Unconference sessions create an opportunity for conference attendees to share ideas, solve problems, and participate in discussions in different ways than we can on the main stage of the conference.

Anyone can suggest and lead a session on a topic – sessions can be organized as a group discussion on a particular issue, a Q&A, show-and-tell, or anything in between.

If you’ve never attended an unconference, expect to interact closely with others from the community.

Unconference sessions run all day on Monday, and Tuesday afternoon after the Job Fair.

How does an unconference session work?

There is no stage in an unconference, and sessions instead focus on small group interaction.

Whether you have a topic in mind, or a problem you would like to pose to the rest of the community, there is no wrong way to lead an unconference session. Good sessions emphasize group participation, however, so if you choose a format that includes a lot of your own ideas or material, be prepared to dial it back and use what you have as a starting point, not as the focal point.

Here are a few ideas for how to structure an unconf session, borrowed from Scott Berkun’s post on unconference sessions:

  • Group discussion - Pick a topic and facilitate a group discussion.
  • The semi-talk - Use a short presentation to lead into a group discussion on a topic.
  • Show and tell - Show off your latest project, a new tool, or anything else you are excited about.
  • Presentation - Because sessions are meant to be small and inclusive, this is a difficult format to lead a session with. The conference is virtual, so you can share your screen, but expect more interaction from others joining the session, and break often for questions and discussion.

Lead a session

To lead an unconf session, propose a topic and pick a time; unconf sessions are scheduled for the same time slots as talks on the main stage.

Sessions take place in the virtual conference platform, but you propose a session by adding your topic to a timeslot and table number in the Unconference sign-up sheet, which will be linked here closer to the event.

When it’s time for your session to begin, join the session in the virtual conference platform that corresponds to the table number you signed up for. There’s a 15 minute break between sessions, but the previous session might still be running, so let them know it’s time to switch. Give attendees a few minutes to join, then start the conversation!

When the next session leader joins your session, it’s time to finish up the conversation and let the next session begin. Or your group can end with time to take a break before the next session.

We will start promoting the unconference sessions early in the day on the days of the conference, so post your topic early if you want a particular time slot, or to make sure that there’s room.

Keep in mind the following tips (inspired by the “Open Space Technology” infographic):

  • Whoever comes is the right people. You can get great results with 5 people or 20 people (the maximum size of sessions in the virtual conference platform). Sometimes it can be to have a smaller, but more engaged group in your session; sometimes your proposed topic will be very popular, and you’ll need to pay attention to make sure that everyone has a chance to participate as they want.
  • Whenever it starts within your allotted time slot is the right time. People might come and go during the session and that’s ok! If you are worried about lack of attendance, see the previous tip.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened. Even though the session starts out with a topic, keep an open mind to the discussions that occur, and you might end up with a totally different outcome.
  • When it’s over, it’s over. The time slots help organize the sessions, but you can finish early if that’s how things develop. If a group of you wants to continue the conversation after your time slot is over, you can organize your own session in the virtual conference platform, but be aware that it won’t appear on that schedule, so it’s up to the group that wants to keep talking to make sure everyone winds up in the right session.

Attend a session

  • At the time your chosen sessions start, join the session in the virtual conference platform that correspond to the table number of the session. Sessions are limited to 20 participants, but you can check out a session without joining it too.
  • It’s fine to join a session, decide it’s not right for you, bow out politely, and join another session.
  • It’s fine to join late if you needed a longer break.
  • Feel free to just listen or add your voice to the discussion.

During the conference

Check out the Unconference Cheat Sheet for a quick reference that you can use during the conference to make the most out of the unconference.