Jeremy Walker

Software Developer & Social Entrepreneur

Open Space Conferences

Last week I went to Bootstrapd, an open-space conference for people who are (or are interested in) bootstrapping their own businesses. I thought it was absolutely excellent. It was a brilliant opportunity to meet lots of people in a similar situation to me, and to pick up some really useful tips and tricks. What made it work so well was the open-space format, something I've not come across before.

What is an open-space conference?

An open-space conference, also known as an unconference, is a series of participant-led sessions on a variety of topics, in a very free and open format. The way Bootstrapd worked was that anyone that wanted to host a session could give a lightening talk and throw a PostIt on a whiteboard, and then people voted on which sessions they wanted to attend and when they wanted to attend them. It was an extremely friendly and easy-to-setup format.

Bootstrapd in the afternoon, by Graham Wynne.

In my normal style, I decided if there was an opportunity to lead something, I needed to be involved and opted to talk about my experiences of taking a free product and trying to make money out of it. I think my talk was probably quite unhelpful, but the great thing about the open-space style was that it then turned into a large discussion on a variety of tangents that were helpful to both me and to lots of the others in the room. So even though the presentation wasn't great, the outcome was still really useful.

Some of the most useful periods were the times between sessions where the participants would start discussing extremely tangental topics. The diverse nature of the people sitting around at this point meant there was a wealth of experience and insight that we could all learn from. At large conferences, you have to actively approach people and start conversations to achieve this, whereas in the open-space format you have already been discussing things for the past 15mins, so continuing the conversations is extremely natural.

In Summary

If you've never been to an open-space conference before, I highly recommend you make an effort to attend one. I'm certain you will find it extremely useful.

I finally want to say a big thanks to Matt Wynne and Steve Tooke for having the courage to run the conference in this format, and for all the participants of Bootstrapd for taking part. I look forward to the next one!

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