Sunday, 29 January 2012

Innovating the HR Conference (#HRevent)


    So you probably know that I’ve been one of the people behind the introduction of unconferences into HR in the UK.  I love these events and am really interested to see how they develop – perhaps with more small groups like ConnectingHR arranging organically to get together and learn from each other, and with the traditional conferences, outside those operating in relatively specialist areas, retreating into a smaller and smaller role – or whether the traditional conference providers get smart and update their models to make conferences less formal, more social and therefore more appealing, meaning that people might not see so much need to do things for themselves.

World Trade Group, organisers of the annual HR Directors Business Summit (plus the Pan European HR Summit, and the first CHRO Summit in the US later this year) are, I think, leading the field in looking at how the traditional model might change.  So on Wednesday last week, I chaired the second day of the HR Directors Business Summit which integrated unconferencing into the formal conference.

This isn’t a completely new idea, so for example, HR Technology US and HRevolution were run together last year, and even included a couple of HRevolution sessions on the last day of HR Technology.  But there was no real cross-over between the two (and actually, though I love HRevolution, it’d not really an unconference).

At the HR Director's Business Summit, we’d already decided to do a proper integration:

  • Completing the unconference grid during the first day of the conference
  • Running unconference sessions (discussions, not presentations, based on issues delegates wanted to discuss)
  • Using the final conference panel session to feedback on, and get further input into, the discussions in the unconference.


On the morning of the unconference day, we made a further change to this, deciding to make the panel into an ‘unpanel’, in which we’d start by sitting up on the stage, feeding back on the unconference, and then move into the delegate seating area, facilitating the broader discussion from within the crowd.  (Reinforcing the point that this isn’t a completely new idea, although I thought I was making the term up, a Google search on ‘unpanel’ throws up 38,200 results!)

In general, I think it went really well, though there were a lot of things I learnt, and I’d do differently if and when I do the same thing again.  But the energy and involvement in the unpanel (at least during the last 5 minutes) were like nothing you’d get in a traditional panel, and I hope that even though it was messy, people will have appreciated the authenticity!  And by participating in the conversation, I honestly think that people will have learnt a lot more as well.



We also had a twitter display up to generate inputs from beyond the confines of the auditorium (around the conference hashtag, #hrevent) - here are some of the tweets:


Thanks to:

  • Stephen Pobjoy, conference producer at World Trade Group
  • My unpanel members:
    • David Clutterbuck, Professor, Oxford Brookes and Sheffield Hallam
    • Harvey Francis, Executive VP, HR, IT and Communications, Skanska
    • Donna Miller, European HR Director, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car
    • Lisa Winnard, HR Director, Sesame Bankhall Group
  • The blogsquad for the tweeting:
    • Rob Jones
    • Gareth Jones
    • Mervyn Dinnen
  • All the delegates who took a risk and came along, particularly those who acted as sponsors for the discussions
  • ConnectingHR, the members of which acted as a fairly large proportion of the above.



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