Unconference Basics — Step 2: Build Core Team To Get To Next Level

Why Is A Core Team Needed?

After you do the groundwork for an unconference, developing a draft picture of what the event will look like, who is likely to participate in it, and why you want to put it on, you need to focus on gathering a core team of people who are excited about the event and have the ability and commitment to pull off a successful unconference.

You might think, “hey, unconferences are informal, no preset agenda, usually no cost — why can’t I just organize it myself, find someone who will provide the space for free, have everyone bring snacks, beverages, chairs and tables, eat meals at local restaurants, and we’ll have a fantastic event!” It is possible to do that — here’s a post from someone who essentially did that. The single-person organizer approach works best if you’ve got experience organizing unconferences, have plenty of connections and resources, can easily get a couple sponsors to cover meals and random costs, and can easily communicate with all potential participants for the event. Doing it by yourself will still be challenging, but it is doable.

If the unconference being planned doesn’t meet the above criteria, especially if it’s a first-time event and not a repeat performance of an annual event, trying to be a one-person band leading the unconference parade will probably lead to burnout for you and a less worthwhile event for the participants.

When you have a core organizing team, the different points of view brought by each member will help the team create a more balanced event which takes into account different participants needs. A variety of viewpoints can also foresee problems that might otherwise be overlooked by just one person or a very small group.

Different skills are needed for planning and putting on various parts of an unconference. One person can try to take care of every aspect, but a group of people with more experience and expertise in each area can do a better job in that area, resulting in a better experience for participants.

Core team members bring with them different networks, contacts, and resources. Some may know more potential participants, while others might be able to easily recruit event partners or sponsors.

Who Should Be On Core Team?

The core team for organizing any event needs a leader or facilitator who will keep things moving forward and on track. This isn’t a prestige job, and it needs someone who can pay attention to details while also doing a good job of understanding whether people need a little help from others to accomplish a task they committed to get done or when they just need encouragement and a reminder of what needs to be done when. They need to be especially aware of critical tasks which have to be done well, and they need to know whether one of the core team members needs to bow out due to unforeseen problems or a change in their personal situation. Everyone on the core team is volunteering, so the team leader has to always keep that in mind.

There should be an events wrangler on the core team, someone who has previously organized an unconference. The team leader might be an events wrangler, or the events wrangler can be a person who is also filling one of the other roles, like a theme lead or a website coordinator

Every core team needs theme leads, several people highly knowledgeable about and involved in the theme of the unconference. Every BarCamp (technology unconference) needs several coders and designers involved in the planning and every EdCamp (education unconference) needs a bunch of teachers as part of the core team. A marketing person who doesn’t code or do much with technology can do an excellent job on publicity and marketing for a BarCamp, and a website developer who’s not a teacher would be a great asset for an EdCamp core team. But at least several member of the core team need to have deep experience with the theme or topic of the event.

Because volunteers are organizing and running the event, rather than a single organization funding and putting it on, supporters are usually critical to the success of an unconference. For this reason, it makes sense to have a supporters coordinator, someone who will communicate with and make sure their sponsorships or partner contributions are firm commitments to cover all the expenses and other needs of the event, such as the venue, wifi, equipment, etc. The supporters coordinator will also communicate with the supporters to make sure they get a consistent message about the role of supporters in an unconference and to answer any questions the supporters may have. All the core team should help recruit partners and sponsors, but there should be a single person coordinating the entire group of supporters.

As the unconference planning moves ahead and gets closer to confirming a venue and date, other roles will be needed, such as website lead, social media maven, chief storyteller, venue coordinator, publicity and marketing leader, internet access and venue network manager, food and beverage coordinator, and t-shirt and sticker procurer. None of those activities need to be managed or worked on much until a venue sponsor has committed in writing to either provide an appropriate venue for free (in-kind sponsorship) or pay for a suitable facility. A written confirmation of the event date and all venue conditions needs to also be received from the venue owner before the unconference date and location are publicized, before participant registration is launched and before the core team needs to start treating the event as a reality.

Once the venue sponsor, venue location and unconference date are confirmed, the organizing pace picks up and things start to get a bit frantic as everyone realizes all the stuff that has to get done before the event begins…

How To Recruit Core Team Members

The original one or two people who started the event rolling need to pull in a few more people as members of that early core team. They should start by talking with people they know who have qualities or skills needed for the core team and who can be relied on to follow through on commitments. Start with friends and acquaintances, especially people involved in the theme of the unconference.

If you’ve talked with all your friends and acquaintances, next talk with people recommended by your friends and acquaintances. If those referrals came from people you know to be reliable, you can probably trust the referrals to do a good job on the core team.

If you still need more members on your core team, start researching and networking to find people you don’t know who are involved with theme of unconference. Explain to them the concept of an unconference, and if they get excited about the possibilities, invite them to a core team meeting on an informal basis to see if they might be a good fit for the team.

Lastly, consider people you don’t know who have needed skills and connections. Identify those people through your network, through the networks of others you know (bridge contacts), and through online research.

Core Team Logistics

So you’ve formed a core team. What’s the first order of business?

The first thing to take care of is to schedule regular meetings when the largest number of key core team people can commit to regular attendance. At a kickoff meeting for the entire early-stage core team, or as many as can possibly get together (try using Doodle if you don’t have another scheduling software tool you like), where everyone has their schedule in front of them, set up regular meeting dates and time, running up to the date of the unconference. The core team will decide what frequency is appropriate, based on what tasks need to be done. It often makes sense to schedule a few meetings at the start on a weekly basis, just to get things rolling, then space out the meetings in the middle of the planning period, then go back to weekly meetings in the last month before the meeting date. The main thing is to set up a schedule that works for the core team and for your unconference.

The next task for the core team is to refine the unconference concept and message, including draft publicity and marketing materials, such as a short summary (100-word?), a one page proposal, a one-page event flyer, a logo or other written or visual materials which can be used to pitch the event to a venue sponsor and to other potential sponsors.

The core team leader should work with the team to develop an unconference planning schedule for what needs to be done when. Creating this timeline will help people understand what sense of urgency they need to have for getting stuff done.

As referenced earlier, a key requirement at this point in the life of the unconference is to get a venue sponsor and a venue on a date that is acceptable to the core team and is likely to work well for many of the potential participants. So the core team should talk about what month or months are workable for the unconference. There should also be early talks about what venues might work, and who potential venue sponsors might be.

The last item for the early-stage core team is communications within the team. A good tool to start with is Google Groups. It’s free, and the entire team can pose questions, reply with answers, offer suggestions, etc. Depending on the complexity of the event and the preferences of the core team members, you can also use collaboration or communication tools that everyone on the core team can quickly learn to use.

The next post in this series will be “Step 3: Confirm Key Participants and Supporters.”


Posts in this “Unconference Basics” series:

Events Wrangling Basics For Unconferences
Unconference Basics — Step 2: Build Core Team To Get To Next Level” — today’s post
Unconference Basics — Step 3: Confirm Key Participants And Supporters
Unconference Basics — Step 4: Work On When
Unconference Basics — Step 5: Work On Where
Unconference Basics — Step 6: Start Publicizing
Unconference Basics — Step 7: Begin Personal Invitations
Unconference Basics — Step 8: Organize Equipment
Unconference Basics — Step 9: Organize Supplies
Unconference Basics — Step 10: Run The Unconference
Unconference Basics — Step 11: Follow-up After The Unconference


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