OpenSpace: a great unconference format
As I wrote in my first post I like the idea of a conference as a hub: a physical place (let's leave virtual events out for now) that becomes center of interest, activity, or importance for a group of people.
Every time I attended or organized a conference built on top of this idea I really learnt something and enjoyed myself. Because what matter most is the interaction between the people who show up. That's probably why I love the OpenSpace format so much and I believe it deserves more screen estate.
For those who have never heard of this format here are some references far more accurate than anything I could write myself:
What I can add is how it feels: amazing! The fact that the most interesting conversations at a "classic" conference happen between sessions, in the hallway or at the bar really resonates with me.
In fact the first time I attended an external event organized as an OpenSpace I got out of it so energized and full of ideas it took me 2 months to write down everything, and I'm sure I forgot something!
I had experienced the format before that conference thanks to some internal events but doing it with strangers felt even more "deep" because all the implicit knowledge that you take for granted with people you already know is simply not there with strangers. Amazingly it doesn't matter with the OpenSpace format: starting with an ice-breaker exercise is all you need to immediately bond and feel safe to share your ideas and experiences without that awkward feeling that goes like: "I'm standing in front of 200 strangers about to ask a question to the speaker on the stage. It better be good or I'll look dumb".
After that experience, and based on some feedback I got about the previous edition, I decided to introduce the format to my annual conference but I was worried that such a new concept for my audience would have meant failure. The solution I found was to organize a few sessions in advance and leave enough space for spontaneous ones.
The organized sessions though followed the OpenSpace format themselves, I just got a few, trusted facilitators to propose their topics in advance (instead of the beginning of the conference day). That gave reassurance to the new people that something interesting was going to be discussed and it was worth registering to the conference.
At the same time this allowed people to warm up to the format rules before starting spontaneous discussion groups or even take on the roles of Bumblebees or using the Two Feet. In fact both can be perceived as rude at the first experience, I mean: leaving a "session" half-way through it? What would the other people think of me? Will the "speaker" be mad at me?
I really invite you to read and learn more about it and look for events with that format in your area. These days is not that uncommon to find OpenSpace spaces even at more traditional conferences.
To get an idea you can even check YouTube which features some videos about it: YouTube OpenSpace