October 17-18, Minneapolis, MN

SRCCON facilitator guide

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.

About SRCCON & being a facilitator

What is SRCCON like?

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.

What is a facilitator and what do they do?

As a facilitator, you use your experience and excitement (or even skepticism) to lead 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.

Session logistics & FAQ

How many people will be in my session?

We try to plan a program where most sessions have 30 to 50 people in the room. Some sessions will have more, so we encourage you to think about easy ways to scale your activities. And some sessions will be smaller—that’s great! The smallest sessions at SRCCON are incredibly meaningful for the people who are there, and we intentionally encourage those conversations.

We’ll have volunteers available to help you make room adjustments as they come up, but it always feels great to go in knowing how you’ll respond to different crowd sizes.

What kinds of people will be in my session?

First and foremost, you’ll be surrounded by peers—people excited about journalism and ready to share their expertise at a journalism-centric conference. About a third of the attendees at SRCCON will be session facilitators themselves. Most participants are reporters, data developers, editors, designers, and product people who work with newsrooms, but we also welcome managers, multimedia journalists, and 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 things you’re covering! We encourage attendees, in fact, to go to sessions that challenge them, taking on topics they might not normally choose. Think about how you might involve people from different fields—in the same way they’re in the room to hear new ideas, your topic might be energized by an outside perspective.

What materials will I have?

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. 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 your session attendees.

If you need any special supplies for your session, you can tell us in advance and we’ll have things ready for you.

How long are sessions?

Sessions at SRCCON are 75 minutes long. 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. Our 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 thoroughly encourage outlines. It’s easier to run a session when you break it into smaller pieces, and knowing how you’ve budgeted your time helps you stay on task while you’re doing it live.

Will my session be recorded?

We don’t record audio or video of sessions at SRCCON. We do work with White Coat Captioning to provide transcription, and this year we’ll be able to have live transcription in one session during each block on the schedule.

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 say “off the record” if they’d like the transcriptionist to pause their work. 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.

Planning your session before SRCCON

Think workshops, not presentations. Conversations, not panels. SRCCON attendees show up ready to pitch in and participate, so 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:

Think about creative ways to work with attendees. You won’t need a big slide deck or a lecture. There are many outstanding session formats to consider: design exercises, guided conversations, small-group exercises, games, workshops, role-playing, even physical movement and getting 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.

Expect the unexpected. It’s easy to imagine the best-case scenario, where everything runs 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? You’ll be more confident during your session if you’ve thought through some scenarios in advance. If you plan more material than you think you’ll need, you’ll know exactly what you can drop if you need to.

Leave time to wrap up. We’ve found that hourlong sessions often don’t leave quite enough space for that—between engaging activities and interesting conversations, it can be tough to fit in a closing moment before the hour is up. Our sessions are 75 minutes long so you have time to pull groups back together to report on their work, or to share final thoughts and next steps before people head out the door.

Facilitation tips

Once you’re at the venue, conference staff and volunteers will be there to answer questions and help you with any problems that come up. We also have a Monday night facilitator meetup before SRCCON so you can see the venue and check out the room for your session. Here are a few more things to help you anticipate what the facilitation experience will be like:

You get to set the expectations and tone

As a facilitator, you have the power to establish norms, keep track of time, and guide conversations toward the outcomes you have in mind. You can state ground rules and test assumptions in ways that help everyone feel good about participating, not just the people who already feel comfortable speaking up. For example:

We encourage you to use your power as facilitator. You can decide how to handle unexpected challenges, and when to revise or throw out your original plan. You can guide the tenor of the discussion—it’s a conversation, not a debate. If a few people are doing most of the chatting, you can always invite new voices with a “who haven’t we had a chance to hear from yet?”

Even just naming things and extending an invitation is a powerful tool: “I noticed you said something about X earlier, could you tell us more about that?”

Invite people to participate in different ways, and make it easy to join in

We’re big fans of what the facilitation experts at AORTA call “right-sized” ways to participate—tools you can use to make your session friendly to everyone who’s still figuring things out. A few of their great examples you can lean on for your session:

This “making meetings awesome for everyone” guide from Aorta is full of more great tips on leading conversations.

You can also ask for help from 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.

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.

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.

Additional resources

Writeups from previous SRCCONs

Facilitation tips & ideas

Programs from previous SRCCONs