Adrian Segar is a man who really understand Unconferences. His brand is Conferences that Work.

We decided to investigate this concept and why it can be great for attendees.

In essence How does an Unconference event Differ from a Conference?

There are quite a number of different unconference designs, but they all have one thing in common: a significant portion of the event is participant-driven.

This means that the attendees themselves determine what happens at the event, rather than the schedule being decided in advance by a conference program committee.

Is an Unconference the same as a number of Open Space Sessions?

Open Space (or Open Space Technology, as Harrison originally named it) is a popular unconference design, first formulated by Harrison Owen in the early ’90’s.

So Open Space events are unconferences, but not all unconferences use Open Space.

Examples of other unconference designs include: World Café, Future Search, Conferences That Work, BarCamp, Art of Hosting, Everyday Democracy etc.

What Do you Need to Run an Unconference session?

This question is a little misleading, as all unconference designs are made up of more than one kind of session.

Usually, unconferences have one or more initial sessions where session topics are proposed and/or crowdsourced, and most unconference designs include various closing session formats.

Some designs, like Future Search, use a multiple step session process. So to answer the question you need to determine which unconference design will be used.

Once a specific design has been chosen, consulting the relevant literature will let you know what you need to run the unconference.

How Popular are Unconference sessions Becoming and How Significant Do you Think they Will Be in 2011?

Most unconference designs have been around now for about twenty years, and they have been slow to catch on with professional meeting planners.

But there is a large and enthusiastic amateur community of unconference events. In the last few years, the rapid spread of availability of excellent online content has started to affect decisions about whether to attend traditional events. (“Why should I go, when I can watch videos of the speakers on the internet?”)

This change is starting to force event planners to think about what they can provide via a face-to-face meeting experience that is truly unique.

I expect unconferences to grow in popularity in 2011 and that an increasing number of meeting professionals will be familiarizing themselves with this format.

It seems that Event Camp East Coast which was Purely Unconference was a Huge Success. Was that Down to the People and Their Attitude? Or Something Else?

EventCamp East Coast used my Conferences That Work design, and, though I say it myself, I think the design was at the core of the success of the event.

I’ve used the design with widely disparate groups and the end result has always been the same-the participants use the tools and the structure they are given to create the event they want.

As a result they’re happy, because the conference becomes what they wanted, asked for, and received.

No two Conferences That Work are alike, even annual events with a common community from year to year, because wants, needs, and peer resources change over time and from group to group. So the design adapts to attendees’ needs in a way better than any other design I know.

What do Attendees Say is the Best Thing About an Unconference?

Only one thing? The bottom line is that attendees love the resulting event, because they were able to create the event they wanted.

What do Attendees Say is the Most Challenging Thing About an Unconference?

The most challenging thing about an unconference for many attendees is the switch from the traditional model, where an attendee is largely a passive observer of the event, to the unconference model that encourages attendees to participate in making the event meaningful and useful.

Some formats, like mine, include introductory support sessions to help attendees with this transition.

What One Piece of Advice would you Give to anyone wishing to Develop or Experiment with an Unconference?

Attend a well-run unconference! For event professionals, I think that the Open Space and Conferences That Work designs are probably the most relevant.

Until you’ve experienced an unconference, it’s hard to understand why participant-driven events work as well as they do.


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See Also

Understanding Event Objectives


Features Editor
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