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Journey to Running in a Federal Election - Guide for Workshop Organizers


This guidebook is for organizations and individuals that are interested in offering workshops to prospective candidates and campaign workers on running campaigns in federal elections. The purpose of these workshops is for participants to better understand the process of campaigning for parliamentary elections, to learn some of the skills and strategies needed to run a campaign, and to connect with experienced campaigners and candidates in their communities.

Within this guide and supporting materials, organizers can find the resources for planning a day's worth of activities. However, the suggested activities can be adapted and packaged as organizers see fit, to suit their community needs, scheduling constraints, knowledge and abilities. The package includes:

A note for organizers

The presentation and activity guides come with detailed speaking notes and delivery suggestions. However, these are not substitutes for first-hand knowledge and experience of electoral campaigns. Indeed, experienced campaigners may wish to modify this material to better reflect their own experience and approaches. This guide provides a suggested structure for delivery. Organizers who do not already have knowledge and experience of electoral campaigns should partner with individuals who do, and study the suggested resources fully. For the best participant experience, all organizers should practice delivering the presentations before delivering them publicly.

Target audience

The workshop is intended for:

Workshop planning

The workshop program consists of one presentation and two activities. While the program is designed to be delivered as a full-day event, organizers can modify the format and deliver it as they see fit.

The presentation is meant to provide a general overview of campaign goals and strategies, and supplement the information found in Your Step-by-Step Guide to: Running in a Federal Election. We've suggested introductory activities (or check-ins) at the beginning of the presentation and throughout. The videos can be distributed before or after the presentation, or shown during it, to support the content.

This guide also provides directions for organizing and facilitating two discussion activities: a panel and a session of breakout groups. These activities provide an opportunity for organizers to leverage the skills of experienced candidates and campaigners.


The presentations and activities may be delivered together or separately, as needed. We suggest that the event be held on a weekend, to ensure better participation.

Sample agenda for a full-day workshop program
Time Activity

8:30 a.m.

Arrival and registration

9:00 a.m.

Welcome and check-in

9:30 a.m.

Presentation: Running an election campaign

10:30 a.m.


10:45 a.m.

Panel discussion



1:00 p.m.

Breakout groups: campaign skills

2:30 p.m.

Closing and check-out

Organizers are free to adapt and deliver the workshop program according to the needs of their communities. Be sure to adapt the check-in activities and introductory remarks provided for the presentation and activities to suit your agenda.

Before the event: suggested materials

Before the workshop, organizers should check this list of suggested materials to ensure they have everything they need for their event:

This list may be tailored to suit the needs of the community and participants.

During the event: introductions and check-in

At the beginning of the workshop, organizers should take a moment to introduce themselves, the purpose of the workshop, and the planned activities. Next, organizers might ask participants to check in. If the number of people in attendance is less than 10, the entire room can check in as a group (ideally in a circle). If there are more than 10, participants should check in by groups of three or four. Here are some suggested prompts for a participant check-in:

If participants are checking in as groups of three or four, organizers should ask to hear from some or all of the groups before transitioning to the next activity.

After the event: follow-up and feedback

After the event, organizers may want to distribute forms, either in person or electronically, to gather participant feedback on the workshop content and delivery. The feedback form template in the appendices can be adjusted to suit individual needs. Organizers are encouraged to share any feedback they receive on the workshop with the Inspire Democracy team at Elections Canada through the Enquiry/Feedback form or by phone at 1-800-463-6868.

Presentation: Running an election campaign

This presentation is about running an election campaign - specifically, for a seat in Parliament. It offers a high-level overview of how campaigns are planned and how they operate. It also touches on the process of becoming a candidate. This presentation does not delve into detailed guidance on specific campaign activities.

A PowerPoint slide deck is provided for this presentation, which includes speaking and facilitation notes. Presenters are encouraged to review the speaking notes in detail before delivering the presentation. A participant handout is included in the appendices of this guide for distribution before the presentation, so that participants can follow along and take notes.

More resources

In addition to this presentation, your participants might want information about registering, voting, and working in a federal election. Did you know that Elections Canada offers free informational products and resources that can be shared electronically or shipped right to your door? For more information or to order materials for a workshop, contact info@elections.ca or 1-800-463-6868.

Activity 1: Panel discussion

Why a panel?

When a panel discussion is run well, it can make for a great learning opportunity for workshop participants - and for the panelists too. Taking part in a conversation, or listening to others in conversation, is a powerful learning tool. While panels can be useful for many topics, they are especially useful when participants have a broad range of backgrounds, experience levels and political affiliations and leanings. However, if the discussions are poorly moderated, or the panelists are not in genuine conversation with one another, they can have the opposite of their intended effect.

Topic and purpose: the journey to running in a federal election

There are many things that any prospective candidate should take into consideration. These considerations can range from the practical and logistical (How do I get started? What is involved?) to the emotional and philosophical (Is this right for me? How could I possibly contribute?). Having all the necessary information about running for Parliament in one place can help answer these questions, but there is no substitute for first-hand experience, because no two campaign experiences are the same. To get a clear understanding of what running in an election is like, it is helpful to bring in a range of perspectives.

The purpose of the panel discussion in this workshop program is for participants to gain a better understanding of what it's like to run for, win, and lose an election.

Role of the organizer

A panel discussion needs an organizer, who has four key responsibilities, detailed below.

1)  Recruiting panelists

A good panel for this topic will have diverse political experience. Here are a couple of combinations of guests to consider recruiting for a panel:

Political experience and affiliation are just two kinds of diversity. It's important to consider how the hosts and speakers at an event will affect participants' impressions of who the event is for - both in the promotion and delivery of the workshop. If the goal is to reach those from demographics who have traditionally been less likely to run in elections (e.g., women, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, visible minorities, people with disabilities), then organizers might consider inviting panelists who have experience on political campaigns and belong to those communities.

Recruiting for the many types of diversity associated with running this kind of event is more complex than simply finding four speakers who have experience. It shouldn't become an exercise of "ticking all the boxes." An organizer's primary concern should be about creating a welcoming and constructive learning environment for participants, and that the participants can relate to the panelists. Panel composition is just one way to ensure that the panel is a valuable learning opportunity for the intended audience. Other ways of ensuring the panel speaks to a diverse set of learners include:

2)  Find a moderator

Organizers should find someone who is experienced at moderating conversations. This could be someone who belongs to the organizing group, or someone invited from outside of the organization to be a part of the event. Local journalists are often willing to lend their time to these kinds of roles, and they may even consider covering or broadcasting part of the event. A good moderator could also be someone who has experience in both campaigning and moderating discussions. The more experienced and comfortable the moderator is with the role, the less structure and formatting will be needed for a fruitful discussion.

3)  Set clear expectations

Organizers should make it clear to the moderator and panelists that they are invited to participate in a conversation. There should be no presentations, stumping, or pitching. The panel is simply a conversation among the participants and the host, with an opportunity for audience participation - all for the purposes of learning and knowledge sharing.

4)  Plan the panel

Part of this role is pure logistics: setting up chairs and microphones and putting out index cards, and pens or pencils. But much of what makes a panel discussion productive is the planning. A good panel discussion will be the highlight of the event, and will leave people wishing that the conversation would continue. Here are a few considerations for making a panel discussion run well:

Collecting questions on paper index cards gives organizers more control over ensuring that popular questions get asked, and keeps the conversation on topic. It also allows the organizer to prioritize questions about certain topics (such as the experience of marginalized groups). Organizers can place index cards and pens on the tables where people will be seated during the event, and recruit a couple of volunteers (who could be participants, if there are not enough volunteers) to collect question cards during the panel. The organizer can group together questions that are similar and deliver them to the moderator, who can use them to guide the discussion on that topic among the panelists.

Principles for moderating discussions

A panel discussion also needs a moderator, who could be the same person as the organizer. We suggest that moderators use the following principles to guide panel discussions.

1)  "Warm the spot" for each panelist

As host, the moderator makes sure that the discussion flows well. This starts by preparing the audience for each panelist. Before each panelist joins the conversation, introduce them to the audience with a short biography (two to three sentences maximum) that makes it clear why that panelist is worth listening to.

2)  Ask a strong introductory question

Prepared remarks for panel discussions can be risky. If panelists have misinterpreted the topic, the moderator might lose an opportunity to politely intervene if the panelist is reading from prepared notes.

Instead, moderators might begin with a strong question that gives the panelists an opportunity to speak about something specific to their own experience and related to the topic. It is okay to give panelists an indication of what kind of question will be asked, or ask them in advance if they have a question they'd like to start with. Try to avoid too many "get to know you" questions, as long answers to these questions do not often provide much insight - especially because experienced politicians can be long-winded. Avoid trying to make a point with the question; a good question is one that evokes an interesting response. There are some sample questions in the appendices.

3)  Be ready to go where the conversation goes

After the introductory questions, the moderator should have a strong sense of where the "hot spots" in the conversation are. Consider:

If nothing jumps out as an obvious next point in the conversation, the moderator can always turn to the questions he or she prepared in advance.

4)  Invite panelists to respond to and question one another

Panel discussions don't need to be chaired like a board or committee meeting. Some panel discussions can seem stuffy when panelists are too compliant with the format, only responding to questions posed to them by the moderator. The panel will seem less stuffy if panelists feel that they're taking to one another, and not just presenting to an audience at the invitation of the moderator. Moderators should invite panelists to engage one another in conversation, ask one another questions, and interject to add something when it feels appropriate, just as they would in everyday conversation.

5)  Prepare some questions in advance

The first questions to the panel will set the tone and mood for the conversation. In addition to these opening questions, it's worth having a set of back-up questions to turn to if the energy of the discussion is low. The appendices provide sample introductory questions, as well as questions to fuel the discussion or to get the conversation back on track.

6)  End on time

End the panel on time, and give panelists a chance for closing thoughts (not statements). In closing, moderators should try to summarize the key learnings from the discussion.

Activity 2: Breakout groups

The purpose of a breakout group activity is to give participants a chance to learn about some of the key activities involved in running a campaign.

Why breakout groups?

The breadth of skills that a campaign needs to operate smoothly can be overwhelming. This activity is designed to allow event participants to pick one or two skills to learn about in more depth. While running a campaign can be new and daunting, most people who run for, manage or work on a campaign will have at least some of the required skills.

Breakout groups are an opportunity for workshop participants to "choose their own adventure" and participate in a session on one of the areas they are most interested in. Offering choice allows participants to be more engaged and take responsibility for what they want to learn, rather than being subject to an assigned schedule. Smaller learning groups give participants the chance to ask more direct (and basic) questions, connect with fellow participants and learn from one another.

Organizing activities

Some steps for organizing a breakout group session are detailed below.

1)  Confirm group topics

The list below is a sample of some of the topics that breakout groups might cover. This list is not exhaustive, and not all of these topics need to be covered at a workshop. It is more important that the selected topics reflect the participants' interests and the experiences and qualifications of the hosts. Participants who show up to these sessions are generally seeking entry-level knowledge on a topic.

Topics might include:

2)  Recruit breakout group hosts

It's important to find hosts who are experienced in the subject area they've been recruited for. Here are a few ways organizers can find such hosts:

3)  Communicate expectations to hosts

Once breakout group hosts have been recruited, organizers should give them guidance and support them at the event. They're the subject-matter experts, but they may need some guidance on other areas - such as any rules of engagement established for the day, the participants' level of understanding, the format of the breakout groups, and how the room will be set up.

Here are a few suggestions for prepping breakout group hosts:

4)  Establish the format

Set aside at least 1½ hours for the entire breakout group activity, with each group rotation lasting 40-45 minutes. Remember that it will take some time to switch between groups. The structure of the individual groups can be flexible. Here are some options to suggest to group hosts:

5)  Scheduling and space setup

When it comes to timing, avoid scheduling breakout groups immediately after another activity. Instead, plan it after lunch or a break. This will give organizers time to greet breakout group hosts as they arrive (who might not wish to spend the whole day at the workshop). It also allows time to change the setup of the room after the previous presentation or panel discussion, if needed.

It's also important to make the right kind of space considerations for breakout groups, beginning when the event space is booked. Generally, avoid lecture halls or theatres with chairs and desks that are fixed to the floor. Depending on the number of participants anticipated, breakout groups might be organized in one room or in multiple nearby rooms. Keep as few breakout groups in a single room as possible, to make it quieter and easier for participants to focus. Organizers should note that it will be more challenging to "rein" participants in when the time comes to rotate sessions, or move on to the next activity, if the rooms are spaced far apart. If there is a large space that is big enough, and adaptable enough to host all of the breakout groups, it will likely be noisier, but it will be easier to keep participants and hosts on schedule at transition and end times for the breakout activity.

Final tips

Hosting diverse events

The individuals invited as panelists, panel moderators and hosts for breakout groups will determine how participants perceive the workshop event. If most of the speakers' experiences come from participation in just one or two political parties, or from one or two socio-cultural backgrounds, it will be hard to make the event feel truly welcoming to everyone.

Here are some ways to ensure that the event is inclusive:

You might be surprised by how willing otherwise-partisan activists are to share their expertise with workshop participants.

Appendix A: Introducing yourself

Whenever presenters approach audiences for the first time, it's important for them to introduce themselves to the participants. Most participants will wonder "Why are they giving this presentation?" To help answer this question, here's a classic storytelling structure developed in 2009 by Marshall Ganz for political organizers to use when meeting voters. It helps a speaker connect with an audience and reconnect with their own interest in their subject by telling a "story of self, story of us, and story of now":

As organizer or facilitator of a Journey to Running in a Federal Election workshop event, you might use this structure to introduce yourself. For example:

Appendix B: Participant resources

Presentation 1: Running a campaign

These sheets are here to help you follow along with the presentation and take notes. The full slide deck and detailed speaking notes are also available online.

Candidacy timeline

  1. Announce your intentions to seek a party nomination or be an independent candidate (before the official campaign period or election call)
  2. Secure a party nomination or endorsement
  3. Writ drop (official campaign launch)
  4. Register as an official candidate
  5. Election day

Launching your bid

Watch the video from this portion of the presentation.

Independent vs. partisan candidacy

Campaign strategy: three games

Name Game

Persuasion Game

Ground Game

As election day approaches, a campaign's priorities may shift from identifying supporters and persuading voters to making sure those voters make it to cast their ballots - often called "getting out the vote" or "pulling the vote."

Campaign resources: money and people

Campaigns typically need both money and volunteers. Money pays for office space, signage, and promotional materials, to name a few. Volunteers play an important role in campaigns, and many campaigns have 100 or more volunteers. Campaigns can build these resources by:

Campaign team roles:

Appendix C: Panel questions

Here are some examples of questions for panelists.

For candidates:

For campaign managers and party organizers:

Appendix D: Feedback form template

This template can be used to gather feedback from workshop participants. Organizers may print and distribute the feedback form during the event for collection at the end, or they may distribute it electronically after the event.

Participant evaluation survey

1.  Which of the following statements best describes your reason for attending the workshop?

  1. I am a prospective or confirmed candidate in the upcoming federal election.
  2. I am planning to support a candidate in the upcoming federal election.
  3. I am a prospective or confirmed candidate in an upcoming election at another level of government.
  4. I am planning to support a candidate in an upcoming election at another level of government.
  5. I was interested in learning more about the process of running in a federal election.
  6. I wanted to attend the workshop as an observer.
  7. I am both planning to support a candidate in an upcoming election and considering running as a candidate in a future election.

2.  How did the workshop meet the expectations you had when you registered?

3.  If the workshop did not meet your expectations, what did you feel was missing?

4.  In your own words, what was the most valuable aspect of the workshop? Why?

5.  In your own words, what was the least valuable aspect of the workshop? Why?

6.  Please evaluate each of the following elements of the workshop:

Presentation: Running an election campaign

Panel discussion

Breakout groups (overall)

7.  Please evaluate the breakout group sessions you attended:

Breakout group 1: (title)

Breakout group 2: (title)

8.  What questions do you still have about the journey to running in a federal election?

9.  Additional feedback or comments: