7.2. Event Planning & Facilitation
Learn how to facilitate the logistical and interpersonal elements of a face-to-face event, delegating responsibility according to the strengths of your community and its contributors.
With your team of co-facilitators, build materials and plan for your upcoming event
Plans for convening a face-to-face event in support of your project
Paper, markers, access to your GitHub project repo
- Event Planning
- Delegating to Community Volunteers
- Facilitating the Work
- Assignment: Assemble Your Team
- Assignment: Create a Planning Checklist for Facilitation on GitHub
- Assignment: Create a Day-of Checklist on GitHub
- Assignment: Build Your Event Resources and Share on GitHub
After you’ve created a convening checklist outlining what you need to do to hold your event, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty of how you’ll meet those needs. You need to pay attention to both preparing for the event and running it on the day it happens. Think of convening as the big picture preparation you need to do beforehand to host an event, and think of this “day of” work as event-planning - breaking down and accounting for the specifics of what will happen when onsite during the event.
Here are some questions to keep in mind in your role as event-planner:
- How will you handle opening and closing the venue?
- How will you handle the “stuff” like food and materials?
- What happens if more people than you wanted show up? What is your maximum number of ppl?
- What happens if fewer people than you wanted show up?
- How will make sure people have access to the schedule?
- How will you make sure people know how to get around and find the restrooms?
- What is your contingency plan in case of emergency?
- What happens to leftover materials and products?How will you ensure that the event is a safe and inclusive space for all?
To think of this another way, make sure you have in place:
- Your logistics.
- Contingency plans for a smaller-than-expected turnout and a larger-than-expected turnout.
- Guidelines for inclusivity.
- Guidelines for contribution and/or participation.
- A code of conduct.
- A safety officer and plan.
Delegating to Community Volunteers
If the event feels big to you, it’s better to delegate than to do everything yourself. If you delegate, it’s crucial to meet with your co-facilitators (online and off) well ahead of time (and perhaps more than once) to coach them on how to facilitate the event. If you document your event planning in GitHub, you can use a “Help Wanted” label to recruit contributors and the “Assignee” feature to make it clear who does what.
As a facilitator, you will be part event-planner, part project-manager, part teacher, and part learner. If your event is medium to large in size and scope, consider getting help from expert community volunteers who are skilled in things like logistics, teaching, and the technologies you’re using. Having a facilitation team will free you up to lead with your strengths during the event.
Remember, in delegating responsibility for certain tasks to volunteer community members, you should acknowledge, honor, and align what they can contribute with your event’s needs. You can’t boss a volunteer into doing a task they have no interest in doing. Work, instead, to entrust volunteers with the tasks that motivate their involvement with the event and project. Never take their labor for granted; always share agency and ownership for event planning and facilitation tasks with them.
Think about how you can acknowledge and thank your co-facilitators, as well as your contributors, at the event. You might use
- Stickers and other swag.
- Badges endorsing contributors in specific event-related skills.
- Badges endorsing contributors in specific event-related roles.
- Recognitions that are highly meaningful to members of your project community.
Facilitating the Work
- Set ground rules — state how the session will be run, timing for the session, what is expected of participants.
- Speak clearly, especially if some participants are not interacting in their native language.
- Make sure your body language is open and positive.
- Have participants introduce themselves, or introduce themselves to others nearby.
- Listen to the participants! Appreciate their input.
- Know your content — again, prepare!
- When delivering, be confident — you’re the expert!
- Make time for questions, and encourage people to stop you if they get lost or need clarification.
- Keep an eye on the time.
- Where there is more than one leader/facilitator, be sure each has an active role.
- Create small-group activities that allow learners to try out new skills, talk, and connect with each other.
- Get learners teaching: mini-skill shares, code reviews, pair programming are good tactics.
It’s also absolutely vital to design a welcoming, inclusive event that feels open to a diversity of participants. Activities like this Diversity and Inclusion exercise help participants understand and avoid roles that keep them and others from fully participating in your community. You might run this activity as part of your event to create group norms and expectations about how participants want to show up and treat one another throughout the program.
Here are questions you can use to plan for successful collaborations at your event:
- How can you help session leaders and participants keep to the event schedule?
- How can you make sure each session has attendees need in its space?
- How can you share and invite additions to your code of conduct and participation guidelines?
- How can you design learning experiences that help people meet one another, network, share work and resolve potential conflicts?
- How can you encourage participation on a social media backchannel for networking and sharing work?
Assignment: Assemble Your Team
If you’re running an hour-long kitchen-table session on building your first webpage, you’re not likely to need much help planning or facilitating the event. However, as you develop your project and build your community, you may want to run a hack jam or work sprint. Depending on the size and duration of an event like that, you may need help attending to the logistical details, project materials, and interpersonal touches that will make the event a success.
Whatever the makeup of your team, as lead facilitator and project manager, your role is to make sure that your facilitators have what they need to make a great, inclusive, safe, and productive event for your attendees. You should set the vision and own the final decisions, but your choices should be informed by the expertise of the people you gather around you as delegates for facilitating the event.
To get help running a larger event, ask your community if anyone is willing to volunteer as a co-facilitator. Post your request as a GitHub issue or email your project mailing list. Depending on each facilitator’s strengths, divvy up the work in ways that make sense. For example, the most detail-oriented person on your team might be the best person to coordinate logistics like opening and closing the venue, set-up and teardown, and managing food. The person with the most experience as a community organizer might be the one the group turns to draft participation guidelines. Co-facilitators who have done something similar in the past might be put in charge of assembling the materials needed for work at the event.
Think also of special ways to acknowledge your co-facilitators for their work in support of the community, event, and project. Think of them the same way you think of major online contributors to your project.
Assignment: Create a Planning Checklist for Facilitation on GitHub
After assembling a team (or determining that you can facilitate a smaller event by yourself), create a facilitation checklist as a GitHub issue. Use the questions up above to create a set of tasks you need to accomplish ahead of the event and cc or @ your delegated co-facilitators on tasks they should own.
Remember to keep track of any checklists you made as GitHib issues (or sub-issues) for the event. Encourage everyone contributing to an issue to keep it up to date by commenting and checking off completed tasks. Close issues as they are finished. Use your facilitation checklist as an open, real-time account of what’s ready to go and what needs work ahead of your event.
Assignment: Create a Day-of Checklist on GitHub
You should also consider creating a day-of checklist for specific logistical tasks like setting up and tearing down materials. This should be a GitHub issues, but also something you can print and distribute to your co-facilitators with their tasks circled or otherwise highlighted.
While some facilitating tasks seem more mechanical (open the doors on time) than interpersonal (co-develop a code of conduct with attendees), both kinds of facilitation are interdependent. When logistics go bad, attendees notice and can lose confidence in the event. Leading an event doesn’t need to be scary, but you should strive to be dependable and deliver on your planning for your participants. When interpersonal or work issues come up with no way of resolving them, the best lunch in the world doesn’t count for much. Paying attention to the stuff and being prepared shows your care for the people using it, and paying attention to people helps make sure they get the most out of the stuff at your event. You can group different kinds of tasks together, but always remember that they are interdependent parts of your attendees’ experiences at your event.
Don’t let this checklist take you out of the moment when you’re needed at your event. Instead, use it to make your final preparations for the day and to remind yourself and your volunteers of what needs to be done during and after at key points - like when it’s time to set up lunch. It’s not a big deal to miss checking something off at the exact moment it happens, so focus more on making the event work than on marking off items on the list. This checklist should help you focus; it shouldn’t distract you.
Assignment: Build Your Event Resources and Share on GitHub
Once you have your checklists in place, get after them! Create the materials and conditions your community needs to experience an awesome event in support of your shared, open project. Even if you haven’t delegated any facilitation tasks yet, this is another good place to ask for community participation and contribution in designing and developing materials - like posters or instructions - you can use for your event.
As each piece of work is completed, check it off your list and close any separate issues associated with it. Upload materials and documentation to a folder made for the event inside your project repo.
To help with organizing people after the event, also consider building a sign-in sheet that lets people opt in to sharing their names and email addresses either for sharing in some kind of community directory or for subscribing to some kind of project newsletter.
You won’t be able to plan for every possible thing that can happen during an event, so when you feel like you have a solid plan to stand on, go for it. Each event will help you make the next one better. Plan for the event you want your participants to have, learn from your mistakes, and help your project move ahead!next: Event Follow-up