On the 11th February 2016 something remarkable happened. 40+ people from many corners of the UK, working for different companies or running their own businesses, in a wide variety of sectors all came together with a shared purpose “to embrace change in learning practice”.
The aims were pretty simple – to create a space to:
- Experiment with ideas and techniques with other practitioners – get feedback and think differently about what we produce
- Talk about current L&D / OD issues
- Exchange ideas and support, where we were able to
- Encourage networking to create better connections
This was my first Unconference and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too sure about what was about to take place. A number of thoughts buzzed through my mind in the run up to the day:
- Would an unconference style suit me?
- Would an unstructured day generate real tangible outcomes?
- Would it really be any different to past conferences?
- Would I learn?
- Would everyone be up for sharing, truly or would it be one of those “typical” conferences where people are selling themselves or their products?
- Would it be fun?
The answer to every single question is a resounding YES!
The venue was sheer genius. Ziferblat, Manchester. Ziferblat is a place where you can do as you please. Like an extension of your own home; Work, Study, Relax, Explore, Play, Eat Cake, Have a Brew. What’s not to like? You pay by the minute and everything inside is free. It’s cool, funky, comfortable and I was completely at ease from the moment I walked through the door. It helped bumping into the very lovely Ian Pettigrew (@Kingfishercoach) and Tim Scott (TimscottHR). Meeting Ian and Tim pleased me immensely; I follow them on Twitter and learn loads from them. Big tick for me and the day hadn’t even started. Result!
There was hustle and bustle going on at a table and, after I checked in, I joined in the fun to draw a self portrait, sort the name badge out in a very unique and creative way.
I should, perhaps, explain my portrait. The fire, the tears, the booze, the laughs.
The Sunday before #ldcu16, I had invited the whole family around for Sunday lunch. You know the pressure when you’re cooking for your Mother-in-Law; pulling out all the stops to prove that her baby boy eats well (even though he’s 48) and, even though you’re a bloody good cook, look to do something amazing to impress. Cutting a long story kinda short, I found new recipe for roast potatoes and it went horribly wrong. At the point of adding cyder vinegar to the meat juices, it flambéed. I’ve never seen flames like it. Everything that could have caught fire, did. The kitchen filled with thick, black smoke so quickly. I shit myself. Thankfully, awesome training enabled me to stick my arm in and turn off the gas. Leccy had to go off next, just as my extractor went bang, showering everything in carbon pellets. Sod this, a bucket of water was then thrown up and over the extractor. Fire out, we cleaned up (the family were arriving in less than an hour) and I carried on cooking. My arm and face were sore but I hadn’t stopped to check it. It wasn’t until after, that I realised I had burns on my arm, hand and face. A bottle or 2 of pink fizz and a good old cry later, I sucked it up. Oh, how we laughed about how I tried to kill us all.
At least I had #ldcu16 to look forward to.
Back to the day, the intro’s were loud and enthusiastic. the very fabulous Julie Drybrough (@fuchsia_blue) kicked us off. We grouped and moved around meeting new people and understanding their reason for coming. Some, I felt I already knew thanks to Twitter, some I had met at previous events; the very brilliant Fiona McBride (@FionaMcBride), Jo Stephenson (@jo_coaches) and Annette Hill (@Acumen_HR), to name a few.
We then heard from Kev Wyke (@kevwyke) who told us that the right people were in the room. There was to be no ” oh, if only Sharon was here”. Tough. Sharon wasn’t here. We were. That’s all that mattered. Whatever happens, that’s all that could have happened. When it’s over, it’s over.
The scene set for the day, we moved on to creating the agenda. We were invited to contribute a question and, the person suggesting became the convener for the sessions that followed.
The law of two feet was then explained. If we found ourselves in a discussion that we weren’t contributing to and/or learning from then you could make a move to another discussion. We could choose to be butterflies, and flit between discussions, or cross-pollinate like bees, as much as we felt the need to in order to maximise our contribution or learning. I really enjoyed this and moved around a lot. Often, I came back to the original group that I started in. The conversations were interactive, informative and really, really useful.
After lunch, we umm’d, arrr’d and oooo’d thanks to Sarah Storm (@_sarahsto_). An activity that certainly took me out of my comfort zone. Who knew we had such harmony? Christmas #1 in the making, right there.
We continued the afternoon with more sessions, discussions and the general sharing of stuff. Some of us dipped out to be filmed by Ady Howes (@adyhowes) for future promo material for L&D Connect events. We shared our thoughts on #ldcu16 and #ldinsight chat which takes place every Friday morning on Twitter between 8am and 9am. I have always learned something from these chats; whether I’m sat in bed with a brew or on the train just reading the timeline. Occasionally, I’ll jump in if I have something to contribute but the big plus for me is being able to come back to the hashtag and refresh myself of the conversation. There’s always a storify that follows it, too.
The day ended with a fishbowl discussion. Another new thing on me. This allowed everyone to be a part of the conversation. A smaller group of chairs were placed inside the wider circle where we were all sitting.
Once the topic was agreed, people were invited to sit in the inner circle and have a discussion on the subject in hand. Everyone else listened. Only the people in the inner circle could speak and if you had something to contribute, you were invited to tap a person out and take their seat. Being the very polite and considerate group that we were, it was no surprise that those in the middle selected themselves out and left a chair open for somebody else to take. That summed up the day perfectly.
I learned. I developed new thinking and techniques. I connected.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.