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Would you like to run a session at Open Data Camp? That’s awesome. Here are a few tips.

Whether you have been to an unconference or not, we are thrilled you would like to run a session at Open Data Camp! Many attendees reach out to us beforehand asking if a topic is suitable or not, and how to best run the session. After years of feedback and experiments, what we know is that we don’t want Open Data Camp to be too strict about formats. We’ve seen all types of sessions: conversations, presentations, panels, “unkeynotes” (a posthumous definition), debates (I had something akin to a – friendly – boxing match with Jeni Tennison last year!).

If you still have doubts, the short story is simple and based on two broad tips:

1) have some ideas ready beforehand, summarise these in a short pitch on the morning, adjust according to feedback

2) the Law of Two Feet is your master: people might go if the session isn’t what they were expecting, and that is good.

Don’t worry about attendees numbers or about rehearsing to give the talk of your life. An unconference isn’t TED. I’ve once been the only attendee in a BarCamp session about 3D printing your own CT Scans (a bit creepy, I know), and I still remember what I learnt.

Open Data Camp is all about discussions, so please imagine your session with a major conversational component. However, attendees often ask if they can bring a presentation. After loads of discussions and past experiments, we have decided that we don’t want to discourage people who come with a prepared slide-deck, but we have some caveats:

1) first of all, we cannot guarantee projectors or screens at the camp, so please make sure your presentation can work without slides, or by showing them on your laptop

2) try and limit the frontal presentation to about 10 minutes and imagine it as a kickstarter for a discussion; Gavin Freeguard did this amazingly at Open Data Camp 4 with his “Tale of two datasets”

3) alternatively, use your slides as a prompt for the discussion, and have something to engage in an exchange every slide or two; John Murray with his legendary sessions about LIDAR, or Alasdair Rae with his great session on gaining insight from mapping are good examples to follow.

Photo CC BY-SA Adam Tinworth

Tell people honestly what you would like to do and ask them what they expect: your sessions needn’t be a monologue worth of George Bernard Shaw, it is ok to have an unpolished set of ideas and present them as they come. Think, however, that alternatives to presentation are often better received. The aforementioned debate between me and Jeni Tennison was pitched on the day out of a random conversation, and it was entertaining for us to hold it as well as for the over 40 attendees that turned up. If you prefer a conversation that doesn’t involve defending positions, that is fine too: make sure you allow all opinions to be expressed in full.

Of course, you might want to have some support. If you fear you might not be able to stop someone speaking for too long, for example, talk to us beforehand and we’ll send you one of our lovely campmakers. All a campmaker will do is to ensure that the session allows everyone some space, and that no one takes over without reason. Equally, if you want someone to take notes at the session, please let us know so we can send a note-taker or arrange for the notes to be broadcast on our blogs.

If you have any question, please do not hesitate to get in touch!