10 tips for a great session

The special thing about barcamps like UXcamp Europe is, that everyone is a participant. Unlike a traditional conference, where the planning team invites speakers and pre-announces the talks months ahead, the program at UXcamp Europe is made by the participants on the day.

Here’s how it works: On both Saturday and Sunday we start with the planning session. Everyone who is interested in giving a talk, offering a workshop or hosting a discussion can step forward and pitch his or her idea to the crowd. Depending on response, your session will be scheduled to a smaller or larger room, and off we go. And if you had a great conversation with someone from Czech Republic you met at the party on Saturday evening, which spurred an idea for a session: Pitch it on Sunday.

Maybe it’s your first time you’re holding a session at UXcamp Europe, or maybe it’s even your first time giving a talk in public. In case you’re sitting on the fence: We’ve got you covered. By applying these few tips, you’re half-way to applause, backslapping and rave reviews of your session on Twitter. Plus: By following along you could ease stage fright, since there’s less to worry about prior to your talk.

And don’t be shy: If you’re thinking “Other people probably have better sessions, they should go first” – we have room to hold 120 sessions over the course of the weekend (in recent years, participants roughly held 80 sessions). And no worries regarding your English skills: The overwhelming majority of participants at UXcamp Europe are not English native speakers. Or put another way: We are all fluent in Bad English!

Okay, so you want to hold a session – great! Now what? To simplify your preparation and to cater for a great audience experience, here are ten tips for a great session.

Preparation

Consider what kind of session you’d like to offer. You think there’s a controversial issue which needs to be addressed? Hold a discussion. You want to support others in learning a new skill? Offer a workshop-y session. You survived a difficult project and compiled a case study, you have an opinion on the topic du jour, or you gained some knowledge in trying out something new in the space of UX? Share your experience in a talk, be it with or without slides.

Ask yourself three important questions. What’s the topic of your session? Why should attendees care? How do you want to convey this information? Answering these questions – in one sentence each – will support you in getting more clarity about your topic, so that you can prepare a focussed session – in the end, you only have 45 minutes and you won’t be able to illuminate the issue from every possible angle.

Do not advertise your product or service. People attend UXcamp Europe to learn from other participant’s experiences and to discuss current topics – they don’t come to Berlin to watch a commercial. Such a session will upset people, and this is not the mood you want your prospects to be in. If you want to hold a session about your product, give practical advice on how attendees can achieve results (basically, offer a free course in basic or advanced stuff). Also, you should use the opportunity to ask attendees for feedback on how you can improve your product. And of course it’s okay to mention your company or your product in a session.

Prepare, actually. If you want to discuss an issue, think about an introduction (maybe with a bold thesis) and some questions to discuss. A workshop should have a series of learning experiences building on each other – and remember to bring all materials needed (all rooms are equipped with a VGA projector, blackboards and chalk; there are no flip charts, whiteboards, pens or sticky notes). If you intend to give a presentation or hold a talk, at least present it to your houseplant once.

Pitch

Tell what it is and what it’s not. The advantage of answering the three important questions stated earlier is, that you can use the answers as your session pitch. In addition, please give people a hint what type of session you’re intending to give (discussion, workshop, talk).

Tell for whom it’s meant. Is your session an introduction to a topic or do you dive deep? We welcome both, but please set expectations straight: Make clear whether you intend to educate on a basic level, or if you assume advanced knowledge among your listeners. A Senior UX Designer might get bored if she discovers ten minutes into your session that you probably will remain on a basic level. On the other hand, a student or a Junior might have difficulties to follow you if you haven’t made clear in your pitch that you’re talking about advanced rocket surgery.

Get to the point. Try to keep your pitch brief. Not only are dozens of people behind you waiting in line to pitch their sessions, but a concise presentation might also be registered as a good sign for a promising session by your prospect attendees.

[We compiled more information about the pitch in a new blog posting with the apt title The Pitch.]

During your session

Be open to learn something new. There are lots of like-minded people in the room, so use that to your advantage. Ask attendees “Who knows about X?” or “Who has done this before? What experiences have you made?” If a discussion unfolds, you ignited the magic that makes UXcamp. Don’t worry if you can’t finish your presentation because of a lively discussion.

Involve your audience. To get this kind of magic, you need to leave some space for it to happen. Although a session is 45 minutes, we recommend not giving a 45 minute talk. If you do a presentation/talk, it should last 30 minutes max, so there’s room for 15 minutes of Q&A and discussion. Although there is room for this kind of highly polished talks at UXcamp Europe, better raise questions in between to foster discussion throughout your session.

Respect your attendee’s privacy. Do not make audio or video recordings without prior consent. At least announce at the beginning that you intend to record your session, to give people the chance to leave or remain silent if they are not OK with a recording.

By applying these tips, you’re a few steps closer to rave reviews on Twitter from your audience! These tips might sound like a lot of things to keep in mind, but all in all it’s not that hard. Trust us on that one, we’ve been there ourselves, and we’ve seen dozens of great sessions in the past years!