal. (If you’re over-prepared, your session might lose energy.)
  • Experiment with the kind of sessions you lead. There is no such thing as “failure” at BarCamp.

A Speaking Formula

Speaking for 45 minutes isn’t hard! Start with a 3 minute intro on who you are & what you do. Follow this with an 33 minute talk and a 2 minute closing statement. Then finish it off with a 7 minutes of questions and answers.  Or adjust those numbers in whatever way you like!  See? That’s not so scary!

Making the Most of BarCamp

  • Go with the flow. This event is intended to help you find the time and space to talk with and learn from each other.
  • Follow your passion. Go to the sessions that interest you.
  • Take responsibility for your own learning. If there are topics you are really interested in that don’t appear on the agenda at first, you need to put them on there.


Borrowed heavily from: