Having been to many conferences over the years, you get to witness the good, the bad and the uncomfortable…panelists, facilitated discussions, ted talks, predefined agendas, topics and the networking opportunities. Of course, all these events are fun and educational and have enabled us to make important, worthwhile connections. However, in the same breath perhaps you have attended conferences which leave you less invigorated and perhaps even a lot less inspired. Have you ever sat through a keynote speech that perhaps doesn’t connect you or the audience and leaves you with the ‘death by power point’ syndrome…..
Well, I have to say, never at an unconference!
The concept of an ‘unconference’ is not a new idea, they have been around for a number of years and are becoming increasingly popular. The concept is simple – no predefined structure or topics, keynote speakers or panelists. Just a real focus on the attendees and how they engage and participate – very much led by them. My view is this format allows for some real peer to peer sharing, learning, creativity and collaboration. As it is participant driven, it means there is agility and flexibility. I have seen many corporations use it such a Lego, British Airways, Spotify and more!
The option of semi-structured discussions are raised by attendees prior to the event through online submissions. On the day these will then be discussed in breakout sessions. Effectively there is no agenda until attendees create one through purposeful discussion on which ideas to suggestions/submitting to take further. There is always some sort of platform/website that will showcase the topics for discussion, where you can comment and make suggestions.
The value I see is that in so many walks of life, business and personal, we organise, structure and create plans and agendas until the ‘cows some home’. But to what degree does it allow for ideas, innovation and creativity to flow? Which in turn can inspire and invigorate a room of people to discuss organically? I understand for some this may feel out of their comfort zone, but that’s the exciting point! High energy, spontaneous discussions, less pre-planning. In all, allows those in different roles, teams and different working environments to connect, exchange knowledge and ultimately build trust and wider business connections.
Personally, I love the contrast of an unstructured event compared to a pre-defined one as it creates an interactive and dynamic event with mutual participation by everyone….more people feel able to input rather than shy away. But the aim for us as Sponsors and the Facilitators is to help attendees refine and tailor their topic and get their message across to create a useful and concise point for input/discussion. Rather than presentations, it’s all about effective conversation.
The best bit though……if these breakouts aren’t inspiring or connecting you to participate or input, no one will bat an eye lid if you get up and wander to another discussion. I am sure we have all sat at the front of a talk thinking; “I just want to leave” but are worried we’ll end up red faced, blushing and even trip on someone’s belongings as we try and discreetly (or not as it may seem) squeeze through the lecture style seating! Not here…. with an open and circular format it allows people to move freely, gives everyone a voice and the best be….re-defining the notion of ‘expert’…..every participant has a voice!
Upon reading this, if you think this sounds chaotic, I’d say even more reason to attend! It’s hosted by a great set of volunteers, where you can pitch/propose a session and even lead one if you wish! This is more about establishing trust, gathering with local businesses, sharing information/ideas and having fun at the same time. Despite being to many national conferences and large city unconferences over the years (London mainly), I am more excited about this local event as a new business owner myself. I have always wanted to get involved to make things better locally and suddenly I have the opportunity to do so……so please do join me and I look forward to seeing you there!