Facilitating unconference agenda creation Step-by-Step

There are many steps to creating a great unconference or camp. Many happen before getting to this step, but once you have 50-300 people in a room, what do you do to support people creating a whole day or multi-day agenda live right there on the spot.

How do you go from blank wall to full wall.

If this goes well, you will have a very full agenda with amazing topics for conversation and presentation, build a coherent field of intention and understanding among those attending and with these two things, support community and action going forward out of the event.

What do you do to facilitate this process?

This post is long and detailed it does its best to support a person or team of people understanding step by step specifically what they should do in order. If you do nothing else do these two things:

1) Get everyone who proposes a session for the unconfernece to announce their session idea to the whole group.

2) Bring everyone together at the end of the day to share what happened.

They help facilitate the formation of a good energetic container/field for the conference by supporting people finding out what is going on during the unconference sessions and knowing more about what happened after.


Agenda Creation begins when the facilitator and other conveners gather everyone together.

This can be done in several ways:

  • get on the loudspeaker and annouce that you will be starting the agenda creation process in 5 min
  • ring a bell(s) that invite people to stop talking and sit in the opening circle
  • facilitator and convener go around and ask everyone to take seats

After people are seated the facilitator can go through these steps:

1) Welcome everyone

2) Restate the convening topic or theme – why they are gathered?

3) Invite everyone to introduce themeslves in a way that makes sense for the gathering:

  • a question “what makes you creative?”
  • three words/tags about self or
  • where are you from geographically organizationally
  • Have a welcome and inviting space – support people reg

You must model the format and make sure that people are very crisp; for large groups you can have 150 people introduce themselves in 10 min.

4) Explain how the agenda will be created
“There is a blank grid here – in a few min i will invite those of you who want to lead a session to come forward and get one of these (holding it up) 8.5×11 pieces of paper and write on it (in the landscape direction) the name of your session and a description. These can be:

  • conversations you want to have with others
  • questions you want answered
  • information you want to share/present
  • a project you would like help on
  • any number of forms

After you have written your session title, you will come forward to the microphone (or center of the circle) and announce the title of your session. I will then give you a piece of tape and you will go and place it on the agenda wall in the space/time slot that you choose.

5) Explain the shared norms for the day that are also posted around the space

“Before we make this agenda I want we have to some guidelines about how we will conduct ourselves today – how will this work?”

I am a big fan of the Open Space Principles and the Law of Two Feet that is intricately entwined with them. I recite these and elaborate on what they mean.

You could consider modifications to these, or some different norms, but setting norms of how people move about and share the space together are very helpful in making a day go well.


  • when people post sessions that are similar, two conveners with similar topics are free to merge their sessions together, but it is up to them whether they choose to do so or not.
  • that only the person who convened a session can move it about on the agenda wall. Others are free to “lobby” the convener to shift the time but they can’t move the session themselves.

6) Share the flow of the day time and space wise,
talk about where the rooms/spaces are relative to where everyone is seated during the opening agenda creation.

Example “Spaces A and B are outside that door (pointing at door) and down the hall to the right. Spaces L-M are outside that door (pointing at a different door) and down the hall to the left. Spaces I-K are at these tables in the middle of this large rooom. Spaces C-H are found around the edges of this room.”

Our first session begins at 10:30 and we have hour long sessions with 15 min breaks. There are two sessions before lunch and three afterwards. You are free to post sessions during lunch but be mindful that you are doing this and having conversations that make sense to have over a meal.

We will close the day all together back here in the circle and go over what we learned sharing highlights, insights and next steps.

7) Talk about how documentation will be happening during the day

  • Make sure people know the hashtag for Twitter, Flickr and blogging about the day.
  • If you are hosting a documentation center with a person checking in notes, articulate that process
  • if you have a wiki and are expecting people to post there, explain this
  • If you are asking people to fill out 11×17 sheets after their sessions, articulate that and share where they should be posted

8 ) Ask if people have any questions. Answer questions respectfully.

9) Invite participants to come forward who have sessions to convene
a) “Come forward get a piece of 8.5×11 paper and a marker and to have them write down the session name. In a few min we will start announcing session topics”

I like to leave about 5 min for this to happen because people want to talk during it… once there are many people with sessions written on papers, then begin session announcements

b) Get those who are calling sessions to get in a line to one at a time announce the name of the session they want to host. This can be along one or two of the aisles of the circle. If there is a microphone, it can be handed from one to the next in line as they get to the center.

It is ok to allow session conveners to elaborate their session titles but make sure you as the facilitator keep them from giving long speeches. If what the purpose is not clear or full of acronyms you can ask them to clarify. Allow audience members to ask questions if they are confused about what the proposed session is supposed to be about.

c) Once they have announced a session, give the convener a piece of tape.
d) The conveners will go to the blank agenda wall and post the session name card on the time/space they want.

Watch the wall as it fills and encourage sessions to balance out in time/space, like if you notice that there are no sessions in the last time slot of the day, just name this and people will move sessions into that time slot.

DO NOT as the facilitator try to help or coordinate in a specific way who should put what where on the agenda wall. The participants will self organize to do this.

DO NOT limit the break out space areas – a good rule of thumb is that if you have 100 people you need to take the number of people attending and divide by 3. So 30 breakout time/spaces 5 time slots and 6 spaces. If these fill out think about your space layout and figure out where if need bee more breakouts can happen. This can be at different tables, in hallway nooks, outside. Notice on the “full” agenda wall up above there was more space added.

10) Invite shy people to come forward and post sessions on the wall
As the agenda begins to fill and there are fewer people with sessions to announce, interject and remind/invite those who have not yet heard a session that covers the issues/topics they want to hear about at the event, to come forward and post such a session on the agenda wall. Get them to annouce the session before giving them tape to post on the wall.

11) Moving participants on to the first session.
If you have 100+ people attending an unconference, one way to get people to move to the first session is to actually read out the topics proposed in the first time slot into the mic.

Example “In space A we have organic farming, in Space B we have getting Apache servers running, in space C we have standards for identity online, etc.”

I usually end this by saying “Have a great day, see you back here at 4pm for closing circle.”

Then the direct “facilitating” part of the day is done. You as the facilitator are still responsible for holding the space of the gathering for those gathered. This is an energetic way of being.

Don’t tell people when they should change sessions. They will do this on their own. It is best to leave “break time” between sessions – 15min is a good amount of time; this supports a buffer of shifting time.

12) Bring everyone back together at the end of the day
Like bringing people at the beginning of the day, this can be done by:

  • get on the loudspeaker and announce that you will be starting the closing circle in 5 min
  • ring a bell(s) that invite people to stop talking and sit in the closing circle
  • facilitator and convener go around and ask everyone to take seats

Invite people to share what happened durring the day. If you have a wall of results, you can go through and ask someone from each session that happened to read that out.
Using “Popcorn style” for sharing highlights is another way. This is where the facilitator gets to play “Oprah” and solicit people sharing highlights.

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