We’ve all been in that conference, you know the one, in which expert after expert stands up in front of the room, clicks through presentation slides and drones on and on about a particular topic. Yes, some of these speakers are entertaining, some are monotone, and most you do learn from, however, other than the few minutes of Q & A at the end of each presentation, there’s not much time to really discuss and explore the topics. This can really be a waste of valuable resources, since there are usually several meeting participants in attendance that have great first-hand knowledge to share, interesting and engaging questions to explore, and some even with expert knowledge that can shed light on the topics.

So the question becomes, how do we tap into all the knowledge, energy and experience of these conference participants? Planning an unconference is the most successful and proven way to enable a great participant-driven meeting. No, that’s not a typo, I meant to write unconference. At an unconference, the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic may claim a time and a space. Unconferences typically feature open discussions, rather than having a single speaker at the front of the room giving a talk. This format opens participants up to new ways of thinking and fresh ideas, spawns creativity, ignites passion, defines problems and taps into people’s problem-solving skills.

We will use this unconference format for the PRSA 2012 Leadership Assembly meeting, held Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in San Francisco, Calif. I know what you’re probably thinking. This sounds chaotic and kind of scary. I’m used to order and having a solid agenda. We need to know what we are going to talk about! Rest assured that this is a normal reaction to this type of conference, and although it may seem chaotic, there is a method to this madness.

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