When is a Conversation not a Conversation?

I had a really interesting, useful and fun afternoon at the second LnDConnect Learning and Development Unconference in London yesterday. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen. Here are a few of my thoughts on the event, and unconferences in general, I hope they are useful to you.

The Venue Matters

The venue matters, but only in so far as it is clean, warm enough and accessible, and any tech needs you have are met. You can run a good event in a modest venue. Yesterday we were at Park Crescent Conference Centre which pretty much had it all, including decent break time coffee too. If I’m being really picky the Twitterfall was a bit hard to read as it was projected onto a screen quite high up on the wall, but yesterday was a good reminder that venue wise – good enough is perfectly good enough.

The People Matter More

It was lovely to catch up with some friends, and get to meet some people I’d only previously got to know on Twitter, and….drum roll please, meet some people who are not currently using social media to connect. I’m not sure how LnDConnect pulled it off – but kudos for attracting a diverse audience, more so than at your typical event.

The Technology is Becoming a Distraction

I think Twitter, blogs, and other tools are great ways to promote and market unconferences, and when the day of the event comes, I’m feeling more and more like I just want to immerse myself in the conversation and the learning possibilities. I find it too much of a distraction to engage in what other people are saying and tweet stuff at the same time. Sometimes what emerges on Twitter can be interesting and I’m hoping LnDConnect will share a Tweetreach report with the delegates. I wonder, if people are wiling, whether we need to ask folks to volunteer to curate a conversation? Sit at the edge of the chat and pick up on, and share the emerging threads.

When is a Conversation Not A Conversation?

In the wrap up before we hit the bar – opinions were sought about what worked well and what hadn’t been so good. Niall Gavin asked that in future, could we please do away with the tables. We were sat at round tables designed for about ten people – and on reflection it would have been easier to converse without these tables in the way. I think I would have preferred the intimacy over the slight inconvenience of having to rest on my knee to scribble those little insightful nuggets you want to capture. I’ll share a few of the ones I caught in a minute.

Beyond the table observation, it struck me that some of the tracks weren’t really conversational at all. Let me ask you a question – how many people does it take to make a conversation? I’d suggest between two….and maybe five at a push. Beyond that number what tends to happen is gobby gits like me, dominate the available air time and quieter folk tend to withdraw and….go quiet! I picked up on this in the bar afterwards when having a few conversations (heh heh) with people. Maybe in future – when a track gets really popular the facilitators might split it up a bit, to aid and maintain the conversation.


Here are a few things I heard that I’m enjoying reflecting on.

Stakeholders – the perception has evolved beyond just the purse string holders, to anyone who has an interest in your project/organisation/plan etc

Can we be more disruptive? Yes please!

Being bold – that came up a lot and it was fun listening to people define it. The dictionary says: Showing an ability to take risks, confident and courageous. Subtle and elegant were among the alternatives offered.

Be open to the possibilities – good learning is perhaps more about great connections that great content.

Pourable sunshine does exist. Whaddya know?!

It struck me that people aren’t big fans of happy sheets, who am I to disagree?

A lot of people said they were at the event for some ‘me time’. I’d like to see L&D pushing the case for more self determined learning in general. It’s powerful stuff.

Before the event I had wondered if together we could try and apply some theory and suggest things we might take away and experiment with. I’m not yet sure that we got there – and right now – I’m OK with that. Like I said, yesterday was interesting, useful and fun. That gets my vote.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

5 thoughts on “When is a Conversation not a Conversation?”

  1. I missed this yesterday, Doug, and just wanted to build on some of the things you’ve mentioned here.

    I was impressed enough with PCCC when I did my event there in August last year, and you’re right, they just get it right, and that’s important. Am glad the team chose to go with that as I knew it would work.

    The engagement of people being there who weren’t social media users like we are I think was down to personal connections they had which convinced them that they should be there.

    I really like the idea of curators of conversation. I too found I didn’t tweet much, and it’s because of the same thing. I was too involved in the conversations, and enjoyed that more. That said, there’s probably wiggle room here for there to be official curators as well as people getting involved in the backchannel on their terms.

    I too noticed the size of the groups of some of the conversations and reflected on whether the groups wanted to break up, or if they were ok as they were. It’s a hard one, as the point of the unconference is that you’re part of the conversation you want to be part of. If that means a group of 15 is present, should we intervene? I’m unsure about this. Yes, some people who are quiet will likely remain quiet, but does that mean they’re still not gaining from the conversation?

    1. Thanks Sukh

      Re: wiggle room for tweeting curation and involvement on own terms, absolutely. Both can work well together I think.

      Re: quiet people gaining form the conversation. Yes – I imagine they are – and for me – I’d like to hear from them too, if they want to speak. I don’t think you’ll mind me saying that you’re not short of a few words to say – we are similar there eh? And I speak to enough people to know that there are many folk who won’t speak up into a larger group. I think we miss out by not finding ways to include them into a conversational environment.

      Cheers – Doug

  2. I would be happy curating at these things. I guess that’s what I tried to do when I was a journalist. I guess volunteer reporters are what you need at every event. If I was attending as a delegate I would like to concentrate on getting the most out of it for my goals and contributing rather than tweeting.

    1. Hi Charlie – yes I think I would be happy to do that too – maybe not for the whole event, perhaps it is something you could put out there as part of the mix in advance of the event? Dunno – more importantly – thanks for popping by and commenting.

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