If the agenda is pre-set it isn’t an unconference!

I think I have said this before but need to speak out about it again. If you set the entirety of your agenda ahead of time whether via wiki or via mailing list – it is NOT an unconference. The magic of an unconference – the “UN” part is the created live on site part where attendees together create the breakout sessions (hopefully using open space technology)

I am not saying you can’t “pre-plan anything” or be “unorganized”.
* You could have a keynote speaker to open or close your day that is planned ahead. (like the closing of the first day of Mashup Camp 1 had Peter Hirshburg give the BEST speech ever on the history of computer marketing – it was educational and very funny)
* You could know you are going to do a world cafe to close a day about a certain topic.
* You should have some onramp material with several speakers to open your multi-day event about a technical topic (as we do at the Internet Identity Workshop).
* You can decide your speed geeking is going to happen after lunch on the 2nd day.
* You can ask everyone who registers what they want to present about or hope to learn about and then post all of that back to potential attendees.

In short, lots of your conference can get outlined in advance – that is “organized”. If you are actually putting people into an agenda with times and spaces and speaking slots, THEN YOU ARE DOING A REGULAR CONFERENCE – so don’t call it an unconference.

PodCamp “the new media community unconference” has a cultural practice of setting the agenda ahead of time and calls itself – IT just disqualified itself by doing an agenda.

Why do organizers do this? I have heard from organizers like those doing Sex 2.0 that they have to have the agenda planned months in advance so that the people coming from far away “know what they are getting”. This logic is patently false.

The Internet Identity Workshop that I facilitate has professional technical people get on airplanes from both Europe and Asia just to attend – the attraction is the live, made there that day agenda.

At the unmoney convergence that I convened and facilitated we were expecting mostly a west coast crowd – we were stunned that many people from across the country – some as far as Newfoundland, Canada came. Four came from overseas, Japan, Austraila, Germany and the UK specifically for the conference (They didn’t tag coming to our event with some other reason they happened to be here). They came BECAUSE it was created by the people attending live. This in itself is appealing to people. I hope that organizers can begin to understand this more.

You can let the people make the agenda live and still have a conference where people come from far away.
* If you write a compelling invitation – a reason to come together, articulate key thematic areas that will be covered,
* if you ask people what they want to talk about and hope to hear about and post this,
* if you list attendees who have signed up.
* if you have a few – VERY few speakers set ahead of time that is less then 1/4 of the conference time.

People want the space to have critical conversations about key things they care about. This is what makes unconferences so powerful. I ask organizers to please consider and respect this about them and NOT use the word unconference to describe events that make their agendas in advance.

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