Creating the Schedule

Creating the schedule is always a nice, yet tricky part of organising an event. I don’t know how other event organisers are doing their schedule, but I am taking a lot of time and need an empty head – as far as this is possible short before an event.

When I sit down to plan the two days of the main festival, the conference, I start with collecting all titles and corresponding speakers. I lay all the titles followed by the speaker names in front of me, so that I can see them all at once. I mostly have a few slots that are fixed before I start. Reasons for this can be:

  • the speaker wants to have this certain slot – and that fits my taste and idea of a good schedule
  • I was planning to use the speaker for this certain slot – like for the evening talk or the closing talk for example
  • a speaker has to leave or arrives at a certain time and (sadly) can’t attend the whole event

With the talks that are left after filling in the fixed slots, I have a few criteria which help me with the decision and the order, or better said, the flow of a schedule …

What kind of topic is it?

I generally differentiate between a few key aspects. Is the talk more technical or more design oriented? More hands-on and how-to or more story-telling? Is it a more general talk which inspires to think in different directions or is it a talk which is quite specific on a topic and give useful insight or tipps and tricks.

This all plays a role when creating the order next to the questions how heavy or light in terms of understanding and its content I think a talk is. I’d like to set the more heavy talks in the first half of the day and the lighter topics to the evening. After a long day the heads of the attendees are already filled with so many impressions that it gets harder to follow a heavy technical talk for example.

What kind of speaker is presenting?

I do not make a difference between rock stars and newcomers. Never. But surely there are plenty of presentation styles. Too many to mention them all, but to give you an idea what I mean:

The thoughtful an calm speaker. She/he provokes re-thinking, gives insights, inspires to see things from a different perspective.

The explaining and teaching presenter. You learn how to do things, get handy tipps and see useful tricks – ok, as much as this is possible within 45 minutes.

The storyteller. This is the kind of speaker who could also simply sit on stage and read a book. The way of presentation, the style of speaking chains the listener to the talk.

The energised volcano. She/he might belong to the group of storytellers as well, but his way of presenting is energising and entertaining. Engaging, loud, interacting with the audience. She/he is able to wake up the audience or to keep ‘em awake, depending which slot.

The entertainer. Somehow similar to the one above, but not that loud and impulsive. Gets laughs, knows how to get the momentum and how to create a good arc of suspense.

Certainly there is much of an overlap as you mostly can’t put someone just in one category. Also there is more than the categories above for sure. But I hope this already gives you a good idea of what I mean with it.

Which time of the day is it?

Depending on the time of the day and the way of presenting I decide whom to put where. Surely I am speaking to a lot of people to hear what they think, but also I ask myself, if I’d be able to follow this talk during this time of the day.

The first talk of the morning is important to set the people into the right mood for the upcoming days. It could be a good, engaging talk, or one that has an opinion. I do not like to put a heavy tech talk in here.

More head-heavy talks are following until lunch break. After the lunch break – of both days of course – with food in the stomach, and having had a sit in the sun, people tend to be a bit tired even though they just had a two hour break. Therefore I like to place someone after the lunch break, where I think she or he is able to wake the audience up again. Either thru a very interesting topic and a good way of delivering it or thru the way of presenting the talk that shakes the attendees.

The last talk of the first day, the evening talk, always is someone who is entertaining, has something to say and is fun to watch. I love the idea of the longer break before the last talk, of grabbing one of the free drinks before entering the theatre again and then simply relaxing while watching the last talk of a (hopefully) great first day. I have seen a similar kind of doing it a time ago at one of my favourite events by one of my friends and simply stole this idea. John Davey does his Inspired Sessions as the last talk of a day for a long time already at Reasons to be Creative. Also with a longer break before this last talk. He gathers all attendees of his three-track event in the main theatre for this talk to end the day with a collective, a common impression.

Certainly the first talk of the second day is always a tough slot for the speaker. People had been out long, drinking, having fun, and her or his task is it now to wake them up again and to make them feel ready for the upcoming day before the rest of the day follows the rules I mentioned above.

Except from the last talk of the conference. There are many ways to end a conference. I always tend to think that this is the talk with which impression people leave the event. If you organise events, you might see this differently, but I really like to put someone into this slot, who is able to leave the audience with something to think about when they leave the event. Surely a good speaker is needed for this slot.

The final bits

All this is quite complex and you never know if the plan you had in mind while creating the schedule really works out for everybody. Many things play a role to make this work. A speaker might not be in the same mood as when you have seen her or him presenting. Maybe she/he simply doesn’t have a good day or is sick. Sometimes I also was not able to hear her/him before the conference and even didn’t find a video. In this case I try to Skype the possible speaker to find out what the way of talking and speaking is. But even then you can make a wrong decision as some people are like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

When I am done with a schedule, I do not directly put it online. I leave it on the table for a night and take a look at it again the next day. Then I listen to my stomach. Does he say “Yep, that still is a good order” then I go with it. If he does not feel good, I maybe change the one or other thing until he says “Yep, that is good”. And if I can’t change anything as I have no other idea, I leave it as it is after a few days.

And even though I said it is complex and not easy to create the schedule for an event, I love the time, when I have to do it. It is like Jeremy Keith said, while we had a conversation about it once and how he writes it as well in one of his blog posts:

Figuring out the flow of the day is another aspect that I really wanted to get right. It’s like making a mixtape.

That’s exactly right. So here is the schedule of beyond tellerrand // DÜSSELDORF 2015.

In April 2016, a free translation (not word by word) of this article was create on the eveosblog, where they took my article as base to write about the dramaturgic instruments or ways of creating an event.

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