Making the most of your session – tips & tricks

Making the most of your session really boils down to the one question –

What is the GOAL of your session?

What aspect of human-centric personal data is this session trying to bring forward? What is the main message that you wish the attendees to go home with?

There are multiple avenues for goal-setting:
(click on the + sign to read more)

Your focus is on problems

You wish to dive deeper to the challenges and threats of a certain topic, map the possible concerns or define the core problem. Hence, the goal of your session could be:

  • Assess the situation 
  • Raise awareness about the topic 
  • Achieve better understanding between different viewpoints/stakeholders 
  • Get feedback and advice from relevant stakeholders 
  • Build strategic collaboration with relevant stakeholders to tackle the presented problem
Your focus is on objectives

You wish to find and agree on a vision, goal or set priorities (the premise is here that the core problems of the issue have already been defined). Hence, the goal of your session could be:

  • Find solutions and/or develop a vision

  • Develop a strategy

  • Get feedback to the chosen focuses or even more, to the predefined vision

  • Achieve understanding and acceptance of relevant stakeholders with the pre-defined vision

  • Identify common interests

  • Find and make new connections with relevant stakeholders, or even more mobilise them to the achievement of a common goal



Your focus is on collective learning

You wish to collect (and/or share) further information and experiences. This supposes that you have already defined the problem and objective how to tackle it, but you either still lack some information, or you’d need feedback from others. Hence, your goal could be:

  • Test your ideas or solutions with the conference attendees

  • Get feedback to a particular aspect of your concept (eg identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)

  • Raise awareness and align relevant stakeholders with a proposed solution, idea, model etc



Note! If your objective is mainly to raise awareness, then we strongly recommend also to think further – what is your preferred outcomes that derive from the attendees being more knowledgeable about the presented topic? What actions would you like to see as the result?

Tips for a great session description on the website

Best practices for a great session description:

  • All session pages should include a one-paragraph (roughly five sentences) description of the session as a whole. This paragraph should answer the questions
    a) What is the goal of your session (see above) and
    b) who in particular should attend your session.
  • All session pages should include the titles of all presentations that take place during the session.

Further, if you wish, you may add a longer session description and/or descriptions of the individual presentations or parts of the session.

Tips for developing your session format

Depending on your preferred goal, you can choose a session format that would support you in achieving your goal!

Easy elements you can include in your session:

MethodDescription & CommentsInclusion of the audience
Open Q&A roundsEngage the audience to ask questions from the presenters in the end of their presentationQuite low
Polling / votingYou can use polling or analog version of it (voting with dots, raise of hands etc)Quite high, you include almost everybody
Questions asked from the audienceWe recommend using, though other tools are also possibleQuite high, you include almost everybody
Warm-up exercises, questionsImplement an exercise to align the audience to a common mood/topic or make them more connected with each other (eg Speed dating, quick sharing among pairs with a question given by the facilitator etc)
To make the interaction more lively, think about standing up / moving around in the room
Quite high, you include almost everybody
Use templatesAsk the audience to fill in a template of some sort during the presentation, eg some matrix, SWOT etc Quite high, you include almost everybody

To engage the audience even more, and include them as an important part of the session, you can use the following methods:

MethodDescription & Comments
Inclusion of the audience
Debate / Deliberation between opposing viewsParticipants take either pro or contra opinion about an argument.
Participants join in small groups with equal number of people holding pro and contra views.
After a while, session facilitator can ask groups to highlight their main points and collect them for further steps.
This method is great for understanding complex and usually polarised opinions.
Depending of the size of the groups
World cafeThe process begins with the first of two or more rounds of discussion for groups of 4-6 seated around a table. Each round is prefaced with a question.
At the end of each 15-20-minute round, each member of the group moves to a different table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round. Once all rounds have been completed, key points from each table are presented to the whole group for a final collective discussion.
Quite high, you include almost everybody
Open circlesGreat way to discuss a topic with a small group of people.

Needs great moderation skills
Depends on the participants activeness and moderation by the facilitator
Sociometric exercises“Voting with one’s feet”
Eg ask participants to position themselves on a geographic / thematic map or on a binary line showing their opinion about a given topic/question

Great to liven up the group and polling. Group size should stay max 30ppl
Quite high, you include almost everybody
Closed or Open FishbowlFishbowl discussions are great for presenting a wide range of perspectives on complex issues. It also gives the possibility to engage the audience better. The submitter has the role to steer and moderate the conversation.
You can have “closed” or “open” fishbowls, meaning that the discussion is either exclusive to the selected participants or one or more of the chairs is open to members of the audience who want to ask questions or make comments. Although largely self-organising once the discussion gets underway, the fishbowl process usually has a facilitator or moderator.

Group size in the fishbowl should stay up to 10ppl

A short overview of the method and an example session.
Quite high, you can include almost everybody
RoleplayParticipants divide into groups, share roles and play according to the potential behaviours and values
This method is great if the topic presumes some underlying values, behaviours etc
Quite high, you include almost everybody
Forum theatreThis method is orientated to solve a concrete problem, participants give advice to each other during the performanceQuite high, you can include almost everybody
Strategic roundtableIf you’d like to submit a session that aims to identify problems and seek solutions and next steps for a variety of stakeholders, then roundtables are a great format for you. A roundtable doesn’t have a leader as such, but you as a submitter will facilitate the conversation and ensure maintaining focus on your proposed topic.

Some great ground rules for facilitating a roundtable discussion can be found here and here.
Depends on the setting (how “scripted” is the list who can speak), on participants activeness and moderation by the facilitator
Hands-on workshopWell-prepared and goal-oriented hands-on workshop in which knowledge on a specific topic is communicated or specific skills are mediated. A great workshop has a tangible output that can be showcased to other conference attendees and audiences afterwards.Quite high, you can include almost everybody

Some methods are more focused on the presenter(s), while they can still be interactive and engaging*

As it’s focused on the presenter, they engage the audience quite little. Think, if you can use any of the various options described above to increase the involvement of the audience to your session. A poll before and after the session? An original concept for the Q&A? Some other way to make sure your audience can participate?

MethodDescription & Comments
StorytellingPresenters are invited to tell stories that help illustrate or enhance themes in the conference tracks. They should reflect the authentic experience of an individual, a team, or a community, but be told like a traditional story. The narrative should contain a beginning, middle and end, characters and themes that hold interest, like adversity and triumph.

Stories should be about 15 minutes long, with 10 minutes provided for Q&A afterwards.
DebatePresenters debate for and against a central theme or question. At the outset, the participants are polled to measure their opinion on the topic.
Following the debate, they are polled again to see how many are now in favour or against.
(You can include an element of competition to the session. Eg the winner of the debate is the presenter who got the most audience members to change their votes.)
Lightning TalksA short pitch about a topic, idea, project, or product. If your aim is to raise people’s interest and let others find you for further discussions, submit a proposal for a lightning talk.
Because lightning talks are brief, it requires the presenter to make their point clearly and rid the presentation of non-critical information. This, in turn, helps keep the attention of the audience. It also means many ideas can be presented in a short amount of time. A period of between 30 to 60 minutes is usually allotted to lightning talks, allowing for up to 12 speakers to be heard.

One modified example of this is eg Pecha Kucha – presenter follows the rule of 20×20, where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and presenters talk along to the images
Interview / Fireside chatOne-to-one session between a charismatic presenter and a moderator. Usually questions from the audience are also included.

Some great tips for planning your fireside chat can be found here.
Panel discussionIt is the most classical way of experts and a moderator engaging in a balanced and thoughtful discussion.

Note that the more people you include in the panel discussion, the less insightful it can actually turn out, because they just have too little time to present their ideas.

When planning your session or panel submission, also consider including members from traditionally underrepresented groups to the panel.
Short or long presentationA high-quality presentation on a defined topic.
You can also use a movie or another type of performance.

Finally, think about your audience – who they are, what they can contribute and what would they possibly expect from the session:

  • Business development professionals:
    get inspiration for innovative ideas/ for improving their services, sell their services/products,
  • Legal experts:
    understanding legal interpretations, best practices, implications
  • Privacy advocates:
    new insights and networking
  • PIMS community:
    get up to date with the latest
  • Data enthusiasts:
    empower the community, citizens
  • Early adopters & Learners:
    scope personal digital rights; get first understanding how is their personal data used / by whom; learn about projects/services/movements/etc “out there” that are addressing the problems and opportunities
  • Media:
    Stories to write about

Based on the goal-setting advice by Opinion festival as well as Eventbrite Blog