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NICAR Dictionary: A guide to the sessions, classes and events

Looking at the CAR Conference schedule can be a little overwhelming. With so many classes, panels and special events taking place, we thought it might be helpful to put together a short guide to help everyone navigate the world of NICAR.

In alphabetical order:

Conference app: The CAR Conference app will be available through Guidebook, an app available for Apple and Android devices. The conference app usually comes out the week before the conference. We’ll have instructions on how to download it on the conference blog.

Demo: A session labeled “Demo” is often going to involve one or more speakers showing you how to do something. It’s more interactive than a traditional panel because the speakers will be actually demonstrating something, instead of just discussing it. Don’t expect step-by-step instructions, though. This isn’t a class held in a computer lab (although you’re welcome to bring your own laptop). Expect to get a good look at a tool or technique you can experiment with later.

A hands-on class at the 2015 CAR Conference

Hands-on class: We offer two kinds of hands-on classes at the CAR Conference:

  1. Pre-registered classes
  2. Open classes

Classes that require pre-registration are listed online and on the schedule with a note that says “*pre-registered attendees only.” These classes require an additional fee and often fill up well before the conference.

Anything else labeled “hands-on” is a open, free class. The majority of our hands-on classes (more than 100, in fact) fall into this category. Hands-on classes take place in a computer lab, which means there are a limited number of seats. It’s first come, first served. Anyone who wants to take a hands-on class can go to the room and take an open spot. (Pro tip: If you want to make sure you snag a seat, get to the room a little early.)

Taking a hands-on class is like being in a classroom. You’ll have an instructor who will provide step-by-step instruction on a specific skill or program. There is also usually a “coach” in the room who can help answer questions while the instructor leads the class.

Steven Rich delivers a Lightning Talk

Lightning Talks: We often refer to Lightning Talks as a single event, but it’s actually a series of 10 5-minute talks. Anyone going to the CAR Conference can pitch an idea for a talk they’d like to give. Once the window for pitches closes, attendees will be able to read all of the ideas and vote for the ones they’d like to see. The 10 talks with the most votes will become part of the Lightning Talks session, which takes place Friday. There are no other sessions at this time, so everyone is encouraged to attend.

Who organizes this? IRE member Sisi Wei (me [at] sisiwei [dot] com).

Mentoring program: Conference attendees sign up in advance of the conference to participate in this program. Depending on what you ask for, we’ll match you with a mentor or mentee you can meet at the conference. There is also a special breakfast for participants of the program.

Who organizes this? IRE Training Director Megan Luther,

2015 NICAR Commons

NICAR Conversations (or NICAR Commons): This is a relatively new addition to the CAR Conference program. The NICAR Conversations track is a series of 1-hour sessions that take place in small groups. While there’s a pre-set topic and a facilitator to guide the conversation, these sessions are much more informal than a traditional conference panel, where you would have designated speakers and presentations. These sessions take place in an area we call the NICAR Commons.

Who organizes this? IRE members Erika Owens, David Eads, and Brittany Mayes.

Panel: A panel is a session on a specific topic with a pre-determined group of speakers. You’re likely to find issue- or beat-specific discussions at these sessions. The format can change a little with each group of speakers, but often it works like this: The speakers/moderator present on the topic for about 45 minutes, then stop and take questions for the last 15-or-so minutes.

Tipsheet: A tipsheet is a handout or presentation prepared by a speaker. Some speakers will print out hard copies of their tipsheets or give you a link to access their materials. IRE asks all speakers to email us their tipsheets, and we compile them in our tipsheet library.

#NICAR17: The official hashtag of the CAR Conference.


Confused by a conference term or event? Let me know, and I’ll do my best to explain it and add it to this guide. Email me at

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