SkeptiCamp NYC 2020 - Share the Apple of Knowledge
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Session Leader Guide

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So, You Want to Speak at SkeptiCamp NYC?

ANYONE can be a presenter at SkeptiCamp, no matter if you are a professional scientist or just someone who likes to yell on the Internet! Here is pretty much, almost everything you will need to know:

If you have lead a session at SkeptiCamp NYC before, you MUST read the new Virtual Edition Rules and Guidelines section! Among other new details, we will require a tech rehearsal before you speak, so be sure to read up all about it.

Never Been to SkeptiCamp Before?

Mighty bold of you to go swimming with skeptic "sharks", without knowing what you're in for! But, don't be nervous, we really are a friendly bunch!

If you have never been to any SkeptiCamp events before, we would recommend reading up as much information as you can from the general SkeptiCamp web site: skepticamp.fandom.com/wiki/Main_Page.

Then, you can visit YouTube and Vimeo, to search for videos of SkeptiCamp sessions in the past!

Some Important Points and Rules to Make Up Front!

  • We have a deadline! Although we will try to accommodate last minute insertions as much as possible, we highly recommend that everyone strive to submit their proposal on or before the deadline, to guarantee a spot on the schedule. This also gives you time to adjust your idea if it doesn't quite meet our criteria (although our criteria are generally very relaxed).

    Current deadline for submitting sessions for this year's event is: 11/21/2020, at 11:59 PM.
     
  • We will not allow illegal or "abusive" content: Do not hurt anyone, do not incite violence in others, and do not be "spammy". Please do not show us anything that could land you in jail.
     
  • We very much frown upon bait-and-switch tactics. There may be a legitimate reason why you would wish to change your topic at the last minute, and we will usually allow it, if you talk to us about that! But, deliberately switching out your topic to deceive us of your intentions could get you kicked off the stage!
    If you intend to swap your topic midway for some comedic purpose, please let the organizers know about that, as well.
     
  • You can NOT submit more than one session idea. If your first one is rejected, though, we will give you a chance to change it. IF there is time at the end for 'open sessions', we MIGHT consider allowing someone to do a second session, but this is unlikely to happen. The schedule usually ends up getting over-packed before the event even starts!
  • If you're going to make a mess, please let us know in advance. And, you will be responsible for cleaning it up.

Examples of what NOT to do (based on real-life incidents):

  • Start your talk with a title slide that says "Zen and the Art of Dentistry", but then spend the rest of your time talking about how awful Right-wing politicians are. That would be a classic bait-and-switch. You should inform us if you are going to talk about politics, instead of trying to hide it.
     
  • Claim that you will be talking about animal rights, then proceed to instruct us on how to build incendiary devices to use against animal labs. That is not only a bait-and-switch, but is also quite ILLEGAL!

*NEW!* Virtual Edition Rules and Guidelines

Since SkeptiCamp is going to be hosted in the form of a video conference call, this year, there are some important new rules and points to make. Most important of all is the tech rehearsal requirement!

Tech Rehearsals

All SkeptiCamp NYC 2020 session leaders will be required to do a tech rehearsal or "dry run" of their session, with one of the organizers of the event. This will be the case even if you are an experienced conference call speaker! We want to double-check that everything works well, not just on your end, but ours when connected to you, as well. Your presentation does NOT need to be complete before this happens.

  • The primary goal is to do a sound check and slide-presentation (if any) test. There might be a tiny Q&A rehearsal as well.
  • If you are experienced at this sort of thing, it might only take a few minutes of your time. If not, we can take the time to guide you through the gist of everything you need to know.
  • This will NOT need to be the full length of your presentation. But, if you are providing slides, we would want to make sure each of them shows up adequately on screen, if possible.
  • You can schedule your appointment for anywhere between November 15th (which is the day the schedule should go up) and December 4th (the day before the event begins).
  • Do NOT wait until the last minute, though! We recommend you schedule your rehearsal as soon as you have, at least, a good rough-draft of your presentation prepared.
  • Your rehearsal will likely be with the main host, Mitch Lampert, but in the event he is unavailable, another person will take his place, such as Jonathan Nelson or Benny Pollak.
  • Information about how to schedule your tech rehearsal will be available at a later time.
     
  • If you do NOT go through with the tech rehearsal, we might cut you out of the schedule!! So, please humor us, and at least go through the motions! You will only need to do it once (unless there are serious technical issues to deal with the first time).

Videos and Animations

Unfortunately, video performance is likely going to be problematic, if you plan to show any video segments during your session. If you want everyone in the audience to watch a video, we recommend preparing a link to it, so each person can view it directly through their own Internet connection. Though, it might be best not use videos, at all, this year.

Animations can also end up being "skippy" and blurry as well. If you wish to sprinkle in some light, non-essential animations and transitions between your slides, that might be fine. But, keep it simple, and do NOT rely on anyone actually seeing any of those effects very well.

Pre-Recorded Presentation Option

You may consider the option of pre-recording the bulk of your session. This has the advantage of making sure your segment doesn't go over time, and might be less stressful for some people to employ. The disadvantage is that, like all video, performance might potentially be problematic for some people. You would have to stream the recording at your own risk. It's your call!

If you do choose to pre-record your session, your Q&A section must still be done live!

Sharing the Screen

Be careful when sharing your screen! Make sure it is clear of anything you would not want anyone to be seeing, whatever that happens to be!

If possible use two monitors, and only share one. Or, use the Zoom's built-in application-specific sharing feature: If available, it allows you to share ONLY one application, such as PowerPoint, for example, instead of the whole screen.

Links to Documents

If you wish to provide "handouts", you can provide a link to your document, instead. However, we ask that you NOT link to any executable code files, nor any documents with scripting in them (such as VBA macros)!

If you have no other place to house your document, we can store it on the SkeptiCampNYC.org web site for you! Ask us how!

Your Connection

Obviously, you will also need to make sure you have a strong broadband connection in order to deliver your session. You probably knew that, but we figured we would mention it, just in case.

And, that's the end of the new stuff!

Credentials, or Lack Thereof

You do NOT need any sort of credentials to run a session at SkeptiCamp, since this is supposed to be The People's Conference! But, we warned: You ARE swimming in skeptical "shark infested waters"! If you get the feeling that your topic might be controversial or "wishy-washy" to the minds of hard-nosed scientists, you will want to be ready to get yelled at a lot.

Of course, those with legit credentials are ALSO welcomed to speak. It certainly would not hurt!

Most conventions, that wish to call themselves "legit", do a tremendous amount of careful vetting before someone can take the stage. So, why does this event, which prides itself on skepticism, allow just anyone to have a platform? Because this is intended to ba a "People's Convention"! We do NOT turn away anyone just for their opinions or points of view! We, the attendees of SkeptiCamp, are supposed to embrace challenge when it barrels towards us!
...And because the event is FREE OF CHARGE, you get what you PAY for!!! That's why!

(If you want carefully vetted speakers, we would suggest attending NECSS, whenever that takes place, every year.)

But, please do NOT fake credentials. You are better off professing lack of them, than trying to falsely claim you are certified in something you are not. We do not take kindly to con artists.

Ideas for Sessions

We can accept session proposals related to science, skepticism, and critical thinking, in some way. Our guidelines are relatively loose, but the closer to those areas you are, the better your chances of speaking will be.

We encourage you to present something you are passionate about, or perhaps something you are (or would like to be) an expert on, and definitely something that will interest, and facilitate discussion with, the others in the group. A good source of presentation ideas can be found here: skepticamp.fandom.com/wiki/Session_Topics.

Guidelines for Topics on the Borders of Science

Pure science or a good skeptical inquiry into a questionable claim are preferable. But, some people like to live on the edge of those things:

Religion: This is NOT an Atheist (with a capital A) event. You are certainly welcome to debunk specific claims made by religious folks, that defy science, especially if they are harmful ideas. (Such as religious exemptions on vaccines) But, please do NOT spend your time bashing anyone's faith, in itself. Those of religious faith, and those who completely lack such things should ALL feel welcomed at SkeptiCamp!

Politics: Please avoid political advocacy or blatantly partisan political talks. You can talk about areas where science applies more directly to policy, or you can be skeptical of specific science claims made by politicians. If you are talking about climate change, for example, please stick to the science, and leave political gripes out of it, Bill.

Social Issues: We all believe community outreach is important. But, this is not necessarily just a community outreach platform. We want to talk about topics connected to science in some way. How certain ideas can impact society is fine for discussion.

Philosophy: Avoid talks that are pure philosophy, please. (We define "pure philosophy" as: All areas of philosophy NOT concerned with the acquisition of empirical knowledge.) Stick to something that is at least remotely related to science. How we know something is "empirical", in the first place, could be a perfectly acceptable topic, though it is usually a rather boring one.

Performances: We DO like to add one or two musical and comedy acts to the schedule, but we prefer not to turn the entire day into a talent show. This event is intended to be an educational conference. Any entertainment provided in the sessions is just a little bonus.

How To Use Your Time

You are given a maximum of 25 minutes in which to do your thing, followed by MANDATORY Q&A allotment of at least 5 minutes. Of course, if the body of your session is shorter than 25 minutes, you can spend more time on Q&A.

It is up to YOU how you spend your time as a sesison leader: A simple slide show presentation is common, but there are other interesting things you can do: Run a short workshop, have a moderated discussion with the audience, give a performance of some sort, have a debate with someone, etc. The following templates are examples of what you can do, though you are not required to conform to any of them, either:

SkeptiCamp Template Suggestion Diagrams

A. The Standard Presentation: Kinda old fashioned, and generic, but still popular. You give a presentation, and then the audience gets to ask you questions. This can be done either with or without slides or other visual aids. And, it works well with just about any topic!

B. Group-Based Workshop: After receiving instructions, the audience breaks up into groups to carry out the activity. This could also, optionally, be turned into a competition. Keep in mind that you will be responsible for the cost of materials, if any. (NOTE: This probably won't work so well for our Virtual Edition.)

C. Individual Interactive Workshop: Each individual person in the audience gets to carry out all or some of the steps, in the process of an activity. Keep in mind that you will be responsible for the cost of materials, if any. (Note: It is questionable whether this will work will for our Virtual Edition.)

D. Moderated Discussion: You act as the moderator for an open discussion about a particular topic. Essentially, the whole time slot could be like one, long Q&A; but with answers sometimes coming from other participants in the audience, and not just you. This is more like what SkeptiCamp is supposed to be all about! This might work best for highly controversial topics; or for folks who are not necessarily experts in something, but wish to gain a variety of opinions from others.

E. The Debate Format: While SkeptiCamp is not particularly conducive for debates, it could still work; especially if the opponents are both talented in keeping their arguments concise.

F. Performance Piece: Can you sing a skeptical song, know a good science story, or wish to educate your fellow humans through comedy? You could fill a block doing just that! If we get a lot of these, though, we might have to limit them, since we would rather focus on discussion and interaction and such.

G. Other: If you can think of another great, creative way to fill the time, go ahead and do so! We are open to ideas we might have missed!

More General Advice

Keep it Concise! Remember, your time is relatively short. If you think you have a lot to cover, rehearse to keep it short! It might be wise to pretend you only have 15 minutes to talk, to help keep your priorities straight. Then, you can inflate your points where you can during your actual session.

Avoid Overconfidence. Especially if you think you have a controversial or potentially pseudo-scientific idea to promote. It does not come off well. You can be confident in what you are saying, but try not to overdo it. Although, those with actual credentials in the field they are discussing can often get away with more apparent confidence than someone who does not.

Remember the General Advice for Public Speaking. Don't put too much text on your slides, and do not read off your slides the entire time. Practice your speaking skills, if you can, to avoid talking in a monotone or stuttering too much. Etc. You can google for more public speaking and presentation making tips, if you need to.

What We Provide and What YOU Might Need to Provide

Since we are running a Virtual Edition this year, we won't be providing much more than a video conferencing platform upon which this event can take place.

If you plan to use a "whiteboard", we might be able to provide a virtual one for all attendees to see.

If you are providing a slideshow, you will have to "share your screen" to present it.

If you are providing "handouts", they will have to take the form of a URL link that everyone can click on, to download the files.

What We Normally Provide (for future reference)

When doing an in-person event (not this year!), we would usually provide the following things, for your use during your session:

  • Projector and Screen, with HDMI and VGA connections available.
  • A presentation remote
  • Windows-Based Laptop with Microsoft Office (including PowerPoint), Adobe Reader, and OpenOffice installed. Always the latest retail versions.
  • A dry-erase board with markers, erasers, etc.
  • Wi-Fi would be provided by the venue we rent. However, if your session relies on Internet access, you should have a back-up plan just in case it's not working that day. This may include making local file copies of any videos you want to play from YouTube.

We recommend you the computer we provide. However, you can choose to use your own computer, if you prefer. Make sure you bring the necessary adapters to connect it to an HDMI or VGA projector.

You will be responsible for providing anything else you will need. If you need assistance with accommodations, you can e-mail us about that. If you need a Mac computer, you are better off bringing your own, though we have had some folks share their Macs in the past.

You could provide handouts for the audience, if you wish. You will be responsible for making the copies. We can give you an estimated attendance size, if you need it, closer to the actual event. (We probably won't have more than 100 attendees. We typically had a maximum of 60 people in the room at any one given time, in the past.)

Steps in the Submission Process

1. Come up with an idea that will appeal to skeptics and/or science enthusiasts. Write its title and description up in a word processor or HTML Editor. (See below for HTML rules.)

2. Read this Session Leader's Guide. (Technically, you are already reading the guide right now. But, if you skipped most of its content, that is not good. Read this whole thing, if you can, please! Thank you.)

3. Register to attend SkeptiCamp NYC, if you have not already done so! We recommend filling in the phone number field, even though it is now optional, just in case we need to contact you.

4. Submit Your Session Idea! This can be done in two places:
A: When you first register (as in step 3), you will have the opportunity to paste in your write-up after filling out the first couple of pages of fields.
And, B: You can also submit your idea through your Profile Editor Page. Sign into the SkeptiCamp NYC site, using the user name and password you created when you first registered. There will be a tab called "Session Info", where you can add, edit (or remove, if you change your mind) your Session Idea.

5. You can continue to edit or tweak your session's description up to The Deadline, 11/21/2020.

6. Within a day or so after The Deadline, the first version of the schedule will be pieced together. You will be notified if you are on it, or not. This will be followed by rounds of tweaks and changes and arguments and counter-arguments and the occasional last minute addition of someone who did not read these instructions.

You ARE allowed to continue making changes to your session after the deadline, as long as your session continues to follow the guidelines set above. However, we will NOT likely allow anyone else to enter into the schedule, if all the slots are full.

7. If you are accepted, we will instruct you on making your required tech rehearsal appointment, and you would then go through with that.

8.The FINAL schedule will be assembled a minute or two after midnight, the day of SkeptiCamp NYC. You have until then to make your last-minute adjustments. After that, consider it committed to paper!!

You May Be Recorded! Your Files May be Saved!

By default, we record every one of our sessions, for archival use, and possible future posting on the Internet.

Also, all of the presentation files I am given are also saved in an archive, and may be available for downloading on our web site, in the future. You CAN opt-out of this, as well. Keep in mind that we DO remove most of the meta-data (hidden properties of the file that might reveal stuff you wouldn't want), before we post them.

HTML Rules

Your Session Description can, optionally, include a few HTML tags. Rules for that can be found on this page: HTML Rules.

Thanks for considering SkeptiCamp NYC, and please have fun!
- Mitchell Scott Lampert, Lead Organizer for SkeptiCamp NYC


  Contact the Lead Organizer with your questions or comments: admin@skepticampnyc.org