Attending unconference? Come prepared!

Matej Jariabka
Oct 31 · 4 min read

Next agile unconference for Czech & Slovak agile practitioners is just around the corner. Having its own specifics, it is best to come well prepared for this type of event. Otherwise, you risk your expectations won’t be met. But is there a way to exceed them instead?

Unconference, in short, is a meeting of like-minded people where you co-create the program. For a longer explanation, find more details here, here or here. As this format is quickly gaining popularity, you might find your self in this one or any other sometime soon.

Open Space inAgile uncoference from May 2019, Prague — pitch of topics in progress
Open Space inAgile uncoference from May 2019, Prague — pitch of topics in progress

To put it simply, the more you prepare, the more value you will get back. And normally, this is true for any event where you put your money in, but in case of unconference format, this is extra vital. Which preparations I may recommend?

Register early and attend the pre-event

First things first, let’s make sure you will get into the event in the first place. Tickets are often in scarce amounts as venues can host only a limited number of people. Make sure you are registered in their newsletter and you will be able to book your place as soon as the next event is announced.

Hopefully, few weeks have passed since your (successful)registration and you are starting to feel excited. The best place to tip your toes is to attend a pre-event. You might want to introduce your self to the community, enjoy the evening or even scope for the next day’s topics. This last point might score you some last-minute wins (for both you and others) and bring your preparations back to speed!

Prepare topics you are interested in

Write down a simple list of what you want to hear, where you want to expand your overview or gain insights. In other words, topics which you plan to listen only. As there is no list of talks to choose from published upfront, staying with topic areas will have to make the trick.

When the topics in time slots will get decided, you know what to go for and save your self a bit of a hassle. Even if you didn’t choose well, you may want to get the advantage of one of the unconference’s most important rules — move to topics that you pre-selected as interesting.

Prepare topics where you may contribute

Let’s move the previous tip a bit further. Think about topics that lay in your area of practice and where you want to be a vital part of the discussion. You want to be active, shape the conversations and influence the conclusions, including a way your group will reach them.

Where you will be co-creating the content, you will get most of your learning.

Prepare topics for conducting a discussion

Things are starting to get serious and this is your involvement turned to eleven. Not only you’ll offer a subject for participation to others, but you will also be promoting it and then leading the whole conversation. As you might have guessed, here is where you’ll get the most value, but for the highest effort.

Think about themes where you can add value to a group of people with various backgrounds. The crucial part starts with “selling” your topic to the audience. Probably the best way is to offer a head start (simply, don’t introduce it with “help me, I’m only a beginner” line), solid reasoning why a subject is important and a mutually beneficial discussion.

The next part will challenge you as a host, leader, moderator, curator, mediator… you name it. All kind of roles that are related to public speaking and working with a group of people.

You will have examples (both better and weaker) right at the beginning of unconference — watch and see how pitching topics resonate with the rest of the crowd. If there are plenty of people showing excitement and listening closely during the session as well, that was it! When in doubt how to deliver your pitch, mimic one of those speakers. Over time, you’ll form your own, personal style.

Ask for an opportunity to host a talk or consult

If you still need a bigger challenge, or you think you didn’t get as much as you might have from the (un)conference last time, maybe it is time to move the bar even higher.

Ask to play a more active role during the event by contacting the organizers. Increase your chances by including a good proposition of how you might contribute, e.g. in pro bono consulting in separate time slots or a Pecha Kucha talk.


A bonus tip — lots of conversations and decisions about topics and their content happens right in front of the board/wall with topics. Go there and be active — listen, ask, discuss and negotiate!

If the unconference format sounds different to you, it might be thanks to its fresh perspective on the organization and delivery of valuable content to attendees. The great thing is, that you’ll get its nuances after (or even during) your first event!


The unconference I have in mind is Open Space inAgile. I’m not affiliated with the conference nor with its organizers.

ableneo Process

Agile, Lean, Scrum, DevOps

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