Before getting onto my Tuesday session favourites, I thought I’d do a short piece on a new creature in the EclipseCon bestiary – the evening Unconference. If you have ever attended a BarCamp, or dabbled with the Open Space Technology meeting methods, then you will know what this about. If not, do not panic! It’s really quite straightforward.
Why add an Unconference?
My own experience with this type of interaction was three years ago at BarCamp Dublin, organized by my pal Joe Drumgoole. There were some pre-organized sessions given by local industry luminaries, which was followed by appearance of a whiteboard divided into a grid of times and rooms, with a pad of sticky notes. If you wanted to present, you wrote your topic and name on a sticky note, pasted it on the whiteboard, then turned up at the appointed place and time and you just…did your thing.
I was fascinated by this straight away, but I also had some considerable skeptiscism on the potential for success. I thought, who would just get up there and yap away for twenty minutes? To my surprise, the slots on the whiteboard filled within an hour. It was infectious – once the first few slots were taken, people started to get ideas about subject matter and began to get worried that there would be no slots left in the schedule! It ended up being well over-subscribed.
When I was thinking about how the conference could be shaped this year, an Unconference section appeared to fit in a highly complementary fashion with the standard conference format of the day. Here I am going to quote myself (oh, the narcissism!) from an interview I did with JAXenter last week:
A conference day is always a long day, so the concept behind this new structure is that attendees get education in the morning when their brain is ready to learn, they get entertainment and information with the talks, they get to give feedback and interact directly with the experts during the panels and finally, they get their own say at the Unconference. No-one likes to listen for the whole day without giving something in return, so you can see the balance of communication starting focussed on the presenters then shifting over to focus on the attendees at the end of the day.
The Gross Mechanics
We’ve reserved three or four rooms for the Unconference. When you sign up as an Unconference speaker you get twenty minutes of time. You can talk for twenty minutes on a single topic, or you can talk for five minutes each on four topics. It’s up to you. You could join forces with an open source buddy and do a joint presentation. You could do a mini-hackathon. You could facilitate a panel recruited from the bar area.
How do you sign up? There will be poster board available on the concourse and pads of sticky notes. The schedule will be on the boards. Write the topic of your talk and your name on a sticky and put it into a free slot if there is one available. The Program Committee will keep an eye on things – make sure that you have your name on the sticky note.
Combating Irrelevant Twaddle
In this kind of open format, there is always the likelihood that the most mouthy and/or obsessed will attempt to dominate the delivery channel. In this scenario, the Law of Two Feet should be observed. This is a simple filtering mechanism – if you don’t feel you are learning or contributing, or the relevance quotient has slipped below your baseline, then vote with your feet! Go to another session in another room, or just go have a margarita and some shrimp or something. Alternatively, you could ask the speaker to talk about another aspect of the topic under discussion.
Back to BarCamp Dublin – for myself, I really wanted to sign up to participate, but I was kind of parched for subject matter. Not this time for the Eclipse Unconference – I’m hoping to be able to beat the rush and get a couple of sessions up there on the board! Anyone out there interested in joining in?