How many conferences have you been to where one (or all) of the sessions went something like this:
The moderator gets up and welcomes everyone to the session…provides a brief overview of the session topic…and introduces the panelists. Each of the panelists gets up and does a little presentation which may or may not have anything to do with the stated subject of the session. And, as a bonus, these are often self-serving pitches for the panelists’ company, product or service. Each of the panelists runs over their alloted time so the last guy gets screwed. If there is any time left, the panel fields questions from the audience. Most of these are usually off-topic and self-serving as well.
In recent years, something called an “unconference” has gained some popularity. Dave Winer is a big proponent of this format and they’re employing it at Gnomedex later this month. Dave does a nice job of explaining the concept:
We don’t have speakers, panels or an audience. We do have discussions and sessions, and each session has a discussion leader. Think of the discussion leader as a reporter who is creating a story with quotes from the people in the room. So, instead of having a panel with an audience we just have people. We feel this more accurately reflects what’s going on. It’s not uncommon for the audience at a conference to have more expertise than the people who are speaking.
The discussion leader is also the editor, so if he or she feels that a point has been made they must move on to the next point quickly. No droning, no filibusters, no repeating an idea over and over.
Gnomedex 6.0 will be my first “unconference” and I’m looking forward to it.