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Events typically offer sessions which fall into one of five categories:

  1. Lecture/Presentation, where one speaker addresses the group
  2. Panel, where several panelists sit at the front of the room, offer brief presentations and observations, and answer questions from the group
  3. Break-out Discussion, where participants join in a facilitated dialog
  4. Lab/Hands-on, where participants use computers or otherwise learn by doing
  5. Skill-shares and demos, where one or more participants share their skills with others, or demo a project or product they're working on or supporting.

Aspiration events are strongly biased towards small discussion-oriented sessions, referred to as break-outs because the group usually starts together as whole before dividing into smaller units for focused discourse.

Labs and hands-on sessions can potentially yield rich outcomes for participants, but come with several logistical and qualitative considerations. First, such sessions require obtaining the necessary hardware and software resources. If the event facility offers such equipment, hands-on sessions may be straightforward and manageable to deliver. But given that most events are in fact single-day or several-day affairs, the effort required to obtain, install and configure equipment is likely to be an excessive distraction. More importantly, having computers present is almost certain to reduce the human interaction and the rich dialog that yield the core event value; while peer-to-peer hands-on learning is a great way to grow skills and relationships, many machines end up being utilized by single users, who focus their energy toward a screen, check email and otherwise disengage from the proceedings.

Given that Aspiration events aim primarily to build relationships and grow community ties, lectures and panels tend to work against such goals. Those two formats usually perpetuate the "tyranny of talkers", where only a small number of voices are heard, the energy and needs of the audience minimally inform the nature of the presentation, and listeners can often become disengaged. While excellent lecturers and compelling panelists are by no means unheard of, they are clearly in the minority, and the ad-hoc nature of our event agendas usually means organizers are unable to gage in advance the chemistry of lecture and panel sessions. The philosophy is not to reject such formats, but instead to treat them as spice rather than main ingredient in agenda recipes.

Many presume that events relating to technology should be about acquiring information and technical knowledge; our philosophy is that new and enhanced relationships (with their associated email addresses, phone numbers and other contact info) are the primary outcomes. While one can only obtain a finite amount of knowledge in a given day, the ability to dialog and draw on the wisdom and experience of others long after an event yields a potentially unbounded amount of knowledge, insight, and guidance. Empirical experience has led us to favor small break-out sessions as the format for agenda units, to maximize conversation, engagement and valuable outcomes.