Tag Archives: conference

Community Leadership Summit: July 17 & 18 in Portland

Jono Bacon (Ubuntu community manager) is organizing the second annual Community Leadership Summit on July 17 & 18 in Portland, Oregon (the weekend before OSCON, which has returned to my lovely city). I didn’t make it to the summit last year, since I skipped OSCON, but I heard great things about the Community Leadership Summit, so I’m not missing it this year!

Community Leadership Summit

Here’s a brief description from the website:

The Community Leadership Summit 2010 is the second incarnation of the popular event designed to bring together community leaders and managers and the projects and organizations that are interested in growing and empowering a strong community.

The event provides an unconference style schedule in which attendees can discuss, debate and explore topics. This is augmented with a range of scheduled talks, panel discussions, networking opportunities and more.

The event provides the first opportunity of its kind to bring together the leading minds in the field with new community builders to discuss topics such as governance, creating collaborative environments, conflict resolution, transparency, open infrastructure, social networking, commercial investment in community, engineering vs. marketing approaches to community leadership and much more.

The event is free to attend, but you will need to register to help them plan the event. A big thanks to O’Reilly for offering up the space for the event.

Moderating Conference Panels

I’ve been doing quite a bit of panel moderation at conferences this year. From the perspective of someone who moderates, participates on, and attends panels, I’ve seen panels go very well or very badly, and the success or failure of a panel often depends on the moderator. As we move into the fall conference season, I wanted to share a few tips for moderating a successful panel. Before I get into specific tips, you should know that the job of moderator is not an easy one. To do it successfully, it requires a significant amount of preparation and time investment way in advance of the actual event.

How Many Panelists?

This is a tricky balance. In general, I try to strive for having 3 panelists and a moderator for short sessions (45 – 60 minutes) or 4 panelists and a moderator for panels lasting closer to 90 minutes. If you have a very small panel, you will naturally have less diversity on the panel, but if you have a very large panel, the panelists tend to feel like they don’t get enough opportunities to talk.

Recruiting Panelists for Diversity

You should plan to spend plenty of time finding the right mix of panelists for your session. If your panel is filled with people who have similar backgrounds and who agree with each other, you haven’t done your job right. Good panels should have controversy and diversity.

  • Dissenting opinions. Find people who disagree on at least some aspect of the topic or who approach the subject using different methods.
  • Diversity of gender, age, educational backgrounds, etc. If your panel is made up of 4 white males in their 30s with computer science degrees, you didn’t spend enough time doing your research.
  • Combine big names with fresh faces. Don’t default to using all of the same people that you see speaking at every other event; try to recruit at least one smart new panelist who hasn’t been on the conference circuit.

Creating the Plan

As the moderator, you are responsible for defining how you plan to run the panel and for communicating that plan to the panelists to help them prepare for the event. The plan should include parameters for introductions, questions, and general guidelines for panelists. While every situation and every conference is a little different, I have a general approach that has worked well for me.


  • Don’t let panelists introduce themselves. Nothing is worse than sitting in the audience and listening to each panelist pontificate about their experience and current job for 5 minutes each. If you let the panelists introduce themselves, it will almost always take more time than you expected, and I’ve attended terrible panels where the introductions took a quarter to one third of the time allotted.
  • Do work with panelists on the introductions. I generally ask each panelist to send me a one or two sentence introduction that I should use.  I edit the introductions for content and length and work with the panelists to come up with a set of introductions that have a similar length and style.
  • Write your own introduction. If you will need to introduce yourself, make sure that your introduction follows the same rules and length as the rest of the panelists.

Here is an example introduction that I used for Jake Kuramoto at Innotech: Jake has one of the best jobs at Oracle working on a small team called the AppsLab, tasked with “innovation” and run like a startup, which really means he gets to hack around and experiment on people in a good way. Part of his experimentation includes both internal and external communities, making him an accidental community manager.

Introductory Questions

Since the introductions are very short, I use an introductory question for each panel member. These introductory questions are designed to better explain some specific aspect of the panelist’s background, but is structured to provide value for the audience at the same time. These questions should fit with the topic of the panel and be tailored to each person on the panel. Each panelist gets a unique question.


  • Can you talk about the importance of measuring and reporting? What should you measure and what are some tips for how to measure it?
  • How do you see communities fitting within the broader marketing efforts of a company or brand?
  • How did you get started in community management and what advice do you have for people getting started?

Writing Questions and Answering Guidelines

Main questions: I usually start the panel with 2 or 3 good questions that are designed to get the various opinions of the panelists and spark controversy. I usually write these questions and then work with the panel to see if we can come up with anything better. Remember that your panel is made up of the top experts in the field, and they will probably have some great ideas for questions.


  • Looking at OpenID and Facebook Connect as examples, are community based standards helping or destroying innovation?
  • How should marketing and sales be included in your online community strategy?

Backup questions: In addition to these 2-3 questions, I also have a bank of about 10 backup questions listed in priority order that I can use if the audience is being shy about asking questions. At most tech conferences, this isn’t a problem, but you need to be prepared to fill any lulls with interesting questions if the audience isn’t asking them.

Parameters for answering questions: I generally ask the panelists not to respond to every question. Most questions can be answered by one or two panelists, and it makes for a boring panel if every panelist feels obligated to answer every question even when they have little to add to the conversation. I sometimes make exceptions for one or two of the initial controversial questions.

Pre-Conference Meeting

I always try to schedule a quick phone meeting for everyone to get together. The purpose of the meeting is to give people some time to get to know each other, identify potential overlap in answers or opinions, and answer questions about the process. In this meeting, I review the process that we will use and answer any questions about the process or panel logistics. I also ask each panelist to talk a little more about their initial question and their position on the controversial questions.

A few things to avoid:

  • This shouldn’t be a rehearsal. You don’t want the answers to sound practiced or memorized.
  • Don’t look for agreement. You want controversy on the panel, so spend time talking about where people disagree and make sure that someone on the panel will be taking each side of the argument.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Don’t rely on the conference organizers to keep your panel up to date. You need to be prepared to send several emails with more details about logistics and reminders about the event. I also send the panel members all of the questions (including the backup questions) in advance. You want to ask them not to memorize any answers, but your panel will go more smoothly if people have had some time to think about the questions.

The Big Event

Arrive Early

Ask the panel to arrive at least 45 minutes before the panel begins outside of the room where you will be conducting the panel. This gives people a chance to ask any last minute questions and gives you time to track down any stragglers.

Manage Your Time

Make sure that you don’t spend too much or too little time on any single element. For a 45 minute panel, I generally look for something like this:

  • 2 minutes: Introductions
  • 8 – 10 minutes: Introductory questions (2-3 minutes per panelist)
  • 5 – 10 minutes: Main questions
  • Audience questions (these should start no later than 20 minutes into the session) or backup questions as a last resort.

Manage the Panel and the Audience

A big part of the moderator’s job is to make sure that the audience is getting value out of the panel. This means that you will be expected to cut off any long-winded panelists or long-winded audience members. If a panelist goes on for too long, gently interrupt and keep things moving. You will need to do the same for audience members who want to spend 20 minutes asking a question. You will also want to make sure that everyone is contributing, so you may need to help some panel members break into the conversation. In general, keep things moving at a brisk pace and keep the audience engaged.

Turn the questions over to the audience early

Before I ask my final prepared question, I let the audience know that I want them to ask questions and give them the process for asking questions (line up at the microphone, raise hands, etc.) I usually to to make sure that the audience is asking questions within 15 to 20 minutes of starting the panel.

Should the moderator answer questions?

This is a controversial question and one that many people disagree on. I’ve heard well-respected people on both ends of the spectrum. Some people believe that the moderator’s job is to ask questions, but never answer them. I’ve talked to other conference organizers who say that the moderator is recruited for their expertise, and they should be expected to contribute to the discussion.

I try to take an approach somewhere in the middle. As the moderator, I give the panelists the first opportunity to answer the question. If I think that the question hasn’t quite been answered (especially for audience questions) or if I have something significant to add, I will add to the answers from the panel. The moderator should be careful not to answer too often.

Have Fun!

Have a little fun with the panel and keep it light. All of this preparation is designed to help keep things running smoothly, but don’t let the panel get stale and plodding. Make sure that you keep it interesting for the audience. Add some humor wherever appropriate and encourage your panelists to keep it fun as well.

This is my take and my general approach for moderating panels. It isn’t a comprehensive guide for everything you need to do as a moderator. You might also be interested in Jeremiah Owyang’s post about how to successfully moderate a panel. He has a slightly different approach, and we disagree on a few points, but he also goes into more detail on certain aspects of moderation. Regardless of the approach that you take, you need to be prepared. If you only remember one thing from this blog post, it should be that good moderators spend time preparing for their panels.

What are your tips for moderators?

Community 2.0

I’ll be the guest blogger this week on the Community 2.0 blog with a three part series on corporate communities. Community 2.0 is an annual conference that was held in Las Vegas last year, but will be moving to San Francisco this year from May 11-13. I also wanted to let you know that they will be accepting submissions for case studies and panels until this Thursday, November 21, so you should get off your rear and propose something if you haven’t already!

There were some really outstanding presentations last year at the conference. I covered a few of my favorites here on this blog:

It’s a great conference for community managers to attend. I had the opportunity to meet some really outstanding community managers at this event last year, and I am looking forward to attending again this year!

New Open Source Conference Coming to Portland

Were you sad and dismayed to hear that OSCON was moving out of Portland? Are you looking for more open source events to attend? Would you like an open source conference organized by the community? Want one more tech event to attend in July? Need an excuse (any excuse) to visit lovely Portland, Oregon in July? Do you like to help organize events for fun in your spare time?

If you answered yes to any of my obnoxious questions above, I have a great solution for you: The Open Source Bridge event.

pdx group tag cloud

Selena does a great job of sharing how the idea to do this event was born, the purpose of the event, the details, and how you can get involved:

Open Source Bridge will bring together the diverse tech communities of the greater Portland area and showcase our unique and thriving open source environment.

Open Source Bridge
will have curated, discussion-focused conference sessions, mini-conferences for critical topics and will include unconference sessions.

We will show how well Portland does open source and share our best practices for development, community and connectedness with the rest of the world.

Lots of ideas are buzzing around in our heads, and we’d love to talk about them with you! If you’d like to contribute to the effort, stop by the town hall event October 30, 2008 at Cubespace. We’ll have another meeting November 6th, and it will be announced on Calagator.

At the town hall, you’ll have a chance to meet the members of the core organizing committee, and pick up a responsibility or two. We’ll be breaking off into teams for each of the major areas requiring organization, and distributing the work across many people. We will create a mailing list after this first meeting for those who just want to hear about what we’re up to, or participate in some other way.

(Quote from Selena Deckelmann)

I encourage you to attend the Town Hall to share your ideas with the team and to talk about how you can get more involved in the event. The key to community driven events is that they require a lot of work from volunteers both during the planning stages and on site during the event! If you want this event to be successful, I encourage you to pitch in to help.

Town Hall

Images above are also from Selena Deckelmann.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Dr. Seuss and Online Communities

I recently gave my “What Would Dr. Seuss Say about Online Communities” Ignite-style presentation at the Love@First Website event here in Portland. I think this was a better presentation than the one that I gave back in February at Ignite Portland. It’s always easier to give a presentation the second time after you see what does and does not work.

The kind people over at iSite embedded the recorded audio from my talk into a SlideShare presentation, so turn up the volume and click play in the embedded presentation below to hear me give my Ignite talk while the 20 slides fly by every 15 seconds.

L@Fw2008 Dawn Foster

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: foster dawn)

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

GOSCON: Government Open Source Conf in PDX

I was just talking to Deb Bryant about the upcoming GOSCON event here in Portland Oct 20th – 23rd, and there are some very exciting things about the event. For anyone unfamiliar with GOSCON, it is focused on providing “forums to explore both the business case and real-world applications for open technology to deliver the next generation of government services”. This is the fourth annual GOSCON event.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • It’s really reasonable to attend: $150 – $697 depending on which activities you select.
  • Speakers include experts from across the U.S. and around the world.
  • Sessions cover a wide range of topics from implementation and management of open technologies to using open source in the public health sector.
  • Educational credits of up to 4.5 hours for Health IT professionals have been approved by HIMSS.

Anyone interested in open source and government should think about attending the event.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:

Can We Bring BlogHer to Portland?

With rumors of OSCON moving to the Bay Area, it would be great to see BlogHer come to Portland! All you need to do to bring BlogHer to Portland is to vote!

Rick Turoczy lists a few great reasons on his Silicon Florist blog today:

I can’t think of any better spot than Portland.


1. Portland is home to a number of phenomenal women bloggers
2. Weather in July is pretty good
3. Portland’s a great city for hosting these kinds of events
4. Portland is home to a bunch of brilliant women bloggers
5. And we’ve got some really talented women bloggers here, too

I’ve cast my vote. How about you?

Community 2.0 Conference

I wanted to let everyone know that I will be speaking at the Community 2.0 conference on May 13-14 in Las Vegas. I will be joining Silona Bonewald, Bill Johnston, and whurley on a panel about reputation systems: What Do These Points Really Mean? The Pros and Cons of Reputation Systems. If you are interested in attending, I can give you a discount code good for 20% off. A discount AND cool people talking about community AND Las Vegas … how can you beat that?

Leave a comment or send me an email to get the discount code. I hope to see you there!