Culture Growth Leadership

Women and Agile Event – Format Idea – Panel and Lightning Talks

For the last two years, Chicago Agile Open Space (CAOS) Meetup has hosted the Women and Agile: Women Making Organizations Better event (2016 and 2017). This event has become an annual event and is a member favorite. This post is to help those who would like ideas and advice for how to host local Women in Agile events.

Event Format: The format of the event is as follows:

  • Opening, including purpose of the event and what it’s attempting to accomplish
  • Seven minute lightning/TED talks where each of the four or five nominated woman shares her story, which can vary from her career experience, how she’s dealt with discrimination, challenges, mentorship, how she got into her field, etc.
  • Then a moderated panel discussion with the group of women, where questions are taken from the audience.

Step 1: Find a forum. It’s usually easier to piggy-back on an existing group than to try to create a totally new event. Check out Meetups, Women in Tech groups, STEM organizations and meetings and other gatherings. Organizers are usually looking for topics to fill their event calendars and a Women in Agile event will likely fit their mission. It’s also easier to back into an existing group’s calendar than keep dates open ended at the beginning of the planning process.

Note: it is possible to hold a separate event, not tied to an existing group, however, the advertising and spreading the word about the event will likely be more difficult because you won’t be able to tap into the group’s current membership.

Step 2: Find individuals to help. For the CAOS Meetup events, I usually have at least 3 people helping me arrange the event. This includes soliciting nominations, selecting speakers and PR/Marketing for the event. It could be done alone, however, it’s easier with help. I usually find that there are individuals willing to volunteer to help. Most men are looking for ways to be an ally – helping put on this event is a great way to be an ally.

Step 3: Begin finding women to participate. Usually the small group of us go through out networks and ask connections to participate. If we need a larger pool, then we’ll reach out on LinkedIn and/or at other events. It’s a very informal process; it’s not like speaking submissions so the barrier to entry is lower.

Step 4: Once we have a group of women who have agreed to participate, we hold a kick-off call to brainstorm/hear what each woman will speak about in the talk portion of the event. We help each out hone ideas and ensure that the topics are positioned in an interesting way for the audience. This discussion also creates fodder for panel questions.

Step 5: Lock down the date, agenda and location for the event. If you’re going with an established group, this is pretty easy, and usually just requires updating the event page with the details.

Step 6: Advertise, advertise, advertise. Spread the word on Twitter, LinkedIn and other channels, and keep it going until the day. BIG TIP!!! Include that men are welcome at the event. One learning we had from the first year was that men gave us feedback afterward that they weren’t sure if they were allowed to attend the event.

Step 7: Whether or not to use slides is up to each woman – however, if they choose to use slides, ensure that you, as the host, compile them all into one deck. It makes the flow of the event go smoother. The presentation usually includes: 1) event intro, 2) thank you to hosts, 3) intros for each women, 4) their individual slides and then 5) we have a slide that has their pictures, names and titles that’s on display for the panel portion to help the audience remember.

Step 8: Event logistics. Find out the details of the space. Are there microphones, do you need to bring your own laptop, how large is the display? If doing networking, is it in a different area? Are there seats for the panel and moderator to use? Are there microphones for audience members who want to ask questions? Get the details so that there are minimal surprises the day of the event (don’t worry, there will be something that surprises you – and that’s okay).

Step 9: Hold a final prep call with the organizing committee and the group of participating women to give them an update on the logistics and do a quick run through of the event. Throughout this process we have also been communicating over an email thread, and I’m imagining Slack could work too.

Step 10: Event day! Show up at the arranged time and execute on your plan. Have a great time! Please share with us how it went!

Sample Agenda Details

  • 5:30pm-6pm: Check-in and Networking
  • 6pm-7pm: Welcome and Lightning Talks
  • 7pm-7:45pm: Panel Discussion
  • 7:45pm-8pm: Soft close and final networking


  • Food and refreshments are up to you. We find success with pizza and sodas.
  • Signage for where the event is and where the restrooms are can be helpful.
  • For the panel discussion, the first year, we tried an App to help us with the questions from the audience. The result was so-so engagement. We’ve since moved to verbal questions and/or questions via sticky note.
  • It’s likely that something will come up with one of the participants and they won’t be able to make it. That’s okay, just carry on regardless.
  • The first year, I did a “day-of” planning outline that walked through the timeline and activities of the event. It turned out to be overkill. Things flowed more evenly when it was casual.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Remember, something will go wrong, and trust me, no one notices but you.
  • Finally, if someone reaches out to you to participate in an event like this, don’t let fear hold you back.

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