Exploring Conference Session Design: The ‘Combo Session’ Approach

Exploring Conference Session Design: The ‘Combo Session’ Approach

Modern conferences have something of a playbook. A typical conference schedule is a grid packed with full presentation sessions with slides, panel discussions, lightning talks, keynote slots, Birds Of a Feather sessions, and more.

While many of these content formats work well, I have become personally rather concerned with the role of full-length 45 – 60 minute sessions. I think we are increasingly seeing people want to consume information in smaller, more focused chunks. What’s more, when at a conference, people often get tired and their attention span can wander after long days (and evenings!) and it can be difficult to stay focused in a session for that long of a period of time.

Another challenge with longer sessions is that they take up a lot of room on a schedule. Speaking personally, I would rather see a rich, broad range of speakers from more backgrounds speaking in shorter, more focused sessions. This has the added benefit of making it easier for people to justify conference travel with their employers if they know they have a speaking slot.

So, last year at the Open Source Summit in San Diego I sat down with Angela Brown who is VP of Conferences for the Linux Foundation (by the way, see my Conversations With Bacon interview with her). While there I shared some of these thoughts and a proposal for her consideration.

The ‘Combo Session’ Approach

So, this is what I proposed.

Instead of having a single talk in a 50 minute slot, we instead have two thematically similar 20 minute sessions by two different speakers.

For example, one speaker in a session may talk about building a meetups strategy and the other speaker in the same session may discuss how to run conferences. In another session slot, one speaker may talk about KPIs and metrics and the second speaker in the same session may cover effective ways to visualize data. The speakers are paired together on a common topic designed for the same audience.

So, two 20 minute sessions takes up 40 minutes of the session. What do you do for the remaining 10 minutes?

Well, you bring both speakers together for a mini-panel discussion. A panel moderator will ask questions to both speakers about the overall topics presented in the entire session, potentially bringing in questions from the audience too. This provides an interactive end to the session and gets the audience refreshed before they head out to the next session.

I am nicknaming this the ‘Combo Session’ approach, and I believe it provides a number of benefits:

  • The ability for an audience to hear multiple speakers and their perspectives, resulting in more content and potentially additional value.
  • An opportunity to tap into the insight of multiple speakers as part of the mini-panel, and a possible opportunity to present audience questions.
  • It will encourage speakers to be more focused on their content. You can cover a lot of ground in 20 minutes, but it will require a speaker to be disciplined in managing their time well.
  • It will enable more speakers to be able to speak at an event (which can often further justify travel to an event to employers.)

Of course, this format won’t work for all content. For example, longer tutorial sessions, panels, and BOFs will need more time, but I think for many sessions at conferences, this could be a refreshing new approach.

So, I am delighted to share we are going to experiment with this format at the Open Source Summit in Austin in June. The Leadership track that I have been involved in shaping will be using this format. This will be a good opportunity to see how well the ‘Combo Session’ format works, and how it can be tuned and optimized.

A Speakers Guide

So, let’s now switch gears. Let’s assume you have been selected as a speaker in a ‘Combo Session’ and are going to deliver a 20 minute talk and participate in the mini-panel. How do you make the most of the session?

Here are 5 recommendations.

1. Focus on optimizing your session for the value your audience can take away

While it may seem that a shorter 20 minute session is limiting compared to a 50 minute session, it is incredible what you can accomplish in 20 minutes. Focus on building out your presentation and then make a series of ‘hard cuts’. Review different parts of your talk and ask, “Do my audience benefit from this part of my material?” If not, cut it, or tighten it up.

Focus on delivering concise, focused, and practical content. Then practice your session to ensure you can comfortably deliver it in 20 minutes without rushing. External feedback can be enormously valuable here: perform it in front of friends and colleagues and get their input on what you can add and what you can cut.

2. Provide pragmatic, actionable, recommendations and content

Presentation sessions serve one major purpose for most attendees: to transfer information from one brain (the speaker’s) to others (the audience’s). Focus on making this transfer as simple as possible.

Create simple, readable lists of recommendations. Make concrete suggestions and takeaways that people can easily note down (or take a screenshot of your slides with their phones). Take the work out of your audience understanding your most salient points. Avoid abstract, obtuse references and provide real-world, pragmatic examples and guidance.

3. Consider planning for 15 minutes, with 5 minutes of Q&A

While there is the 10 minute mini-panel at the end of the session, you might want to allow for some dedicated questions in your 20 minute piece. So, consider speaking for 15 minutes and then enable 5 minutes of dedicated questions about your material.

While not required, this can provide a good opportunity for your audience to ask questions to seal-in the material you are sharing.

4. Provide a clear Call To Action

When someone finishes watching your session, what do they do next? Do they go to a website? Do they join a webinar? Do they have a check-list of next steps?

Give them something specific to do. This can provide a useful way to help your audience harness the content you are presenting and apply it in their world. Also, provide any follow-on resources such as videos, books, and blog posts.

5. Promote your session extensively

A wonderful session doesn’t mean anything if people don’t know about it. Get out there and spread the word about your talk, and the overall ‘Combo Session’ that you are speaking in.

For example:

  • Promote the session extensively on social media. Don’t just announce your session, but promote it leading up to the event and at the event itself.
  • Write a blog post about your session, what you are going to deliver, and what people can learn.
  • Share your session with your email list.
  • Share teasers of your session on social media. Key takeaways, interesting slides, and more can get people excited!
  • Include special offers in your session. For example, provide attendees with downloadable content and videos if they join.

The key here is to get creative. The more you invest in promoting your session, the larger and more dynamic your audience is likely to be.

So, that’s it. I think the ‘Combo Session’ approach is going to be an interesting experiment, and I think it could pave the way for some really interesting future sessions. Thanks!

‘People Powered’ Wins at Business Book Awards

‘People Powered’ Wins at Business Book Awards

I am delighted to share that my new book, ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams‘, has just been announced as a winner at the Business Book Awards!

I was originally planning on being in London to be at the awards ceremony, but obviously the recent COVID-19 outbreak put the brakes on that and the event went virtual. I am over the moon to see ‘People Powered’ win an award, and many thanks to the judges and the broader Business Book Awards team!

I was especially impressed with the overall quality of the live stream: it really felt like a full awards production. Here is the section of the stream where ‘People Powered’ nabbed a prize:

The judges summarized the book as:

“We found People Powered to be an absolutely inspiring read and pragmatic about the collaborative power of communities. It is a must-read for any institution looking to develop relationships. It stood out as a book for the global economy based on timeless practices and based on where we are today, Jono’s book really does stand out.”

For the morbidly curious, they asked me to put together an acceptance speech. Here it is:

This is a fabulous follow-up to another recent accolade in which ‘People Powered’ was a February best-seller at Porchlight Books and earlier this year was an Amazon Best Seller too.

Furthermore, I am delighted to see that readers are enjoying the book too, with it currently rated at five stars on Amazon (with 34 reviews) and 4.70 stars on Goodreads (with 30 reviews.)

If you are not familiar with ‘People Powered’, it provides a crisp yet comprehensive overview of the significant value communities can bring to organizations and provides a complete framework for how to build a community and integrate it into an organization. This includes how to create a complete strategy, create incentives, coordinate content, social media, and events, build member retention, and how to track success with a broad range of maturity models.

The book features contributions by Jim Whitehurst (President at IBM), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Emmy-Award-Winning Actor), Jim Zemlin (Executive Director at The Linux Foundation), Mike Shinoda (Co-founder of Linkin Park), and many others.

It has been endorsed by 30+ leaders across various industries, including Mårten Mickos (CEO of HackerOne), Jamie Smith (Former Advisor to President Obama), Jamie Hyneman (Co-Creator of Mythbusters), Whitney Bouck (COO at HelloSign), Gia Scinto (Head Of Talent at YCombinator), Nat Friedman (CEO at GitHub), Kevin Scott (CTO at Microsoft), and many others.

Remember, if you get the book, you can also unlock People Powered Plus which includes free templates and cheat sheets for building your community, over $2000 of discounts, a full knowledge base, exclusive events and webinars, and much more.

Thanks everyone for all the support!

Vanilla Webinar on Tuesday 7th April 2020 (and Free Books)

Vanilla Webinar on Tuesday 7th April 2020 (and Free Books)

Just a quick note to share with you that my friends at Vanilla Forums will be hosting me for a webinar on the 7th April 2020. In this webinar we will be getting into:

  • Understanding a framework for how to deploy a community strategy, invest in the right areas, track progress, and build in accountability.
  • How to identify relevant KPIs, building in a regular cadence for reviews and skills development.
  • How to build cross-functional support from management, other teams, and how to hire the right people to deliver this work well.
  • How to avoid the common pitfalls and road bumps many companies face in this journey.

What’s more, they are providing a free copy of ‘People Powered‘ to the first fifty registrations for the webinar. It is going to be a great session!

Go and register here. I hope to see you there!

Liz McCabe on Executive Coaching, Leadership, and Growth

Liz McCabe on Executive Coaching, Leadership, and Growth

Coaching is a strange and interesting concept to most people. We often hear about executives hiring coaches, and many of them rave how about how useful they are, but what do coaches really do? Why is it so valuable? What kind of insight to coaches provide, and could it be useful to you?

Liz McCabe knows what she is doing. Previously a consultant at McKinsey, she has been coaching a range of executive clients for some time as part of her business, Stinson Advising. She has a strong foundation, having studied at both Harvard and Stanford. Of course, if she went to Wolverhampton University, it would have been the ultimate honor. 😉

The reason I wanted to get Liz on Conversations With Bacon, was partially to delve behind the scenes of coaching, but more specifically, and I think more importantly, to share her perspectives on effective leadership.

Liz is a remarkably accessible, engaging, and down to earth person. She has tremendous insight about a vast range of areas in leadership and management. She doesn’t wrap her insight in buzzwords and BS, she applies practical, logical insight and the right level of emotional support (and pressure) to get results. Her tenor and approach is really remarkable. There is no other way of putting it: she is fantastic, and I am thrilled she came on so you can get to know her too. This is a really fascinating and insightful discussion for everyone, not just people in executive roles.

Communities are changing the way we do business. Discover a concrete framework for building powerful, productive communities and integrating them into your business. My new book, ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams’, is out now, available in Audible, Hardcover, and Kindle formats. Be sure to check it out!

Announcing the Community Access Bootcamp

Announcing the Community Access Bootcamp

Today I am excited to announce a new program I am launching called the Community Access Bootcamp.

As I have talked about extensively, I firmly believe that communities are going to continue to be a growing force in businesses, charities, campaigns, and beyond. The sheer growth of technology and Internet access is opening up significant doors for both in-person and online communities. The results speak for themselves, as I cover extensively in ‘People Powered‘.

Fueling this next generation of communities is going to require a broad, diverse availability of community leaders and professionals. I want to support this next generation, especially those with more constrained access to education and opportunity.

This Community Access Bootcamp provides a two-month training program complete with Q&A, mentoring, a comprehensive set of resources, and a signed copy of ‘People Powered’. It is designed to provide a solid “head start” in building a core set of community development skills.

This program is entirely FREE and available for those who are either in, (1) an underrepresented/untapped group, are (2) working on a non-profit/philanthropic community, or (3) a student. If you meet one or more of this criteria, you are welcome to apply. The deadline for applications is 12th March 2020.

What Is Included

You can find out more about what is included in the Community Access Bootcamp in the following video:

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Here is what is included.

Training

The training is delivered via a series of online webinar sessions. You can see the schedule on the Community Access Bootcamp page, but here is a summary of the sessions.

1. The Core Blueprint of a Community
Discover the core elements of what makes communities tick, the different community models, and how to build a community that maps to the needs of community members.

2. Create Your Mission, Value, and Audiences
Explore who your primary audiences are, and design a community experience that serves their needs, all wrapped around a core mission.

3. Create Solid Community Goals, Tactics, and Accountability
Learn a framework for creating community goals, collaborating with others to refine them, baking in clear metrics, and then breaking them into tactics with clear accountability.

4. Selecting Key Infrastructure, Tools, and Platforms
Discover not just how to select community tools and infrastructure, but also current best of breed tools to integrate into your community.

5. Building Effective Growth with Content, Social Media, Events, and More
Explore the primary drivers of growth and how to deliver content and social media with a high degree of success and optimization.

6. Build Engagement, Incentives, and Rewards
Learn the critical principles of engaging with your community, building retention, and delivering incentives and rewards to keep them participating.

7. Optimize and Evolve With Clear Community Metrics
If you are not tracking it, it doesn’t exist. Learn how to approach metrics to not just track the right things, but also how to learn from those metrics and improve.

Mentoring and Q&A

Throughout the program I will be delivering a series of Q&A sessions where students can ask questions and try to better apply and understand the material. There will also be email and Slack discussion available to support this learning too. This will provide a simple, accessible way to develop new skills.

A Copy of ‘People Powered’

All students will receive a free copy of my new book ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams‘ in either Hardcover or Kindle formats. Hardcover copies will be signed by me. The book provides a set of companion material that accompanies the program.

Additional Resources

Finally, all students will get access to a comprehensive set of resources. This includes:

  • Templates for creating strategy, planning, and more.
  • Bonus content, guides, and documentation.
  • Access to a comprehensive knowledge base with hundreds of articles.

This can help round off the overall training and mentoring in the program.

Apply

Do you think this might be useful to you? Click the link below to find out more and apply. The deadline is 12th March 2020.

FIND OUT MORE

Jen Wike Huger and Jason Hibbets on Building the Community Powered opensource.com

Jen Wike Huger and Jason Hibbets on Building the Community Powered opensource.com

The story of opensource.com is a fascinating one. The goal was simple: create an online magazine, packed with content, tutorials, and news, and focused on open source fans and professionals. The result: millions of page views, and hundreds of articles created by volunteers.

It is the community manager and content marketers dream. How on earth do you create a community of people who spend hours crafting high quality content for you? and delivering a remarkably popular online presence?

Well, this success story has been driven by a number of people but Jason Hibbets and Jen Wike Huger have been central to it. In this episode of Conversations With Bacon, Jen and Jason come on to share not just how they have helped shape opensource.com, but how they have designed an editorial process, attracted community members, created incentives and rewards, used data effectively, created a balance between the parent company (Red Hat) and the community, and much more.

If you are focused on building content and communities, there is an enormous amount of insight in this discussion!

Communities are changing the way we do business. Discover a concrete framework for building powerful, productive communities and integrating them into your business. My new book, ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams’, is out now, available in Audible, Hardcover, and Kindle formats. Be sure to check it out!

New Piece on Community as a Competitive Advantage For Harvard Business Review

New Piece on Community as a Competitive Advantage For Harvard Business Review

Something I have been consistently hammering on about for a number of years is that communities are going to change how we build businesses and engage with customers.

With global smartphone penetration expected to reach 45% this year and global data rates dropping (such as 1GB of data costing $0.26 in India, compared to an average $6.66 in the UK and $12.37 in the US), the world is getting more and more connected. What’s more, newer generations are growing up surrounded by social technology and wanting to be ever more connected to the people and brands they love.

I am a firm believer in the value of authentic, real relationships. People are getting tired of being bombarded with marketing cliches and instead want genuine, focused, valuable engagement with human beings, not merely newsletters.

Communities provide an incredible environment to not just build relationships between customers and companies, but between customers and customers too. These kinds of communities can generate enormous value, very tangible results, and deliver fulfilling, lasting experiences.

Recently, I was talking about this with Jeff Bussgang, who suggested this could be an interesting Harvard Business Review piece. Of course, I agreed. HBR is one of those publications where people read something and pass it onto their colleagues. This seemed a great opportunity for more people to discover this community trend that is forming.

Well, the piece went live recently, and you can read it here.

I have been thrilled with the response: people have been getting a lot out of the piece, and as I hoped, sharing it with their colleagues and friends. I hope you enjoy it too!

We are at the beginning of an exciting, collaborative revolution in community. I am excited to see how it unfolds further!

Zach Abbott on Hacking Probiotics to Cure Hangovers, powered by Crowdfunding and Business

Zach Abbott on Hacking Probiotics to Cure Hangovers, powered by Crowdfunding and Business

I know what you are thinking. Probiotics? Those disgusting looking things that are floating in the bottom of Kombucha? Kinda.

Zach Abbott and his startup, ZBiotics, has engineered a probiotic that doesn’t just provide relief from a soul-destroying hangover, but also has a multitude of other uses. Zach is firmly of the belief that probiotics can play a powerful role in the world, and this is his first of many applications for his technology.

Zach comes on Conversations With Bacon and we get into how he created his probiotic, the science behind it, how he developed and tested it, and how he and his team brought it to market. Zach also shares his creative use of crowdfunding, building a biosciences business, and more. This is a fascinating conversation that unpicks an exciting future: tuning probiotics for a broad range of uses to benefit society, including, but not limited to improving the morning after a little too much of the sauce the night before.

If you are interested in science and business, this is a great discussion to listen in on.

Remember, my new book ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams’, is out now, available in Audible, Hardcover, and Kindle formats. Be sure to check it out!

Angela Brown from The Linux Foundation on Delivering Great Events

Angela Brown from The Linux Foundation on Delivering Great Events

Events are a core element of how businesses engaging with the world. Whether you are attending, speaking at, or organizing an event, you need to have your event game down. The question is: what really goes into a great event, and what is the balance of content, networking, venue, and other ingredients that make events succeed?

Angela Brown should know: she is one of the most talented people in the events business. Leading events at The Linux Foundation, Angela and her team run a broad range of events, all over the world, from small gatherings to conferences spanning tens of thousands. This includes the Open Source Summit, KubeCon, and many.

In this episode of Conversations With Bacon, we unpack Angela’s experience and explore topics including:

  • The core elements of a great event.
  • The ingredients in great content and speakers at events.
  • The role events play in fostering a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem.
  • How Angela has evolved her approach over the years, and the role of feedback.
  • How data drives events, and how attendee interests vary around the world.
  • How to design events for people new to an industry as well as industry veterans.
  • And much more…

Be sure to also check my book, ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams’, published by HarperCollins Leadership and available now.

Reddit Ask Me Anything: Wednesday Nov 20th 2019

Reddit Ask Me Anything: Wednesday Nov 20th 2019

I am excited to be back for another Reddit Ask Me Anything on Wed 20th November 2019 at 8.30am Pacific / 11.30am Eastern.

For those unfamiliar with Reddit AMAs, it is essentially a way in which people can ask questions that someone will respond to. You simply add your questions (serious or fun) and I will respond to as many as I can. It has been a while since my last AMA, so I am looking forward to this one!

Feel free to ask any questions you like. Here is some food for thought:

  • The value of building communities, what works, and what doesn’t
  • The methods and approaches to community management, leadership, and best practice.
  • My new book, ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams‘, what is in it, and what it covers.
  • Recommended tools, techniques, and tricks to build communities and get people involved.
  • Working at Canonical, GitHub, XPRIZE, and elsewhere.
  • The open source industry, how it has changed, and what the future looks like.
  • Remote working and online collaboration, and what the future looks like
  • The projects I have been involved in such as Ubuntu, GNOME, KDE, and others.
  • The driving forces behind people and groups, behavioral economics, etc.
  • My other things such as my music, conferences, writing etc.
  • Anything else – politics, movies, news, tech…ask away!

If you want to ask about something else though, go ahead! 🙂

How to Join

Joining the AMA is simple. Just follow these steps:

  • Be sure to have a Reddit account. If you don’t have one, head over here and sign up.
  • On Wednesday 20th November 2019 at 8.30am Pacific / 11.30am Eastern (see other time zone times here) I will share the link to my AMA on Twitter (I am not allowed to share it until we run the AMA). You can look for this tweet by clicking here. Here are the times for the AMA for different timezones:

  • Click the link in my tweet to go to the AMA and then click the text box to add your question(s).
  • Now just wait until I respond. Feel free to follow up, challenge my response, and otherwise have fun!

I hope to see you all there!

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