Creative Conferencing – The “Unconference”

Today I was invited to be a discussion leader / facilitator at an “unconference” on blogging.  Although I am unsure whether I can accept the invitation yet, I just loved the instructions for the facilitator and wanted to share, particularly in light of some of the critique of the traditional conference scene (poor Alan!). Here are the instructions:

This will be an unusual conference. We generally won’t have speakers, panels or an audience.  We will have discussions and sessions, and each session will have a discussion leader.

The discussion leader
Think of the discussion leader as a reporter who is creating a story with quotes from the people in the room. So, instead of having a panel and an audience we just have contributors.  We feel this more accurately reflects what’s going on. It’s not uncommon for the audience at a conference to have more expertise collectively than the people who are speaking.

The discussion leader is also the editor, so if he or she feels that a point has been made they must move on to the next point quickly. No droning, no filibusters, no repeating an idea over and over.

The discussion leader can also call on people.

Think of it as a weblog
Think of the conference as if it were a weblog. At the beginning of each session, the leader talks between five and fifteen minutes. He or she will introduce the idea and some of the people in the room.

Then he or she will facilitate the discussion among all the contributors in the room, inviting others to comment and asking questions of others. It is hoped that everyone who would like to contribute to the discussion will be able to do so in the allotted time.

We have a limited amount of time, and a group of participants whose time is valuable. The leader’s job is to make sure the show stays interesting, even captivating. If it gets boring people will leave the
room and schmooze, or read their email, or whatever. So the leader’s job is to keep it moving. Sometimes this may mean cutting people off.

How to prepare
Since every person in a session is considered an equal participant, everyone should prepare at least a little. Think about the subject, read the comments on the Conference site. Follow weblogs from other
people who are paticipating. Think about what you want to get out of the session, and what questions you wish to raise, and what information or points of view you’d like to get from the session.

Everyone is a journalist
This will be an unusual conference in that almost everyone participating writes publicly. So we assume that everyone present is a journalist.

On the record
All conversations, whether to the entire room or one-to-one, unless otherwise stated, clearly and up front, are on the record and for attribution. You do not need to ask permission to quote something you hear at the conference. Of course you may ask for permission to quote, and you may choose not to quote things you hear.

It’s a user’s conference
Most technology conferences are centered around the vendors. This is not like those conferences. Here, vendors are welcome, and we hope they will help by sponsoring in some way, but they participate mainly by listening.

Most of the people who will be talking are users. These are the revolutionaries. Vendors make a living by creating tools that these people use to change the world. So much attention is focused on technology.

At this conference we turn it around and focus on what people are doing with the technology.

Internet access
Wireless internet access will be available. Each session will also be hopefully be podcast, audio only. You are welcome to bring your own recording equipment and cameras are allowed. You are free to record it and broadcast it any way you like as long as you don’t interfere with the sessions in any way.

That’s pretty exciting.

I like this: It’s not uncommon for the audience at a conference to have more expertise collectively than the people who are speaking.

But this quite true fact is kind of intimidating: If it gets boring people will leave the room and schmooze, or read their email, or whatever.

Sometimes I get very tired when colleagues IN AN EDUCATION FACULTY lecture to students that we should not consider children to be “empty vessels to be filled up” and yet that is the very paradigm they use themselves when lecturing.  Its also very very frustrating when the worst offenders of being lame and uncreative and masters of boring dot point powerpoint shows are lecturers from an education faculty, or speakers in an education strand.  HELLO!!!  We are supposed to be EXPERTS in pedagogy!!!

Anyway  I am really hoping I get to go to this “unconference” as it sounds fabulous, and provides a creative model for sharing, collaborating and communicating with colleagues.

4 thoughts on “Creative Conferencing – The “Unconference”

  1. This is the model I used to use in tutorials – it’s a great format if participants prepare to participate🙂 It sounds exciting and I hope you have a heap of fun with it!

  2. Hey Angela, I’ve ‘unorganised’ two unconferences in Australia this year and find the format immensely satisfying and successful. I’ll be developing the model for an academic setting in a panel I’m doing later in the year too.

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