What People Expect From A Conference OR An Unconference

Have you been to an unconference yet? For those who haven’t the "rules" are usually very different from what you might expect at most business events. The agenda is less structured. The powerpoint is less frequent. The lines between speakers and attendees are less defined. And the whole idea is to really have a collaboration instead of an event with smart "talking heads" doing presentations on stage while everyone else dutifully takes notes. I love the concept of unconferences and have been to more than a dozen over the past several years. When it works, there is nothing like it. When it doesn’t, however, it often comes down to a single issue that organizers of the event forget … that people are looking for the same things no matter whether you are having a traditional conference or an unconference.

They want to have a chance to interact, an opportunity to learn, and something to take back to their office to prove the value of why they went. The first two points are ones that most conference organizers will already know and understand. The third is what we often tend to underestimate. Often, the people who make it to a conference are attending on behalf of their teams and responsible for bringing back useful information to help their entire team. The problem sometimes with an unconference is that there is a lot of pressure on these people to extract out useful information from an unconference because it is less structured. It is far easier to take back links to a dozen powerpoints and distribute them to the team back home than it is to actually pay attention and compile real learnings. In some cases, this pressure can actually get in the way of real interactions and learnings.

What’s the solution?  Perhaps it is for every unconference to end with some type of recap for all the attendees that goes through what they learned and what they will bring back to their team. Would that work or is it against the inherent idea of an unconference?  What other ideas could work?

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