Session facilitators make SRCCON what it is, a collaborative, hands-on conference that brings peers together to work on the practical challenges facing journalism today. We’ve put this guide together to help you think about planning and running a great session.
SRCCON is a highly participatory event, where everyone is engaged in learning, building, and problem-solving together. That’s one of the reasons we refer to you as facilitators, not speakers or presenters. When you run a session at SRCCON, you’re in a room with dozens of other smart people with an opportunity to compare notes, share skills, and help everyone learn from each other.
We created SRCCON with a few principles in mind that lay the groundwork for our program as a whole:
Our sessions inhabit these values in different ways, through structured discussions and problem-solving groups; peer-to-peer workshops; even games, drawing, or field trips. We avoid traditional lectures and classroom-style trainings, but we welcome your creativity across a range of hands-on and collaborative session styles.
As a facilitator, you bring your experience and excitement (or even skepticism) to leading a discussion or workshop with a highly engaged group.
Facilitators don’t need to come in with all the answers. You’re there to guide discussions or collaborative work, and to help attendees contribute and walk away having learned something new.
SRCCON attendees show up ready to pitch in, whether that’s writing code, working through activities, or participating in conversations. Much of the work you’ll do as a facilitator will take place in the weeks leading up to SRCCON, as you outline your session. We’ve found that keeping two things in mind can help translate your awesome ideas into a meaningful experience for SRCCON attendees:
From there, you have a huge amount of room to explore creative ways to work with attendees. Slide presentations and lectures aren’t what you’re after, but conversations and small-group work are staples on the SRCCON schedule. There are many outstanding session formats to consider, as well: design exercises, games, technical workshops, role-playing, even physical movement and field trips outside the conference space. Fun is good. We’ll support all sorts of ways to help you engage with people and make abstract concepts real.
Another thing to consider as you map out your session outline: Expect the unexpected. It’s easy to imagine the best-case scenario, where everything runs smoothly and according to plan—and that’s probably exactly how your session will go! But what if you ask your first question and no one answers? What if someone shares an amazing idea, and you want to follow up on it? You’ll be responding to situations like these on the fly, and you’ll be a lot more confident if you’ve thought through some scenarios in advance. Plan more material than you think you’ll need, and know you can feel good about dropping half of it—you just don’t know which half it will be.
And finally, make sure to block out time in your outline for wrapup. We found that between engaging activities and interesting conversations, some facilitators were having a hard time fitting in a closing moment, so this year we’ve lengthened session times from 60 minutes to 75 minutes. We want you to have room to pull groups back together to report on their work, or to share final thoughts and next steps before people head out the door.
Once you’re at the venue, conference staff and volunteers will be around to answer questions and help you with any problems that come up. We’ll also set aside some time before SRCCON begins for you to see the venue and check out the room where you’ll be leading your session. Here are a few more things to help you anticipate what the facilitation experience will be like:
About 275 people attend SRCCON, and we program about 6 topics at a time, so most sessions will have 30 to 50 people in the room. Some topics will draw fewer—and that’s fine! Some of the smallest sessions at SRCCON are incredibly meaningful for the people who are there, and we want to encourage those conversations.
Some sessions might bring in larger crowds as well, so we encourage you to spend a little time thinking about how you might accommodate different group sizes. Will you be working in small groups that can scale up or down? Are you running an activity that might need extra supplies? We’ll have volunteers available to help you make room adjustments on the fly, but you’ll be happier if you go in knowing how you’ll respond to different crowd sizes.
First and foremost, you’ll be surrounded by peers—people excited about journalism and ready to share their expertise at a journalism-centric conference. More than a third of the attendees at SRCCON will be session facilitators themselves. Most participants are developers, designers, and data analysts who work in newsrooms, but we also welcome reporters, editors, managers, and multimedia journalists, as well as attendees from related fields like civic tech, art, mapping, and open data. Most participants come from the U.S., although many countries will be represented. We draw from large media organizations as well as smaller, regional, and noncoastal newsrooms.
Every person at SRCCON is smart and creative. But not every person in your room will be an expert in the particular subject you’re covering. We encourage attendees, in fact, to go to sessions that challenge them, about topics they might not normally choose. So think about how you might, for example, involve a designer in your software session. Or bring a filmmaker’s thoughts into a conversation about writing. Just as they’re in the room to be exposed to new ideas, your topic might be energized by an outside perspective.
As a facilitator, there are a couple ways you can really support the people in your room:
Every room at SRCCON will be well-stocked with note paper, post-it notes, pens, and sharpies. We’ll make sure you have a whiteboard or a giant scratchpad on an easel, too; if you want to send people away with ideas they can act on, grabbing a marker and whiteboarding the best comments from the room is a great way to do it.
Each room will have a screen so you can connect your laptop and walk through a software lesson or show examples to kick off a discussion. We’ll also set up a shared document for live note-taking, linked right from your session on the SRCCON schedule. This is a great place to drop links to useful resources for you session attendees.
If you need any special supplies for your session, we’ll ask you to tell us about them about a month in advance of SRCCON so we can order them and have them ready for you.
The conference schedule sets aside 75 minutes for each SRCCON session. You don’t have to fill the entire time, but we want you to have plenty of room to dig into a topic and respond to threads that emerge along the way. If your session needs more than 75 minutes, let us know and we can adjust appropriately. The conference schedule also builds in a 30-minute break between sessions—plenty of time for attendees to hang around and ask questions or continue conversations before they head out.
How you use your time is completely up to you. While you won’t need a script like you might for a traditional conference talk, we do thoroughly encourage outlines. Sessions are always a little less daunting once you break them into smaller pieces, and knowing how you plan to budget your time helps you stay on task while you’re doing it live.
SRCCON works with White Coat Captioning to provide live transcriptions in about half our sessions each year. This helps some people at the conference track conversations more easily, and allows additional people to participate remotely. It also provides a great record of sessions that have taken place in previous years.
As we build the conference schedule, we’ll decide which sessions formats will translate well into transcription, and we’ll let you know in advance if there will be a transcriptionist in your room. If there is, you can always ask participants to note “off the record” before speaking if they’d like the transcriptionist to pause their work. Or if you’d prefer your session to be off the record entirely, that’s not a problem—we’ll make sure your session isn’t transcribed at all.
We also have experimented with audio recording in some sessions, but again, if yours is a candidate, we’ll let you know in advance and make sure you’re OK with conversations being captured in that way.
SRCCON is built upon participation and folks are coming to your session expecting to be involved and active. Some things to consider in your role as session facilitator:
Start by setting some ground rules. This can be super helpful for participants, and for you to refer back to as facilitator. Some examples:
Take advantage of your power as facilitator. You’ve set the agenda, and your role is to guide and support conversation.
Work with people in the room. Leading a group of creative people toward a common goal can be hard, especially while you’re juggling time, information, and conversations. A cofacilitator can help lighten the load, and keeps each of you from having to be “on” the whole time. But also don’t be afraid to ask an enthusiastic attendee to help keep time, take notes, or watch for people with something to say.
Be clear about outcomes. Call out the goals for each discussion at the outset, check along the way that you’re making progress toward them, and review goals at the end of the session. (This is sometimes referred to as “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.”)
Overall, use your wisdom and passion as your guide; we greatly appreciate you sharing your time and knowledge with the group, and trust each facilitator to create an optimal sharing environment.
Inclusion is about creating space where people can feel more able to share and work together. It includes respecting things like pronouns and accessibility needs, and at SRCCON we also encourage you to:
In your sessions and outside them, the SRCCON staff will fully support you in making SRCCON a safe and welcoming space. If you witness or hear about incidents of harassment, intimidation, or other problems, please get us involved. You can find plenty more information in our conference code of conduct.