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JFDI: How to run an unconference

I seem to have been talking about this topic a lot in recent weeks.

At CommsCamp13 and UKGovCamp13 I ran sessions with the lovely Simon Whitehouse on this topic.

I’ve been getting lots of questions and requests for a sort of how-to guide.

And hearing a lot of people saying things like ‘I wish there was an unconference on x’, ‘I didnt’ get a ticket to x event’. And I firmly believe the response to this is ‘okay, so organise your own.’ And Dave Briggs says so too.

Housing Camp was launched just days after CommsCamp.

So, go on. What’s stopping you?

How to do it.

There is no one way to do this, the following are just a few things I’ve learned from organising and attending unconference style events.

  1. Get a partner in crime (or 2 or 3): You definitely need to spread the work load around. I honestly think there really is too much to do for one person. Plus the moral support and soundboard you get from another person/s is really helpful.
  2. Set a topic/theme for your event. It can be broad or it can be narrow.
  3. Set a location (city/town). This doesn’t necessarily have to be the exact venue. We didn’t have a set venue for months after we announced the date for CommsCamp.
  4. Top tips when selecting your venue:
    • make sure it has wifi.It will take an absolute hammering. John Popham has an excellent post on this topic.
    •  make sure it has one big space that everyone can fit in
    • make sure it has plenty of break out rooms for your sessions.
  5. Set a date. This can be rough too. Again, we didn’t have a specific date straight away.
  6. Set up an Eventbrite page.
  7. Set up a Twitter account and/or hashtag for the event.
  8. Promote to your network. Ask your network to promote to their networks. Repeat ad infinitum.
  9. Over book the event by about 20%. You will get a lot of people dropping out as it gets closer to the event.
  10. Run a waiting list
  11. Start thinking about venues and costs for the event. Some basics:
    • Can you get space donated for free? This would give you your first sponsor.
    • Food. You could cater. You could do a bring your own lunch.
    • Definitely provide vats of coffee and tea as a minimum.
    • Do you need  a facilitator for the day? The wonderful Lloyd Davis is always a good facilitator.
    • Do you want a website for the event?  You’ll need to think about covering costs for this.
    • Do you want to live stream any portions of the event?
  12. Start thinking about who you could approach to sponsor the event:
    • Put together an ‘offer package’ for sponsors, what will they get for their sponsorship?
    • Make approaches
    • Raise more than you need. Sponsors will sometimes drop out at the last minute. If you are left with an excess, you could use this for seed money for future events, or offer to help pay travel costs for those on low incomes.
  13. Make sure you keep in touch with everyone who is coming to the event:
    • Use Mailchimp or another email service. For a small mailing list, this will will be free via Mailchimp
    • Build up excitement: Keep blogging and keep tweeting.
    • About a month before the event, keep asking weekly for dropouts
  14. Rope in plenty of volunteers to help you out on the day to:
    • help people to the venue
    • man the registration desk
    • tweet, blog and photograph from the event
    • help with setting out the grid for the day
    • help people find their way around the venue (if necessary)
    • time keepers
  15. Brief your facilitator a few days before the event.
  16. The on the day stuff is pretty self explanatory:
    • registration
    • signposting
    • etc etc
  17. After registration, have your facilitator do a quick round of introductions and then start the session pitching. If you’ve got a lot of first time campers, you may want to offer pitch cards at registration that can be read out during pitching. This can help people feel less nervous about presenting their ideas.
  18. Start gridding out the day as people pitch.
  19. And you’re off and running for the day!
  20. End with a trip to a local pub.

I hope this is helpful to those wanting to organise their own camp. And I’m sure I forgot lots, so please feel free to add to the list below with ideas, tips, etc.




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