Ideas for Designing and Leading Unconference Sessions

(Adapted from, Wikipedia, and

Here are ideas for creating and leading sessions at an unconference.

Session Ideas Focused on Format

These are interesting ways of organizing the time and structure of the session to explore a question, or set of questions. The following formats are described: Fish Bowl Dialogues, Knowledge Café, World Café, Lightening Talks, Speed Geeking, and Formal Presentations with Participation. These can be mixed and matched with the content and visualization ideas, below.

Fish Bowl Dialogues

Knowledge Café

World Café

Lightening Talks/ Pecha Kucha/ Ignite

Speed Geeking

Formal Presentation – Plus Audience Participation

Session Ideas Focused on Different Types of Content

This addresses different ways to think about what you are going to talk about or address during a session. Included here are Imaginationfest, Show and Tell, Learn How to Do X, Birds of a Feather, and Storytelling. These can be mixed with format options.


Show and Tell

Learn How To Do X

Birds of a Feather


Session Ideas for Visualizing Participants Viewpoints & Ideas

These help spark reflection and conversation by visually depicting the participants thought processes. These ideas include Dotmocracy, Kenetic Spectrum, and Community Mapping, and can also be mixed in with other formats.


Kinetic Spectrum

Community Mapping

General Advice about Leading a Session

  1. If you convene a session, it is your responsibility to “hold the space” for your session. You hold the space by leading a discussion, by posting a “first question,” or by sharing information about your program. Be the shepherd – stay visible, be as involved as necessary, be a beacon of sanity that guides the group.
  2. Ask for help holding the space if you need it. You might, for example, put a session on the board and know that you are so passionate about the topic that it would be better if someone else, someone more objective, facilitates the discussion. Choose someone from your team, or another participant who is interested in the topic.
  3. 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.
  4. Don’t be upset if only two people show up to your session. Those two people are the ones who share your interest.
  5. Don’t feel that you have to “fill” up the entire session timeframe. If what you have to say only takes 15 min and the group has finished interacting–then the session can end.
  6. Don’t feel pressure to limit the dialogue to the session timeframe. If you think it would be productive and beneficial to continue your session, try to find a way to facilitate this. You might be able to keep talking for a while in the room you are in, or move to another part of the conference area, or post “Part 2” on the agenda.
  7. 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.)
  8. Experiment with the kind of sessions you lead. There is no such thing as “failure” at an unconference.


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    […] the conventional ways, many options can be explored.  Generally speaking, creating an egalitarian moment in time where people from all backgrounds and […]

  2. V. Neimanis
    18 July 12, 7:20am

    Any ideas on how best to maximize the impact of the benefits of sound environmental evaluations to decision makers. Given that many countries are in recession or simply cutting back many environmental programs and/or even having quality assessments is in jeopardy. The ideal triangle balancing social, economic and environmental dimensions is being distorted towards the economic apex. But good environmental actions do pay-off! Can folks share some of these successes or successful approaches that have caught the attention of their decision-makers.

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    Show and Tell:

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