Event: What to Expect
What is an “unconference” and what should I expect?
We’ve all been to a “conference.” So we all know what that is, right? Or do we?
I think you’ll agree that in common experience, a conference has a set, sometimes rigid, agenda—with pre-ordained speakers who are not necessarily addressing topics that are most germane to the audience. Even if a presented topic is perfectly on-target, it is one-way communicating that represents only the speaker’s perspective. Most conferences are sadly missing “discussion” and they are decidedly lacking in the “togetherness.” Most people report that they get the greatest value from conferences they’ve attended out in the hallway actively compensating for what the set conference agenda lacks: in the halls, they get together and hold their own discussions!
New to some of us, but not a new concept, unconferences have been extremely successful for many years in bringing together people from diverse motivations and backgrounds to self-organize topics of greatest interest to the group, with an emphasis on interaction, discussion and debate. The unconference meeting format dates back to the 1980’s and the development of a meeting scheme called “Open Space Technology” (see Open Space Technology by Harrison Owen, 3rd edition, 2008 and also www.openspaceworld.org).
In an Unconference, topics of presentations and discussions are selected by participant voting - every attendee is able to set their own priorities and is free to attend or leave any topic session, or even depart the entire meeting, at any time. This assures that each person takes responsibility for what they get out of the meeting—and that each topic is attended by those that are the most interested. The result is an astounding increase in leadership, participation and inspired results compared to what conferences have become. Discussion and Togetherness are maximized! …and so is satisfaction of the attendees, who are no longer passive listeners, but active participants in the unconference.
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