Inspiration, creativity, and magic
When we talked at Annual I was struck by the energy of our discussion. We seemed to have a lot of ideas boiling under the surface and bubbling over, a sense of making a conference that's different. I want our attendees to experience that energy and creativity too and I've been thinking about how to do that. I'm going to list a bunch of things I've been thinking below, but then I want to read everyone else's ideas!
A lot of my thoughts are coming from Michelle Boule's Mob Rule Learning, about unconferences, which I heartily recommend to all of you (plus which she's awesome and a LITAn): http://wanderingeyre.com/mob-rule/
Here you go:
We've been talking about creation as one of our core themes, so why not have a track, a room, that's dedicated 100% of the time to making things? Have people lead hands-on activities -- no talks. Put a bunch of littleBits open-source hardware components on a table so people can play. Make Libraryboxes. Scatter some Rubik's cubes. Talk to the CraftCon people. Cover all the tables with butcher paper and leave markers on all of them.
Have a Facebook wall, but in reality -- cover an entire wall with butcher paper, leave lots of markers. Maybe write a fill-in-the-blank at the top: "The best thing I've learned this conference is ____" or "The way I'm going to change the world is ______" or whatever, something to get people to communicate and share and have this visible asynchronous conversation.
Space planning. Time planning. How can we arrange space and time to encourage serendipity, collaboration, creation, community?
When we do registration have one of the blanks to fill out be, "Three things people should ask me about". Then put these on the name tags. They did this at TEDxPrincetonLibrary and it's a fantastic icebreaker, especially for a roomful of introverts -- it's easy to find things to talk about with everyone, you discover people have these great interests you didn't know about, and people are guaranteed to be passionate and informed about those topics on their name tags. And it makes everyone matter. Everyone gets three things.
Bias as much as possible toward discussion sessions, rooms arranged in circles rather than rows -- participation is magic.
Find some way (as with John Kestner's Supermechanical) to have the digital and physical worlds relate. How can we have things conferencegoers do in physical space create digital trails that virtual participants can be a part of? Or digital things happening elsewhere have physical effects in the conference? I think the unexpectedness of dovetailing physical and digital can shake people out of preconceptions...
Unconference session? First day, to set a tone, or last day, to prompt people to reflect on the conference and synthesize it into plans? We could have a wall or bulletin board or something where we encouraged people to write topics as they came up throughout the conference that could serve as distributed brainstorming for a last-day unconference.
What can we do to encourage people to move around? Runs, tours of town, yoga sessions,...?
What's the post-event digital archiving going to look like, and is that something that can be a distributed and participatory experience during the conference?
Says Michelle, "Seth Godin defines this choice to step up and be a leader as 'the choice to not do nothing'." How do we encourage everyone -- not just the speakers, not just the big names -- to choose not to do nothing?
Do we want to set aside time for a PechaKucha/Ignite/lightning talks-type session that we won't schedule until much closer to the conference, to encourage broader participation and have a way to address late-breaking topics?
Some unconferences require people to state on the registration form how they will contribute. Can we ask questions like that? Given that at least some of the conference will have traditional formatting, how can we meaningfully phrase this for all attendees?
How do we encourage participation after the conference and monitor for impact? Encourage people to leave with plans, to form connections -- how do we get them thinking about creating community and collaborating before they leave, and then remind them to keep up with it afterward? How do we surface and share the work they're doing as a result? How do we keep the energy from dissipating the moment the people disperse?
The Law of Two Feet in Open Space Technology is a reminder that we can establish social norms in unfamiliar spaces by articulating them. This is hugely powerful! What sorts of norms do we want the conference to have that might differ from a normal one -- be more participatory, creative, collaborative, hands-on, engaged, magical? How can we state those?
What sort of event swag are we going to have? Aside from the aforementioned "talk to me about..." idea for name tags, can we gamify the swag, use it as a way to encourage people to meet each other and participate (like the game at Annual)...?
Putting people in physical spaces that are not their usual ones encourages them to be in different mental spaces, too. Conferenceland is inherently a different physical space and thus something we can leverage to create new mental spaces -- but it's also a familiar, generic one; people have a mental model of how to do conferences. How can we take advantage of the fact that everyone is in a different, maybe liminal, space? What can we do with the physical environment to remind them of that, to liberate them?