5 things to do and 3 things to NOT do at Unconferences or BarCamps

I attended the Office 2.0 unconference yesterday. Being my 5th “unconference” hosted by Kaliya and Ross Mayfield here are some tips and tricks that I have learned about getting the best value from BarCampand Unconferences.

5 things to do:

a) Come with questions, get multiple perspectives: As you prepare to attend your unconference, spend 15 min while you are waiting in the line for the registration to come up with 5-10 questions you still need answers to. These help you plan your sessions better and focus on specific people you can seek to answer these questions.

b) Seek out people between sessions: If you want answers to specific questions you have, do it after. After you finish a session,  understand whose opinions  are valuable then seek them out later to get answers. Realize there are many in the discussion who feel like they are “experts”. Understand during your session whose opinion would be most beneficial to you.

c) Take notes, but process later: At least 3/4ths of the folks feel more confused after the sessions. The full impact of the major trends or answers to your questions will not be obvious until you spend 15 minutes thinking about the answers a day or two after the sessions.

d) Most folks attending conferences are expecting to learn to “experts” and network with peers. Unconferences turns this around by helping you learn from peers and network with everyone. Learning from peers is great as long as you know they tend to have a perspective of usually “one” experience or single project. Their results may not be typical.

e) If you are leading a discussion dont feel you have to be the “expert”. You may have volunteered the session to bring all the folks who care about this topic together. People appreciate it more when you get all the perspectives together rather than push your agenda forward.

What not to do:

a) Dont expect closure on all topics: The facilitator of the discussion is usually not a conversation police.
When discussions start on a topic, they may go to several topics.

b) Dont expect answers to all questions to be a simple Y/N: When you have experts presenting, they will tell you most times that “X works and Y does not”, when you have your peers, though, you will get “It depends”. This may be the most frustrating part of the unconference, but realize everyone’s situation is slightly or very
different.

c) Dont dominate the conversation as a session leader: You’ll find the answers to your questions will
never get answered.

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