The best way to schedule and run barcamp sessions depend on what barcamp participants want to get out of them, what the experience and knowledge level of participants is and various other factors of each specific barcamp.
These comments are based on having attended only two barcamps; BarCampChicago and BarCampMilwaukee. Future barcamps, including BarCampMadison and maybe a MinneDemo, are eagerly anticipated by me because of the opportunity to meet new people, to learn about new topics, to share new tech-knowledgy gained in the next few months, and to see how a different group of people passionate about technology share what they know. It is likely sessions at each barcamp are run slightly or completely differently. Concepts of an ideal session are undoubtedly also slightly or completely different from one barcamper to the next. Chris Messina, Tara Hunt and others undoubtedly have valuable ideas about sessions based on a broad perspective and would likely share those views if asked.
Here's one description of an effective, interesting, fun session agenda for a barcamp:
- 200 participants registered for the two day event; 120 for both days, 50 just for the first day, 30 just for the second day
- 25 registered participants can't make it; 25 walk-in participants show up
- It's guaranteed that some registered people won't be able to participate
- It's good to allow for last-minute walk-ins
- Two main session tracks, with 8 one-hour slots on day one and 5 one-hour slots on day two.
- Having only two main tracks means less people will miss sessions of interest. When there are four or five tracks in one time slot, it's likely one or more sessions of interest will be missed for that time slot.
- Main sessions will have a pre-defined location to move to after the end of the session for those who wish to continue an interesting and passionate discussion.
- Prior to barcamp, registered participants indicate their topics of interest both for leading sessions and for participating in sesssions as other than a leader. People signing up to lead sessions in the two main tracks are encouraged to do sessions which have been indicated by registered participants as areas of high interest.
- For those with a strong desire to lead a session topic outside the two main tracks in a more informal setting, to a smaller group, or to a more focused audience, impromptu mini-sessions will be organized in the first five minutes of each time slot. Those sessions are limited to ten participants and run for as long as there is interest, whether that is ten minutes or three hours.
- A cowbell or other technologically advanced sound and/or light method of notification will be used so that all those at barcamp are aware when each time slot ends and the next time slot begins. Sessions end at three to five minutes before the hour and start at three to five minutes after the hour. Time for a quick bathroom break and grabbing a beverage and snack. That way new sessions can start on time and those wishing to move from one session to a different one will know when the new session is starting.
- Session venues will be separated sufficiently by physical barriers and by distance so participants aren't distracted by stuff happening outside their session.