Why do people go to conferences? Is it for the speakers, or the other attendees? The chance to listen, or the chance to share ideas?
Most of today’s traditional conferences are dry, boring, and brimming with mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. Very few speakers and presentations merit 20-45 minutes of an audience’s time while they await the final minutes set aside for Q & A. In a world of instant access to information and videos of the world's best speakers, why sit in a room and watch a series of talking heads drone on for hours?
Keynotes and panels are not what draw people to a conference. What’s really valuable is the face-time for conversations about critical issues and emerging developments. People enjoy interacting and conversations. Great conferences let people talk.
Unconferences focus on audience-centered participation. The room is the panel. The main job for those on the podium is to draw out the wisdom in the room. Unconferences work best when the topic is emerging, when the wisdom is still forming. One of the underlying themes of unconferences is that ‘everyone is an expert.’ For those working in emerging fields, our peers are the ones leading the way forward. The intention is to recruit ideas and encourage cross-pollination from the people who are forming the wisdom--informally.
We all know instinctively that the best networking opportunities--the real magic--happens during coffee breaks, or over lunch or dinner. Think of an unconference as a day-long coffee break. Unconferencing captures the ‘spirit of the lobby.’ It brings the hallway conversations back into the main tent by supporting the emergence of unparalleled peer-to-peer learning opportunities and dynamic, participant-driven discussions. Community is what brings people together. Supporting community interactivity is what gives conferences value.
We believe that the key to a successful unconferencing experience is using interactive methods strategically. Designing an unconference requires us to think carefully about every aspect of the meeting, from stakeholders to the number of power strips in a meeting room. It requires some real crafting and understanding of the cultural context of the meeting, what will work in terms of logistical constraints, what's most likely to work in terms of outcomes. It means balancing the attendees' need for structure (so they know what to expect) with their desire for spontaneous collaboration. The magic is in the mix.
We also focus on the growing ‘back channel’ created by social networking through mobile devices. While the event takes place, technologies like Twitter can allow attendees to discuss the event in real-time, sending messages via their laptops or cell phones. Attendees are encouraged to IM, chat, blog, and email to facilitate the flow of useful ideas. Through Facebook, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube, participants extend the conference beyond the meeting room walls by capturing ideas, seeding future gatherings, and extending the learning and networking opportunities.
Taking It Upstream: Collaboration, Consensus Building and Sustainable Development--A Green Leadership Unconference will take place September 25, 2009 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. The event, co-sponsored by the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, the Pepperdine School of Law, and the Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship & the Law, will provide a highly interactive forum for green-minded community leaders, agencies, planners, architects, developers and citizens to explore best practices for using collaboration, consensus building and other enhanced civic engagement techniques to create more sustainable communities and manage potential land use and environmental disputes.
The Pepperdine event will incorporate some of the most innovative formats that place a premium on gathering and sharing information, including:
- World Café
Participants discuss issues at small roundtables, moving to different tables at intervals. One person stays at each table and briefs the next group, in order to promote the cross-fertilization of ideas.
- Ignite and Pecha Kucha
Presenters are given the chance to present 15-20 slides, with each slide automatically advancing after 15-20 seconds. Attendees are rapidly engaged with all presenters, with ideas ranging from architecture to planning, hip-hop to online marketing.
- Lightning Talks
Lightning Talks are series of five-minute talks in a limited time slot. Presenters do not need to make slides, and if they do decide to make slides, they only need to make three. Because the talk is only five minutes long, presenters try to say something brief and interesting, and then get out in a hurry. If somebody wants to follow up or ask questions, they will catch the presenter in the hallway afterwards. The point is to make a point, and explain it as quickly as possible.
- Focused Roundtables
A series of intimate, roundtable conversations will focus on specific, interconnected topics or dialogue streams including Sustainable Communities, Sustainable Transportation, Sustainable Construction & Design, and Sustainable Resources.
- Open Space
The ‘pure’ unconference uses open-space methods that allow for agendas to be created on the spot by participants.