Unconferences: The New Black

For its first foray into an unconference the bright, energetic gang of @TorontoTalks [i.e., @abroadabroadeh (Linda), @mechristopher (Chris), @jschultz (Jeremy), @bryanperson (Bryan)] managed to ‘make it work’! (can you hear Tim Gunn’s voice?..n’er mind). That was last Sunday.

Morning brew
On my way to the Sheraton this morning, colleague, senior communications consultant and longstanding IABC member, Diane McElroy and I quickly shared our thoughts and overall impressions of the unconference.

I felt it went well, while she thought that “there could have been two or three  high level topics identified at the onset or a bit more guidance on how the break-out sessions worked, etc.”

It’s only natural to react to one’s first unconference experience that way, I suppose. Remember the old JAD sessions? Better yet, consider the brainstorming format..it has none! Streams of consciousness are what drive the outpouring and synthesis of ideas. Just ‘make it work’!

Karen Jovi and Chris SwanHow the Queen Mum helped
So I managed to cobble up an impromptu lunch with Chris, @Karenjovi and Jeremy at the Queen Mother’s Café – where the pad thai and quinoa essentially rock.

And we came up with some ideas to consider when planning for the next unconference(s) – yes, we believe there should be more:

  • ambiance is key – if at all possible, it would be helpful to have a clear idea (if not do a full live scoping) of the venue. Break-out sessions need to happen in comfortable, relaxed, intimate settings, where people feel less inhibited to talk and have face-to-face interactions with complete strangers.
  • prior confirmation of attendance – knowing how many will in fact attend the event will help determine how the ambiance factor will be addressed.
  • pre-voting on topic ideas – it is an UNconference so the idea is to not have a pre-organized format. However, it does help to take a pulse on people’s interests and perhaps determine say an overarching theme or number of related themes. This will certainly help spur more ideas.
  • discourage..er actually outright ban sales pitching – yeah, it happens. I wasn’t actually in a session where someone proceeded to do a full-on pitch of their services, but what do you do when you’re stuck on the wrong ferry boat, right? Apparently, Linda did a fab job directing the line of conversation to focus more on the topic versus the pitch.
  • employ a tool (software) – Chris and Jeremy toyed with the idea of using an app to facilitate unconferences. Guys, I neglected to write down the name of the app you mentioned, so please feel free to chime in here 😉 So the tech element needs to be quite evident and present in these sessions (e.g., live tweeting, live blogging, video, etc.) This was done quite nicely at the Sunday session actually. And we look forward to seeing the captures once the editing’s done. But I would really emphasize, in the very least, tweeting sessions out. Note-taking? Meh. That’s conference 1.0 haha
  • video capture the event and use as commercial – self-evident and sure to garner much interest. My all time fav tech blog ReadWriteWeb does an ab-fab job with unconferences. Here’s a taste of what they’re cooking up in NYC this Friday: http://www.eventbee.com/view/readwritewebrtw

To me the unconference IS the new black.  Conferences as we know it need a good refresh. Something more raw, organic and takes on a life of its own.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that unconferences are antithetical to conferences..it’s just a heck of a lot more spontaneous, creative and tangible..à la Derrida, deconstructionists and most of the postmodernist movement etc.

What do YOU think? If you attended  last Sudnay, I’m sure our hosts would appreciate some feedback 😉

3 thoughts on “Unconferences: The New Black

  1. Nicely captured, Autom, thank you!

    As far as the tool…I don’t remember. 🙂 I think it was just using a tool for both the pre-conference sign-up and the topic idea generation and voting.

    The third benefit of that would be to get attendees more familiar with the unconference format and therefore more prepared to participate from the start. We tried to do that with http://grou.ps/torontotalks/, but it wasn’t explicitly promoted inside the standard IABC conference channels (the unconference session itself was, but not the grou.ps site). We just promoted it ourselves.

    Overall, I think it was a great first experiment, and I hope it becomes a fixture in the conference. As you said, however, I’d love to hear others’ feedback. 😀

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