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 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.