BarCamp NOLA's Schedule Grid
The heart of any BarCamp is the schedule grid. The conference can't run without it. It's where attendees propose session topics, and it's how a session is assigned a room and a time slot.
There are no hard and fast rules for how you get your session into the schedule grid. In the case of an extremely large BarCamp like MinneBar (BarCamp Minnesota, which had 1,200 registrants and about 1,000 attendees, the conference organizers had to break away from the traditional attendee-driven schedule and simply pre-select proposed sessions, making it more like a traditional conference rather than an unconference. However, they did insist that sessions be more like dialogues and also encouraged the ad hoc formation of mini-sessions.
In the case of BarCamp Boston, you would first propose a session by writing it down on a large post-it note and then place it on the "proposals" board. If a session got enough votes (attendees vote by placing a check mark on sessions they'd like to see), it could get placed on the schedule grid.
Most of the BarCamps on the BarCamp Tour -- Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle and now New Orleans -- went with what seems to be the BarCamp standard: if you have an idea for a session, you simply write it down and place it on the schedule grid. This approach is workable where there are about 150 or so attendees.
After the opening meeting, Matt Tritico and Nicky Mast, the BarCamp NOLA organizers, let the attendees loose upon the schedule grid. I stayed close by, watching people write down and post session topics, waiting to see how the grid would fill up.
After about fifteen minutes of activity around the grid, everyone who had a session idea had posted theirs, and there were still some empty slots. At this point, I decided to look around and encourage people who were "on the fence" about doing a session to do so. I struck up a conversation with a guy named Ryan Murphy. He's a recent law school graduate with a very serious interest in all matters economic and financial. He wanted to talk about the Fed, the Treasury and the banks and how they worked as well as the issue of the debt ceiling -- heavy macroeconomic stuff. He was unsure about how to present it to a BarCamp audience.
I suggested that I pair up with him; I'd follow along with his presentation and talk about what these issues meant for the indie or startup developer, designer or entrepreneur. "You do macro, I do micro," I said.
He liked the idea, and thus our session was born: Mo' Money, Mo Problems: The Economy, the Big Picture and How It Affects You. We took the end-of-day time slot in the big room.
Next: The morning sessions.