Designing Successful Sessions

MozFest is home to all kinds of sessions run by an amazing, diverse, global community of Facilitators like you. Be sure to check out the call for proposals (call for proposals) to review the kinds of sessions we’ll offer this year, and think about which type of session and space is the best fit for your proposal.

Think carefully about what you want participants to get from your sessions. Also think about how your session can help you and your work! What can you learn from the amazing people gathered with you? What questions can they help you answer? What help can they offer?

Three people sit around a laptop during a session a MozFest

Think carefully about what you want participants to get from your sessions. Also think about how your session can help you and your work! What can you learn from the amazing people gathered with you? What questions can they help you answer? What help can they offer?

Because MozFest emphasizes participation, MozFest sessions are unlike those at more traditional conferences. You should expect the unexpected - the happy accidents, challenges, and coincidences that lead you to discovering new people, new connections, and new approaches to your session. You and your participants will find a way forward together even if a different audience shows up than the one you expected or this or that piece of technology fails. People getting to be creative in sessions is what makes the MozFest flavor unique each year.

Be prepared to engage your audience and help them feel like active participants in the session. Think past being a presenter to being a Facilitator and get creative with your ideas for activities discussions.

Across all formats and the emergent sessions that pop up at the festival, sessions at MozFest should be creative, participatory, accessible, and inclusive. What do we mean by each of those things? How can you work these principles into your session design?


Ask yourself:

  • Is your session engaging, fun, or otherwise active for participants?
  • Can different people all make something or contribute to the conversation?
  • Did you avoid activities that ask people to be passive for most of the time?
  • What do you want to learn from your participants?

5 tips for a participatory session

  1. Start by activating your participants, getting them to make something together or to learn from one another in small group activities and discussions.
  2. Share your expertise and knowledge in the middle of the session, rather than the beginning. Try to speak for fewer than 15 minutes in a 60 minute session.
  3. Use good time-keeping and remind people to switch activities, speakers, or topics to make sure everyone has time to participate in the activities you plan.
  4. Offer different ways people can participate in each activity or small-group discussion to make participation as accessible and inclusive as possible.
  5. Make sure to end your session with a clear invitation or “call to action” that tells participants how to learn more about your work and contribute to it after the festival and point participants to where they can find online session notes and shared resources.


Ask yourself:

  • Is your session easy to find, attend, and understand?
  • Can disabled people participate fully in it?
  • Did you avoid designing activities that leave some people out?

5 tips for an accessible session

  1. Give your session a short, clear title and write a short, clear description that shares a bit about what people will do there.
  2. Share materials online ahead of time in low bandwidth formats with high color contrast (like black and white) that are screen-readable (like GDocs or text files, not .pdfs).
  3. Share your notes and other materials after your session, as well, so they remain accessible to people who could not attend your session or the festival.
  4. Ask yourself how many different people might participate in your session. How would an 8-year old participate in your session? An 80-year old? Someone who is blind or deaf? A disabled person who needs a different space set-up? Look online for guides to review your work for accessibility like these Accessibility Guidelines for Presentations from the Society for Disabilities Studies.
  5. Begin and end on time so that everyone attending your session (and the next one) can depend on the festival schedule and decide how they want to participate throughout the day without being delayed.


Ask yourself:

  • Is your session welcoming to all kinds of people?
  • Can different people participate and speak safely, successfully, and without fear?
  • Did you avoid activities that show bias or favor one kind of person over others?

5 tips for an inclusive session

  1. Include a warm invitation in your description (like, “Everyone interested is welcome!”), welcome people to your session, and plan time for them to introduce themselves.
  2. If you include people in images or other resources you share, include a diversity of people to represent our global community.
  3. Provide time for introductions at the start of your session, as well as time for small-group discussions. Invite a diversity of people to contribute to large-group discussions so your audience learns from people with different backgrounds. Invite people to share their experiences and expertise with the group.
  4. Use comparisons and prompts that are universal or cross-cultural rather than those that are overly personal, specific, or privileged.
  5. Check your biases and language ahead of the festival and make a plan to be more inclusive (like, try to stop saying, “Guys,” when addressing a mixed gender group).

We know that if you keep these principles and questions in mind, your session will be a success!

Remember that you can reach out on Slack at any time to ask for help in thinking through your design. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many 1:1 coaching appointments and Facilitator support calls we have planned. We’re excited to learn more about you and your sessions!

ADIDS: a structure for your session

ADIDS is one possible structure for delivering a participatory, accessible, and inclusive session at MozFest. It combines what we know about adult learning with the highly engaging atmosphere of MozFest.

After you very briefly describe your session topic and goals, and do any intros with the group, the basic ADIDS structure is as follows:

Activity: Begin with an activity that introduces the session topic in a way that invites participants to share their own perspective and experience. You can come up with your own activity, or select one of the examples below and adapt it to your content. Note that small group activities that encourage in-depth peer to peer interaction work best here. Activity examples include:

  • Silent reflection – ask participants to write down a response to a question, this can be done via an online collaborative doc. Write the question with bullet points underneath.
  • Brainstorming and Organising – break participants into small groups to discuss the topic more deeply. Ask them to capture main points in complete understandable sentences in a shared collaborative doc.
  • Ranking – ask participants to break into pairs and discuss a list of techniques and ask them to determine most effective to least effective.
  • Gallery – Break people into small groups and provide them with a slide deck of visuals for them to review. Give them questions to answer as they review each example (i.e., for data visualisations ask: what is the message and who is it for?)
  • Spectrogram – In a collaborative doc, write a controversial statement followed by “agree <——————-> disagree,” have people put an X along the line based on their opinion. Ask “why did you put your x where you did?”
  • Scenario – create scenarios based on real-life problems that address the topic. Break participants up into small groups to review the scenarios and discuss how they would solve the problem.
  • Hands-on – give participants an opportunity to work directly with a tool.

Discussion: In this part of your session, the group shares responses and insights about the activity they just completed. The facilitator should frame the discussions with questions to help participants reflect on the experience. For example, framing questions might be: What surprised you about the activity? What did you discover? What did you see or hear from others in the group that stuck with you?

Input: The facilitator presents additional material on issues, insights, examples, and more advanced concepts about the topic. This is where, as facilitator, you share your own experience, learnings, and expertise.

Deepening: In a technical workshop, this is usually the hands-on segment of a session. Participants have an opportunity to set-up and begin using a particular tool or application, or practice a skill.

Synthesis: The group reflects and shares key points and outcomes-- what issues or solutions came up? What striking ideas were mentioned in discussion? This is may be a good moment for a short question and answer time. The facilitator may also wrap up the session by summarising key points and outcomes.

Using ADIDS: an example session

Our sample session is called Best practices for achieving data literacy.

Here’s a description of the session: In this session participants will have an opportunity to share notes and techniques on achieving data literacy and contribute to list of a best practices. This session is for anyone who has tried to engage individuals in using data to solve problems in their communities.

The plan for this session might be:

  • 3 minutes: State the frame and goals for the session to the group
  • 5 minutes: Invite each participant to say (quickly, in one sentence) their name and what they hope to get out of the session
  • 10 minutes: (Activity) Breakout participants into pairs or groups of three, to discuss challenges they have faced in utilising data to solve problems within their community, and generate questions they have about achieving data literacy and capture them within a collaborative document
  • 10 minutes: (Discussion) Ask participants to review all the questions generated and identify topics or categories. Have a large group discussion about the questions and any insights they have as a result of looking at them.
  • 10 minutes: (Input) Facilitator shares their own experiences working on data literacy projects and lessons learned.
  • 15 minutes: (Deepening) Break participants into groups of four, select relevant clusters and brainstorm answers and solutions to the challenges and document them in the collaborative document.
  • 5 minutes: (Synthesis) In the large group ask participants to identify solutions that are most relevant for their communities and compile a best practices list in the collaborative doc.

After you’ve had a chance to review and reflect on these principles and structures for your session, you can use a tool like this session excellence canvas to help you think through the next iteration of your plan.