Thursday 24 March 2011

Ideas for Workshop/Conference Sessions II (as seen on many workshops and conferences)

This note looks at more unusual session types and shows a few possible combinations of characteristics to create more interactions amongst the attendees.

5 Minutes of Fame
A very special session that gives all participant 5 minutes to present their idea or project or solution. The 5 minutes are sharp, use a gong or bell to signal the end of it or simply switch the projector to another screen or change the presentation. No questions are allowed. The best way to organise it is to request all presentations well before the event and combine them into a single presentation with automatic timing (to enforce the 5 minutes). One might want to exclude the speaker’s introduction from the 5 minutes (which will also be helpful for the transition between speakers - remember people will need to leave and enter the stage and that takes some time, too.

1 Minute of Fame
If the number of interested people is too much for 5 minutes, one might go for 1 minute. Very tricky, and usually only good for rough ideas (i.e. on a project ideas meeting or brainstorming), but could work on a regular workshop as well. Requires a very very strict and well prepared session chair and should not be very long. The almost only way to organise this session is to request all presentation (1 title slide and 1 content slide) well in advance and provide a combined presentation with automatic timing for the content slide and some common symbol or graphic (on the slide) or sound that marks the end of the 1 minute. Seen on PerCom: put on a graphic saying "Thank You" and ask the audience in advance to klap hands when it occurs. Can be quite funny, and everybody is actively involved.

PhD Topics
Special call or invite for PhD students to present their ideas. Can be either for starters, means the presenters will talk mostly about their concepts or research questions and/or for final year students discussing their results. Special attention here goes to the moderator, who needs to make sure that questions to the students are fair, i.e. do not destroy their work (especially important for starters).

Beer and Pizza session
That type of session will be hard to organise, one needs some budget and prepare for the catering. The idea is that the whole audience is attracted by free food and drinks (substitute beer and pizza by something appropriate to your budget or taste if necessary) and that the session creates a rather informal atmosphere for discussions. Can easily go overboard, especially with alcoholic beverages, but can also be very very funny.

Open Plenary
A single moderator or a team of people present an idea and invite the audience to discuss the idea for a given goal: i.e. next year's workshop topics. Can be very productive but needs a lot of preparations from the moderator/team, to set goals for this session and to make sure these goals are the focus (otherwise discussions will be unfocused leaving the audience unsatisfied).

Town Hall session
Similar to the Open Plenary, but discussing future directions, critic, comments, recommendations and advice from the workshop/conference participants for future editions. Requires the workshop/conference organisers to moderate (i.e. put suggestions forward for discussions).

Hands-on or Breakout session
Maybe something that can happen later in a workshop. If the need occurs during the sessions (and if there is a sufficient audience to allow for a split), parts of the sessions might go to another location (if it is not raining, Trinity has nice college greens) for specific discussions/demos etc.

The Interrupted Session
Similar to a keynote: an invited speaker presents. Differently to a keynote, the audience is invited to interrupt the speaker at any given time to ask questions, and even more important (since it usually doesn't happen on any session) to give statements and opinions. This can lead to large discussions between the speaker and the audience. It does require one or two people in the audience that interrupt early in the talk, to break the ice. Or a moderator that interrupts when s/he sees that the audience got lost. Can be very funny and interesting, depending on the speaker and the topic!

5/1 Minute of Fame and Poster/Demonstration Session
This is a very interesting way to organise poster and/or demonstration sessions. Instead of simply have the posters and demonstrations happening somewhere, allow for a short joined session that has 5 or 1 minutes of fame for all poster and demonstration presenters and then leads into the actual poster/demonstration session. The effect is that the audience gets a very good overview of what it can expect, it can associate topics with faces (that's invaluable) and it can already select where to go (which in turn means that the poster/demonstration presenters will receive interested audience first, thus being really engaged with them for a mutual benefit).

Birds of a Feather session
An (usually informal) session were initial ideas are presented and - more importantly - discussed. This type of session should support the establishment of a group of interested people for a specific topic. It is very unusual on workshops and conferences but common at standard bodies.

Lecture session
Similar to a keynote, but probably more focused on an established topic rather than some groundbreaking ideas or business success. Could end with an examine for the audience, but should not take that too serious.

Round Table
In fact very similar to a panel but for a potentially much smaller audience and usually not in a controversial manner. A round table needs to have a common goal and discuss how to reach it.

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