3 tips for a successful “un-conference”


Published on: March 2023

At the beginning of 2023, BTS’s senior leaders, over 300 people from 30 countries, came together outside Barcelona to spend a few days learning and collaborating together.

Given widespread economic uncertainty, why spend this time together instead of pursuing potential clients?

The time spent enabled leaders to gain inspiration, clarity, and confidence. They reflected on 2022’s client challenges and were humbled by their colleagues’ remarkable depth, expertise, and creativity. As a result of the event, leaders were refreshed. They returned to their markets with new ideas and insights that would enable them to make smarter, better sales.

What made this conference so successful? It was the “un-conference” conference. Energizing and collaborative rather than dull and death by powerpoint, this “un-conference” utilized three critical factors that made it a success. These key tips are universally applicable and will make all the difference for your own organization-wide gatherings.

  1. Executive sponsorship that is constructive – not destructive.
    Jessica Skon, Global CEO of BTS, served as executive sponsor for the conference and was personally invested in its success. She recognized the opportunity for the gathering to ignite the organizations’ leaders, inspire new ways to partner with clients, and uncover opportunities for growth and better serving clients.

    Typically, executive sponsors serve on a steering committee, occasionally reviewing the event’s content and flow. Too often, executive sponsors are guilty of co-opting those meetings, requesting major last-minute changes that cause rework and stress.

    Jessica, however, consistently clarified priorities and surfaced gaps in alignment she’d noticed over the past two quarters. Through daily interaction, Jessica, her senior team, and the conference designers refined their goals for the gathering, ensured the flow of the programming, and defined outcomes that would justify the time investment.

    Also, in the weeks leading up to the meeting, Jessica held office hours during which facilitators could practice and get feedback. These mini working sessions drove dialogue about the firm’s future and strengthened consultants’ ownership of organization’s strategy.

  2. Intentional program design.
    Conferences are often a grab-bag of non sequitur presentations. To shift your conference to an “un-conference,” draw a red thread through all presentations by writing an explicit narrative.

    Jessica and the conference designers involved scores of their colleagues thoughout the content development process to co-create client stories, simulations, frameworks, lessons learned, and quick updates that would make sense to all attendees as a complete program.

    3. Embed opportunities for learning.
    Authorship is ownership. Strategy execution runs on conversation, not lengthy presentations by a sage on stage. Provide opportunities for people to share findings from their most challenging client work. Then, after each learning moment, build in opportunities for people to share thoughts, collaborate, and ideate together.

    Discussion is the key that will enable your team to process new information, internalize the learning, and come up with new approaches. You’ll be surprised and amazed by what your team is able to create. By providing ample opportunities for people to share challenges and discuss new approaches, you will create optimal conditions for learning, alignment, and growth.

By following these “un-conference” rules, BTS was able to create an experience that accelerated sales in 2023. Rather than starting from behind after taking a week to sit through a series of unhelpful PowerPoints, consultants left the experience ready to help clients solve problems in new ways – to help them create their own great “un-conference” memories.

By leveraging your executive sponsor effectively, taking an intentional approach to program design, and building in opportunities for learning at every step, you too can hold a gathering that builds community and strengthens your company culture.

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