Anatomy of an unworkshop

by Jay Cross on December 26, 2008

Informal Learning on the Social Web
An unworkshop is composed of small pieces, loosely joined. I always reserve the right to hop around based on my reading of the participants. (Every unworkshop is unique unto itself.) Sometimes I get so worked up that I feel that I am channeling the material rather than presenting it. Unlike traditional workshops, nothing in one of these sessions is for sure. That’s the “un” part. And it’s there because uncertainty engages the mind.

Earlier this month, at Online Educa in Berlin, I conducted my final unworkshop of 2008. Here was the schedule:


And here‘s a more detailed agenda from the Berlin session. The supporting presentation slides are all available on SlideShare. Asked if I weren’t afraid of being ripped off, since I do charge for these events, I replied “Not in the slightest.” It’s not the jokes so much as how you tell them. My goal is to rattle people’s cages, to make things memorable, and to invite bold change. Copycats don’t have the energy.

Solo presentations are deadly dull, so I’ve taken to inviting friends to take a role in my unworkshops. Nigel Paine came to my mid-year session in Melbourne to share some stories from BBC, and Ross Dawson visited the unworkshop in Sydney to describe his compelling Web 2.0 overview. In Berlin, we continued this theme with half a dozen “mountain guides” who chimed in with examples and wisdom, and made themselves available for networking throughout the event. Here’s one guide’s take on the Berlin unworkshop.

I love doing these events. It lets my inner performer loose. However, what with the advance planning, travel, prep, and follow-up, a one-day event can consume a week. I think I’ll shoot for a dozen unworkshops in 2009. Given the economy, I expect some of these will be working sessions where we identify how to slash costs while boosting performance.

To get over the here-today-gone-tomorrow phenomenon, I often precede an unworkshop with preparatory readings or a video. (Here’s an example from 2007.) Afterward, I’ll leave a structure for follow-up or an artifact of the session, such as this video.

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