Table Rock Group

An un what? For those of us in the business of putting on meetings, the term “unconference” had us puzzled.  So TRG recently attended a webinar about this concept and it brought up some interesting points.

We’re all aware that although most content is fed to our attendees through plenary and breakout sessions, there is a lot of great information that is gathered during breaks and networking events.  Unconferences focus on the philosophy of space utilization and person-to-person contact within planned sessions in order to enhance the attendee learning experience.

The webinar we attended was led by Mary Boone of Boone Associates and Kaliya Hamlin, Founder of unconference.net.  They describe unconferences as more than a cocktail hour and less organized than talking heads.

One of the tenants of unconferences is the open space meeting philosophy and the attendee-created agenda.  Before the meeting, the conference leads select the general areas of focus for the event (i.e. Sales, Marketing, Green Meetings, etc.)    The meeting planner sets up a master “agenda wall” with the major categories with times and room assignments.  The participants add the themes or discussion points which are of interest to them under the major heading and sign up to attend those discussions  – either from the standpoint of being an expert to lead the discussion or a party that wants to learn more.

Here are a few other methods for unconferences:

  • A World Café is a large room with many small round tables seating 4 – 6 people, sometimes covered with butcher paper and with crayons for inspiration.  Attendees grab a table and the group discusses a selected topic.  One person takes notes on the discussion and when the group rotates, the note taker stays at their table to report the findings to the next group.  After a specific number of rotations, the notes are assembled to bring back to General Session for report out.
  • A technology related event can set up Speed Demos or Speed Presentations where attendees move from table to table for a short five minutes demonstration with time at the end for Q&A.
  • An unpanel or fishbowl sets up the panel in a loosely formed circle in the center of the room with the attendees in concentric rings around them.  By setting the panel in this formation, instead of side-by-side at a long table in the front of the room, the panel is more engaged in speaking with each other as well as making better contact with the attendees seated around the room.

There are a lot of other great methods to approach unconferences which are too numerous to list here. Additional information is available at unconference.net.

Although the type A in me struggles with the rules outlined for an unconference, I love what they represent:

  1. Whenever it starts is the right time
  2. When it’s over, it’s over
  3. Whoever comes is the right people
  4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

A great way to set the foundation for an open mind and an amazing learning experience!

The expectation at an unconference is if an attendee is in a session and they are either not learning from it or contributing to others, they get up and go to another session.   This is a much better use of their time rather than continuously looking at their watch or surreptitiously playing Candy Crush under the table.

It’s important to note that although unconferences and open space meetings are less structured than traditional sessions, they still require design, planning and execution.   Contact TRG today to discuss ways we can make your next conference an unconference!