Unconference !== Unstructured

By Teri Chadbourne

Elevator Pitch

Ever heard an unconference described as a conference where nothing’s planned in advance? Not so. With careful attention to event structure, you can make the most of your participants’ passion, creating a safe and encouraging space for a compelling, community-driven learning experience.


Unconferences put control of content in the hands of participants, increasing attendee engagement through peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. But when event organizers hand that power over to participants, they retain the responsibility of providing a structured learning environment and a compelling experience. Far from a free-for-all, a well-executed unconference is a thoughtfully planned affair in which a passion for learner outcomes and community interaction drives event logistics.

In this lightning talk based on Offline Camp’s unconference model, you’ll get tips and tricks to help you:

  • Provide a structured agenda as scaffolding for unstructured discussion

  • Equip yourself with the right supplies to enable voting processes and group discussion

  • Encourage open communication and equal participation between participants of all experience levels

  • Optimize attendee’s access to the topics they’re excited about through thoughtful scheduling of discussions and recaps

Sneak preview: Mr. Sketch is your friend.


As an event planner and Certified Meeting Professional with plenty of experience building conferences for developers and designers, I thought I knew more or less what I was in for the first time I co-organized an unconference called Offline Camp. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When the event rolled around, I was absolutely floored by the difference that the camp structure made in our campers’ emotional connection to the content and to each other. It was far and away the most impactful tech event I’d ever attended or organized, and I’ve been touched by the awesome feedback we’ve received from fellow community organizers who attended. Offline Camp has truly transformed the way I think about events and community building, and after refining our event structure over the course of 4 events, I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about structuring effective unconferences.