The one where the tail’s gone

In November I was fortunate enough to attend the CIPD annual conference in Manchester as part of the press contingent. Last week I found myself in a similar situation at the HR Director’s Business Summit in Birmingham. At the end of the CIPD I wrote a post called ‘The one where it must evolve’ sharing my perspectives about the limitations of the conference format. It was only in re-reading the post that I remembered the comment from Jon Ingham but my memory aside the latter event did have unconference sessions running as part of the second day’s programme.

To say they were well attended would be a slight exaggeration. I think it was only Jon cajoling people into coming that ensured a decent turn out and in looking around at the fellow table/topic hosts I must confess it did feel a bit like ‘The Usual Suspects’. That said what followed in the unconference session was an interesting conversation which will feature in a post of its own tomorrow. The first of the ‘what was interesting’ points was watching people’s reactions to being invited to participate in the sessions – dismissive, fearful, lack in comprehension or quick to talk about the other sessions they planned to attend. Whilst getting people discussing and sharing may seem attractive to some there are clearly others that are still enjoying being talked at.

I attended the second of two unconference sessions and the output from both then formed the starting point for a discussion session at the end of the day. Charitably it started slowly and I did actually feel sorry for Jon who was doing the facilitation equivalent of endlessly tap dancing… But slowly and surely the pace started to pick up aided in part by the appearance of a screen showing the tweets being shared (why the hashtag was not promoted anywhere in the conference remains a mystery and why this was the first appearance of the ‘back channel’ also I don’t get).

Jon’s fellow facilitators did seem a little reluctant to jump into the unstructured nature of the session but as someone sat there watching it happen and participating you could feel the energy and enthusiasm growing in the room and the second of the ‘what was interesting points’ is that it seemed to grow more when people had something to disagree with. My feeling is we got to the point where as it finished there did seem to be some disappointment that it was time to finish.

Having reflected on the unconference session and the plenary follow-up it does feel like an evolutionary step. I don’t think we’ll get everyone over the chasm quite yet, maybe need to have some time slots that are ‘unconference only’? I’m not sure but if you could capture the enthusiasm and discussion that was happening both in the unconference and plenary and bottle it I’m sure many conference organisers would be in the queue to buy.

I must doff my cap to Jon for putting himself out there in running these sessions and I’m sure like me many people have shared their thoughts with Jon which should hopefully help him and those in similar positions to continue the evolutionary process.


Jon has blogged on the same topic and you can find his post here



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4 responses to “The one where the tail’s gone

  1. We are slow learners. In many conversations people freely and willingly admit that at most conferences, the best bits are the unscheduled meet ups, and the gaps between sales pitches, sorry I mean talks. We like to talk with each other and meet each other. We’re less impressed when talked at. Yet the standard conference model continues. I’m not saying there isn’t time and space for chalk and talk – there is. And yet when offered the chance to co-create what many feel are the nest bits of a conference, the reluctance to participate is strong.

    I had been looking forward to being at the event and was sorry I couldn’t make it. Thanks for writing this, I hope it encourages more folks to join in and have some useful fun next time.

  2. I do maintain that the HR sector is one of the fastest-learning of them all – which really I would hope given that L&D is such a large part. However I have sensed a readiness to be too self-critical, and not open enough to celebrate the incredible achievements of the connectinghr unconferences, and and such a brave session.

    The vanguard of HR is busy breaking ground for many other professions to follow. Celebrate the success.

  3. Pingback: The one with the cooperative | Masters or Bust

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