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How to Host Successful Campfire Sessions

Tourist bonfire at dusk in the forest

Learning comes in many forms and that’s important to remember when building your event or conference program. Your first instinct to foster learning for all of your attendees might be to change up the content itself or to add new technology to keep engagement up. However, you may want to also consider switching up the format of your learning sessions.

One of the newest learning setups popping up at events recently is the campfire session, and if you have yet to encounter one, the name pretty much gives it away. Instead of a speaker giving a PowerPoint presentation in a large lecture room in front of 50+ people, campfire sessions are smaller, more intimate and focus on conversation rather than projecting content and information. The leader or facilitator typically speaks for 10-15 minutes about a topic and then helps foster a group discussion and peer-to-peer learning for the rest of the allotted time.

What’s great about this format is that it’s proven to increase discussion and engagement, while being easy to implement. Nonetheless, there are important things to consider to make sure this new format is a success. If you’re interested in adding campfire sessions to your next event, check out these tips to avoid fizzling out.

Limit attendance

To create that intimate feel, you will need to obviously need to limit the attendance to your campfire sessions. This may be tricky considering the format’s rise in popularity, and if these sessions are new to your event, attendees may be extra excited to participate. Make sure to set a roughly 20 person limit to your online registration per campfire session. Start with 2-4 sessions based on your event’s more popular content topics and key attendee demographics to spark enthusiasm.

Get (literal) inspiration

If you don’t know where to start, take literal inspiration from the “campfire” namesake. Seriously, think about the times you’ve sat around an actual campfire with friends; what was that experience like? Warm, cozy, laid back, and friendly often come to mind.

Don’t be afraid to take those thoughts as figuratively or literally as possible. It may be as simple as setting up chairs in a circle in a small space. But if you can, depending on your budget, I recommend adding a few touches to take the intimate, informal feeling up a notch. When researching campfire session examples, I saw everything from using actual fold-up camping chairs and wooden benches, to draping a room in such a way that creates an actual tent. Some had a video of a campfire playing on a screen, and others actually went outside to create the experience.

The point is, take the extra steps to really make campfire sessions a different experience for attendees and speakers alike. It will help get them excited to participate, and will keep them talking about it long after your event. It also makes for a great visual for social media promotion.

Forget high tech

Considering how you should take the word “campfire” literally, you can also forgo technology during these sessions (as Wi-Fi doesn’t really work so well in the woods!). But when you think about it, intimate discussions begin between people, and not with screens or presentation slides. So consider the low-tech angle from both the speaker and attendee point of view.

Along with coming up with intriguing discussion topics, remember to tell your campfire facilitators to not bring their laptops or tablets. If they need visuals to spark the conversation, print out large images to display or distribute handouts. Encourage them to take notes by hand.

For attendees, have a sign asking them to silence, turn off or put away their smartphones and other mobile devices. Perhaps mention this ahead of time when promoting campfire sessions on your event website and program. Remember, this type of session isn’t for everyone, so your audience should know what to expect. But for those looking for productive conversations and a break from constantly checking emails, this will intrigue them enough to attend!

Conclusion

Campfire sessions are just one of the many ways to switch up learning and networking formats at events. But what’s great about it is that it’s simple to implement with a high pay off. As event planners, it’s important to come up with new, innovative ways to foster learning, but the key take away to remember is to not always focus on learning content itself; instead think about how it’s presented to your attendees.

Have you hosted or participated in a campfire session? What makes them successful? Share in the comments below!

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