The UNConference: UNConventional, But With UN-Deniably Positive Results
As a Marketing Coordinator by day I attempt to keep pace with the moving target that is social media and its plethora of possibilities. As a member of the Social Media Club leadership team by day and night I assist in promoting the club’s mission to “share, engage and collaborate with the community on the issues of social media and technology.”
I also make a valiant effort not to blurt out excitedly, “Oh, I know what that is!” every time I actually know something on the topic of social media. Who can blame any of us for expressing the giddiness that accompanies the momentary bliss that is the understanding of a new app, feature, or device?
Recently I’ve been learning scads of new things, some of which I can even talk about in a PG-13 blog. One of these is a concept and resultant participant-driven conference format called the Unconference.
(Can you hear the term Unconference and not think UnCola if you’re of a certain age or big on 7UP lore?)
The Unconference operates from an agenda that is created upon arrival by the participants, for the participants and there are UN-Rules:
1. The people who come are the best people who could have come.
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
3. It starts when it starts.
4. It's over when it's over.
5. The Law of Two Feet ("If you are not learning or contributing to a talk or presentation or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn").
Where did this un-format come from? Like most concepts it gets a bit murky. Where or to whom you attribute the idea depends upon whether you enjoy the bounty that is Wikipedia information or if you get your facts from academics who study these types of trends.
For our purposes we’ll go with the background that credits the “Open Space Technology format/method developed by Harrison Owen developed in the mid 1980's.”
(Yes, you’re onto me; I’ve taken the Wikipedia path to knowledge.)
Usually at conferences we listen to (and do not interact with) others unless you count shared eye rolls, meaningful glances at wristwatches, and shrugs of surrender with your fellow conference attendees.
Not so at an Unconference because it is unscripted and the partakers set the agenda connecting everyone through active participation. In addition to this you add a short and personal action plan to the mix and you’ve got yourself a “wha la!” moment or two.
In a polar opposite twist on that pop adage “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” what occurs at an UnConference does not stay at an UnConference. In fact, as thought-provoking discussions bud and burst forth into full bloom they are being tweeted, retweeted, and webcammed on out into the free world in real time. Not only are the conference attendees there, but so is anyone else who wants to join the information party.
The turn-out at the Social Media Club’s first Unconference on Friday, July 20, 2012 was stellar with over 60 people turning out from a multitude of career paths; media outlets, advertising agencies, and state agencies to name a few.
The event was held at the roomy and hospitable facility that is the College of Continuing Education at Sacramento State located in Napa Hall. The CCE was both a generous partner and gracious host.
Terms like “thought leadership,” “open discussion” and “hash tags” were bandied about and half sheets of paper were flying around with clever ideas scribed on them. (Okay, they weren’t flying, but rather firmly adhered to the white board in readiness for placement in a jigsaw puzzle-like schedule that would allow for everyone’s conference topic ideas to see the light of day.
As the day rolled out everyone was fully engaged in this rich process, the exchange of knowledge, and the ensuing interpersonal interactions. The Unconference meetings culminated with each contributor striking a camera-ready pose holding up a piece of paper emblazoned with what was learned about social media and what action was going to be taken next.
What an Unconventionally productive way to end an Unconvention.