One of the components of a successful sustainability unconference is the speaker sessions. Any registrant at a sustainability unconference can offer to lead a session on a topic of their choosing. There are three types of sessions:
- A talk. This is a session led by one speaker, potentially who brings slides, before opening to Q&A (or allowing Q&A throughout–it’s up to the speaker). See an example here.
- A workshop. This is a session led by one or more experts in a field, where participants get help with specific things they’re interested in. For instance, a marketing workshop will allow participants to show their company’s product and get feedback and advice from the session leader(s) and/or the rest of the group. No one person dominates time during a workshop–it’s hands-on and highly participatory.
- A discussion group. This is a session that is very free-form. A leader or leaders may kick off the discussion on a topic of particular interest to the group (e.g., how to expand capacity of local food producers), but the discussion has no pre-determined direction or one dominant voice…it’s highly collaborative and participatory.
Whichever of the above, people at the unconference nominate a topic and a type of session, and then everyone at the Unconference votes. The session ideas that get the most votes during the agenda building time at the beginning of the unconference will be awarded speaking slots. Simple as that.
Other things to keep in mind about sessions at an Unconference:
- Participants are encouraged to ask questions.
- Speakers can bring slides or other visual aids to the unconference in the hopes of speaking, they can do some talking and some illustrating on a whiteboard, or they can simply talk story with the audience in a more informal style.
- Participants are encouraged to get the most out of their Unconference–if they go to a session and it wasn’t quite what they wanted, they are encouraged to leave the session and go to another.
- The unconference format is a very democratic one. If you are thinking of speaking at a sustainability unconference, keep in mind that if you’re just there to market your company, you’re likely to find that the reception is lukewarm. You should instead offer some insight, some expertise…something of value…to the participants, and if in doing so, your company’s profile is raised, that’s ok. If you push your product, you risk turning people off entirely. So give people something good, and if it benefits you in some way beyond just sharing with the community, then, great! But that should not be your goal.