On Friday I had a Skype conversation with Chris Corrigan and Rob Paterson. We discussed Unconferencing: how can we get away from unsatisfying conferences where the audience is often bored towards much more engaging learning events?
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0.40 Chris reflects on the frustrations of conferences as usual, which have been highlighted by bloggers who are used to a more flexible way of sharing ideas and knowledge, yet find those processes seem to stop in conferences.
1.18 Chris talks about “keynote facilitation” instead of keynote speaking. How this changes the whole approach, and can work with low and high tech systems to help conferences reflect the social interaction of the blogosphere.
1.58 Rob describes a conference where he reinvented the role of keynote speaker at a conference to be more facilitative – and how this generated very lively conversation between participants, tapping into all the wisdom in the room – “that felt quite different from sitting, being presented at”.
2.53 Rob continues to describe another conference Zap Your PRAM on Prince Edward Island, where “everybody was a presenter, everybody had content, everybody was heard.”
3.08 Rob claims (cheekily)that Podcasting arose from that interaction, talking about how it fostered animated conversations between Dave Winer and the Exec Director of Trent University Radio (John Muir) about community radio.
3.46 Chris: “Conferences offer these amazing opportunities to link people who are in the room, and we rarely discover that kind of interaction except randomly and through coffee breaks… and that’s a shame… and there’s no reason for it.” We have the means to make things better. Chris goes on to describe conference tools to help set up learning journeys for people in conferences, to really bring people’s awareness to the fact this could be a quest for them.
4.51 Chris talks about people being on the Blackberries at conferences, doing their emails because they are bored. What if that sort of technology could be used to support conversations inside the conference room? For example to post to a virtual bulletin board for other delegates. “I’m the last person to say that we should get rid of the chaos, but to actually give more intention around that chaos” so that people can leave with some useful learning – which is what conferences are supposed to do. Johnnie talks about SpotMe by Shockfish – one example of this sort of tech.
6.27 Johnnie talks about the need for more human care in setting up conferences to be more interactive, maybe moving from keynote speakers to keynote listeners, helping to match people up according to their interest. And makes a plea for conferences to take more care of introverts!
7.20 Rob talks about the need for better physical space, getting away from the corporate style of hotels. An ideal conference would give tremendous consideration to the social environment and get away from the hotel environment.
8.11 Chris suggests we need to move away from conferencing as a teaching model, to conferencing as a learning model. “What we replicate very well in most conference settings is the teaching model… the teacher at the front of the room and people slip back into grade school… it’s like high school with the Blackberries” So let’s instead create a learning environment, and put the technology to that use. Create a collective pattern of what’s happening. Example of World Cafe.
10.15 Johnnie talks about subverting the traditional role of speaker – can the audience teach the speaker things? And perhaps the most important “technology” we can bring to conferences is silence.
10.50 Rob expands on the idea of silence with an example from his work broadcasting for CBC.
11.40 Chris: “Silence is the fullness of possibility”.
12.20 Rob asks Johnnie to tell the story of his experience around silence.. Johnnie talks about setting himself up as a keynote speaker to run out of material – and the lessons he learnt.
14.32 Rob talks about the importance of really allowing people to share their experience. The story of a former Green Beret sharing his Vietnam experiences and how if affected both the speaker and audience. This gives Rob an appetite for people being real: “I love to be entertained but I don’t want to sit in front of somebody who is simply being clever.”
16.06 Johnnie reflects on Rob’s story: it’s about spontaneity, and about a speaker and audience being joined in a sense of not knowing where things are going next, both being vulnerable. This would be part of moving from teaching to learning.
16.35 Chris: “If we’re in the known all the time, there’s nowhere to grow, nothing to do… beyond amusement and entertainment.” “There’s a tremendous collective intelligence to put to work for whatever end… It’s disrespectful to invite people to come to something that is showcasing innovation or showcasing creativity… and then to put them into a standard conference setting.”
17.21 Rob says there’s a financial aspect to this, prompting a discussion of how the standard conference format seems to cost more, and cheaper events are often better.
18.35 Chris talks about creating a mutual uplift for people attending conferences, getting away from competitiveness and focussing more on shared issues. “Ask the question, what is it that the thousand of us who are here can do to bring us all up… to bring this entire field of enterprise.. to another level altogether?”
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