Thinking about submitting a session idea? Awesome! Leading a session at ProductCamp Nashville is unique opportunity to connect with like-minded people, share lessons learned throughout your career, build upon your thought leadership in the Nashville product community, send the elevator down for budding product talent, and practice speaking and presenting in a relaxed, unconference setting.

Usually, the hardest part about developing a session is simply getting started. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed – and quite vulnerable – at the thought of putting your ideas out there. But rest assured, you won’t be the first or last person to lead a Product Camp session – and everyone, even the most seasoned presenter, feels nervous at some point or another.

You don’t have to be an expert to have great ideas worth sharing – you simply have to get your ideas out there. Here are a few tips to guide you through the process of developing your session idea, from start to finish. If you have any questions or would like feedback or support at any point in this process, reach out to our Speaker Butler, Alex Glabman at speakers@productcampnashville.org.

Selecting a Topic

What should your session be about? That’s up to you to decide. Draw inspiration from your own life and work. Remember, if it’s relatable to you, it’s likely relatable to others like you. Here are a few questions to spark inspiration:

  • What habits, processes, or tools have changed the way you work?
  • If you were to pick one success story from your work – which would you tell?
  • What experiences have humbled you – and what lesson did you learn from those experiences?
  • What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in your role or industry?
  • What trends or movements are you excited about in your role or industry?

Whatever your topic, make sure it is focused, specific, and valuable.

Focused

Attendees will be bombarded with new ideas all day long at Product Camp. The sessions they remember will be the ones that delivered a clear and concise takeaway. Figure out what you want your one key takeaway to be, and then build the rest of your session around that.

Specific

Often, people are afraid to get too specific with their session topics. The danger in this is that if you try to resonate with everyone, you run the risk of resonating with no one in particular. A better strategy is clearly define your target audience – and speak directly to them. You can define your audience in any way that makes sense – by role, industry, experience level, organization size, B2B/B2C, methodology, etc. Here are some examples of a specific target audience:

  • Female product managers
  • Young marketers
  • Product teams in tech companies
  • Product managers working with Agile development teams
  • Experienced product managers
  • Product designers
  • Product marketers in healthcare

Defining your audience will help you do a gut-check on which examples, stories, pop culture references, etc. you’ll want to include in your session.

Defining your audience will also help you decide how deeply you want to dive into your topic and what kind of language you want to use: Will your talk be at an introductory level, where you’ll need to explain key terms and concepts? Or will it be designed to speak in technical terms with peers who use the same lingo? Figuring this out upfront will save you time and confusion as you develop your session.

Valuable

Finally, decide in advance what specific value your audience will gain from attending your session. Will it teach them something new? Share a fresh perspective on an old idea? Inspire them to work more intelligently, collaboratively, or productively? Whatever topic you choose, be sure to check in with yourself (and ideally, other people in your target audience) throughout your development process to ensure that your session achieves that purpose.

Selecting a Format

Although talks and presentations are the most common form of session submission we receive, they certainly aren’t the only format you can use – and in fact, might not be the right format for your topic. Feel free to get creative with your session format! Whatever works best for you, roll with it. Here are a few format options for structuring your session.

Talk/Presentation

A talk is definitely a great way to tell a story, describe a process, or teach a new concept to your audience. It’s classic and relatively simple to prepare compared to other format types – just you and a few slides (or no slides, if that’s your thing). If storytelling is a strength of yours, a talk is a great way to leverage that. It’s also the most predictable option in terms of preparation – if you want, you can plan out every element to the minute (except for Q+A, of course).

Semi-Presentation

Some topics lend themselves well to a semi-presentation style format, where the speaker introduces a topic for 5-10 minutes, and then leads a focused discussion around it. If your topic requires some explanation, but would also benefit from audience participation – this hybrid format might be right for you.

Workshop

Some topics are best explained through a hands-on, engaging workshop-style format. This is an exciting option if you’d like to teach a skill, lead attendees through an activity, or demonstrate a concept through a game or puzzle.

Of course, leading a workshop well requires an effective facilitator – so if this is something that comes naturally to you, or you’d like to try it, we welcome it! Workshops are always an exciting way to break up a day of presentations.

Panel

It’s always interesting to hear different perspectives about topics in your field – so why not design a session that allows you to do just that? A panel discussion is an exciting choice for topics that are nuanced, controversial, or often-debated in your field. Like with workshops, leading a panel discussion requires skilled moderation in order to remain balanced and valuable to the audience – we’ve all seen panels dominated by one or two people.   

Roundtable

Perhaps your topic is one everyone (in your target audience) can relate to – if that’s the case, invite your attendees to join you for a collaborative, open-format, roundtable conversation. This is a great format if you’re as interested in sharing about your topic as you are learning about it. As long as you feel comfortable moderating the conversation among people you might not know – a roundtable discussion can be enriching and engaging for everyone involved.    

Choosing Your Title and Description

On the day of Product Camp, attendees will vote on sessions they’re most interested in attending. Their votes will be based entirely on your title and a short description of your session – so be sure to put in the effort to make these shine!

When creating a title, it’s important to strike a balance between controversial and attention-grabbing – but still clear and descriptive. Here are a few strong examples from last year’s Product Camp:

  • Cut to the Feeling: Developing Empathy and Action from Discovery Research
  • Confession of a Product Junkie: Built the Amazing Thing, No Need to Talk to the Silly Humans, Right?
  • Let’s Sharpen Your Negotiation Skills in Product Management: What They Didn’t Teach You in School

Each of these uses provocative language to generate interest, while still making the topic and intended audience clear. If you’ve followed the advice above to focus on delivering one clear message (hint hint: you should!) – make sure that your title and description deliver (or cleverly point to) that message.

Once you have a working title and description, make like a good product manager and gather feedback from your target users. For this, it doesn’t matter if your 10-year-old daughter or your buddy who works in finance resonate with your title – it matters if people in your defined audience would vote to learn more about it. If it’s interesting/funny/clever to you, it’s likely that others like you will agree – but it’s never a bad idea to check your assumptions.

Timing

Each session at Product Camp Nashville lasts 35 minutes – no more or less. The best way to avoid a timing mishap is to practice and prepare.

If you’re giving a talk or presentation – save room for questions during and after. Attendees will retain more if they are able to participate. For talks/presentations, remember that most of us have a tendency to speak quickly when presenting – practicing will help you find a realistic balance between your content and speed. If you feel like you’re rushing to fit everything in – take a red pen to your talk. Filter it down to the key points, so you don’t end up rushing or cutting out the Q+A portion in order to squeeze every tiny detail in. You’ll end up with a talk that is easier to deliver, and more engaging to listen to, with just a bit of thoughtful editing.

If you’re facilitating a workshop, panel, or roundtable discussion, it can be easy to let time get away from you. Prepare for this by setting clear expectations of how long each portion of the session will last before the session begins. A simple, “We’ll discuss these questions for 25 minutes and then spend our last 10 minutes reflecting on what we learned,” will serve two purposes: It will help keep your session on track, and it’ll prevent people from feeling cut off when the activity portion ends.

Especially for more interactive sessions, it’s always a good idea to provide a space for attendees to reflect on what they learned. Save at least 5-10 minutes for this. One simple, but effective way to do this is to simply ask: “What did you learn from our (workshop/discussion)?” You can have audience members share one at a time, or give everyone a marker and have them write their takeaways on a whiteboard or poster. This is not only fun and helpful for attendees – it’s also quite rewarding for you, as the facilitator, to see all the ideas you’ve helped generate.

A Note on Slides

If you plan on using slides as part of your session – use them intentionally. Slides should be used to illustrate examples or demonstrate points (with images or graphs) as needed – not to transcribe your talk or do it for you. A picture of your dog while telling a short, relevant anecdote about him? Totally! A slide with bullet points of your anecdote that slide in one at a time? Less cool.

A good rule of thumb is to show one slide per minute – constantly shifting slides can be distracting for both you as the presenter, and your audience.

In terms of slide design, simple is always better. The more words you throw on a slide, the more conflicted your audience will be: Should they read the slide, or pay attention to what you’re saying? This creates a cognitive dissonance that distracts from your valuable message. Make sure your slides add value to your session.

Practice

The best way to feel confident about your session? Be prepared. Dedicate a little time to think through the different ideas mentioned in this post. Clearly define your topic, audience, and goals for your session.

Then, however you can, practice – practice your talk on your ride into work. Practice facilitating a discussion with your family at the dinner table. Meet with your panelists for coffee to run through your goals for your panel discussion. Get feedback from a group of your peers a few days before your session about your speed, slides, and clarity. Anything you can do to prepare, do it – it’ll help alleviate jitters and give you the confidence you need to deliver an awesome session.

Let’s Do This!

Hopefully after reading this, you’re feeling super energized to start working on your session. We can’t wait to see it! If at any point, you have a question, want some feedback, or need another pair of eyes on your work – I’m here to help. Message Alex Glabman, our Speaker Butler, at speakers@productcampnashville.org for anything at all. Also, if you know someone who would be awesome at leading a session – encourage them to submit their idea! We’re always looking for fresh faces to inspire, learn, and grow with us. We look forward to meeting you at Product Camp Nashville 2018!

Additional notes:

  • You'll have around 35 minutes for your session, so make sure you leave enough time for questions
  • Allow for questions during your presentation, not just at the end -- attendees will retain more from your session if they can interact with it
  • Don't go crazy with your slides -- a good rule to follow is no more than 1 slide per minute
  • Don't be shy about getting specific with your topic or your intended audience
  • Practice. Even though this is an "un-conference," give yourself a run through or two before the big event.
  • Share your session on social media, but remember this is not a traditional conference and you're not "presenting," you're "participating."

Submit a Session!

ProductCamp Nashville 2017