Imagine a national sales meeting where there is no pre-conference agenda, no planned speakers or breakouts, yet there are several pertinent presentations and everyone's needs are met. Does this sound like a riddle? It's not. It's an "Un-Conference", a forum where every participant has an opportunity to share and gain in a collaborative, efficient, real time, dynamic and even organized setting.
It's the difference between fixed or dynamic meetings or conferences. Traditional conferences are fixed in the respect that you select from pre-defined breakouts or meeting topics and hope that you choose one that is thought provoking and provides opportunity for stimulation. With an "Un-Conference" the agenda may be set in terms of high level topics, but the content is largely shaped by participants.
I have to credit Bob VonderLinn and the other members of the Wisconsin Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for the initial idea. Bob and his corresponding committee members have successfully utilized this concept for annual conferences and the idea ignited my thinking about sales meetings. Un-Sales Conferences are fun, effective and a little scary the first time out of the gate. Here are some of my insights on what makes this concept work for both conferences and smaller team sales meetings.
Redefine the Experts
First of all, you have to change your thinking a bit about experts. Most traditional conferences and sales meetings place highest value on "gurus" – those identified as having expertise in a subject or subjects. Experiential learning practitioners subscribe to the concept that subject matter expertise is most gratifying through the combined experiences of participating members. In other words – every participant has something to share and collectively the group is the expert.
Define High Level Topics if You Must
There is no right or wrong when it comes to topics. Consider surveying participants to see what's on their mind, what they have interest in learning about and what they have expertise in that they would like to share. What do they want to know about? Once you define initial topics, now ask the team who has expertise in the topics that you have defined.
My Case Study – Using the Un-Conference at a National Sales Meeting
The ability to incorporate "Un-Conference" structure largely depends on what your participants already know about the subject matter. I was recently asked to lead a breakout for a national sales conference regarding prospecting and developing new business entitled "Making Sales Activity Count". Instead of lecturing to the group of approximately fifty sales professionals, here is how it worked.
Step One - The Set Up
Sales people were seated in rounds. Each table was equipped with post-it notes, flip chart and information about one of the related topics including:
Step Two – Quick Overview of each topic and instructions
Using the handout – Making Sales Activity Count! (Available for download) we provided a quick overview of the concepts and instructions. Individuals received a "Sales Bingo" card to be used as a learning journal to capture ideas shared that they intended to use. Bingo card headers included each of the major topics of discussion.
Step Three – Group Rounds
Teams discussed the topic allocated to their table, shared ideas of how they implement the concepts in the field and jotted ideas on both post it notes and in their "bingo" journals. Teams migrate to the next table and complete the process until all tables/topics have been visited. Post it notes from each previous group are left on the flip chart by each table for subsequent group review and discussion.
Step Four – Large Group Debrief
Winning Bingos were awarded prizes, of course, with one stipulation. The Bingo winners needed to debrief by sharing their takeaways. Bingos and those who were willing to share was not the issue – finding time to accommodate everyone who wanted to share was!
Since I am a devote practitioner of experiential learning, employing the "Un Conference" concept to my breakout was not too much of a stretch. The room was abuzz and everyone was engaged as teacher, learner and truly active participant.
Try Making Sales Activity Count at your next sales meeting or conference.