Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tips for Unconferences

Jeff Hurt is a meeting planner and social media maven that I've recently had the good fortune to encounter in the #eventprofs chat on Twitter. His background in educational design shapes his entire approach to planning events.

Based on a WordCamp Dallas event he attended, he presents his tips for planning an "unconference" -- a non-traditional gathering where interactions among participants are more important than lectures from speakers. Both may still be included, but the emphasis is shifted towards interaction and co-creation.

Among my favorite tips:

"5. As you plan your schedule, include some adult white space for attendees to digest information, network and learn from others.
Just as in Twitter, it’s not about how many followers you have, conference planning is not about how many speakers you can cram into a day. It’s about the quality of your speaker’s presentations and the quality of the connections one can make."

"8. Unconference organizers should remember that people today are learning in new ways that are collective, egalitarian and participatory.
The best conference learning occurs when there are varieties of ways people can learn from passive listening to collaborative round-table discussions to small group exercise. Retention and learning decreases the more attendees sit and passively listen, especially for eight-to-ten hours a day...

"While trying to have a single-experience for the entire audience is admirable, it is not possible. Nor does it really happen. Everyone brings their own set of learnings, skills and perspectives to an event. Each person leaves with their own takeaways and views. The Internet has turned learning on its head and no one person enters, follows or leaves the social space in a same way."

Events must be valuable for all of your participants and stakeholders, but each of these people will have their own criteria for defining value. This is Jamie McDonough's "Value of One" principle. Our events must create personalized value for every attendee. It is critical first to understand what your different stakeholders want and need, and then you must design an approach to your meeting that allows for this wide range of unique experiences to unfold.

How have you seen this be successful at events? Share your "massively unique" event stories in the comments section!

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