Fail Festivals can be a fun addition to a conference or event, or can be a great internal team-building exercise to showcase how a community or organization is embracing innovation and it’s inherent risk as they scale ideas from pilots to global impact.

You can organize your own Fail Festival or get professional help for an awesome event.

The Fail Festival model began years ago with an ICTworks Twitter Chat on failure and has taken many forms since then. Today, there are four main guidelines for a successful Fail Festival:

  • Own the Failure: Each presentation should be in the first person and the presenter should own their role in the failure. That means using “I” or “we” not “them” or “they”.
  • Leaders Lead: The highest-ranking person or organizer should go first to give psychological safety to the other presenters and the audience that talking about failure is acceptable.
  • Shorter is Better: Presentations should be short – 5 to 7 minutes – and focus on the key aspects of the failure and what the presenter learned from it.
  • Laughter Helps: Comedy, humor, and self-deprecation should be employed often to lighten the mood and help participants bond with the presenter and internalize the learning.

Fail Festivals are often best when paired with a happy hour before the event to lubricate the audience (and presenters).

Past that, be creative. The most memorable Fail Festival presentations include skits, spoken word poetry, improvisation, role-playing, and sing-along songs. Of course, standard presentations are also welcome and encouraged. Organizers have played theme songs before each presentation and offered prizes for the best fail story.

Still have questions? Read our FAQ or Ask Me Anything!

For inspiration, here is TechChange performing their epic fail song at Fail Festival DC 2013:

If you roll your own Fail Festival, please be sure to let me know so I can add your event to the Fail Festival list.

Celebrating failure as a mark of leadership and innovation