Proposed Format for Open Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous at an Unconference

Attraction, not promotion: tradition 11

Over the weekend I participated in ORDCamp, a two-day gathering in Chicago. The format in unconference, so the majority of the agenda is determined by the attendees. Sessions are held in individual rooms and organized by the placement of big post-it notes on a grid holding rooms & times.

This year I decided to try a session that would run as a fully-functioning open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It worked well and I thought I would document it here, so that anyone who wanted to hold a similar session at a similar gathering could easily do so.

The format for the meeting is here: Suggested Format for AA ORD Camp 2016 Meeting. It contains links to the external documents one would need, organized in this folder.

With these documents in hand (or on your computer), you need the following people in order to make the meeting work well:

  • A chair. This is the person who runs through the format, asks people to read things, introduce the speaker, pass the basket, and run the comments. This should be an existing member of AA
  • A speaker. This person will share “what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now”. This takes up 20–25 minutes of the 1-hour meeting. This should be an existing member of AA
  • Someone to read “How It Works” from Chapter 5 of the Big Book
  • Someone to read The 12 Traditions
  • Any number of people, beyond these four, to listen to the speaker and comment if they so choose

Some thoughts:

  • The fact that this is an “open” meeting is key — it means that anyone can attend; one doesn’t have to have a desire to stop drinking
  • The one-hour format is exactly right — it’s the general timeframe for most unconference sessions
  • The slightly regimented format (speaker, then orderly comments one-by-one) can be a slight bummer, since most unconference sessions are more free-form. Go with the flow
  • When collecting money according to the 7th tradition, the chair should make sure it gets to the central office of wherever the unconference is being held

The most important thing to me was to conduct a bonafide meeting, almost as an act of performance art for the benefit of first-time attendees who are curious about what the hell happens in AA meetings. Rather than have a meta-discussion of what AA is or isn’t or could be, just be.


Originally published at on January 24, 2016.