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The unconference experience: TRU USA

3 min read


This guest post is by Miri Zena McDonald, an organization development and communications strategist on a quest to help companies thrive by engaging employees, improving culture, and promoting wellness. She tweets at @miri_orgchange.

Traditional conferences have gotten the reputation for being dry, death-by-Powerpoint experiences that often don’t fit in today’s training budgets. However, the tide is beginning to turn. Enter TRU unconferences, the brainchild of Bill Boorman and Geoff Webb to provide recruiters and HR professionals an alternative venue for learning and discussion at an affordable price.

For the uninitiated, an unconference does not allow presentations of any kind (goodbye Powerpoint!) and encourages respectful debate and discussion. The only structure is a set of “tracks” or topics led by a facilitator or panel. Last week I attended TRU USA in Madison, Wis., to get a taste of this concept and learn from the experts in attendance.

The tone was set by the untraditional venue, The Brink Lounge, a bar versus a sterile conference center combined with the kick-off presentation, a “Men of HR” calendar set to music complete with racy, tongue-in-cheek photos of the TRU founders and other early advocates of TRU events. This is clearly not your grandfather’s conference! Other unconference cultural norms included:

  • Introductions based on twitter handles as in, “Hi, I’m miri_orgchange.”
  • Tweeting in real-time complete with an announcement, such as “overheard.”
  • Flip videos and photos to capture the moments for blogs or as “twitpics.”
  • Copious note-taking since there are no hard-copy materials.
  • Secret tracks that can break off the main sessions at any time by anyone.
  • Healthy debate and challenging questions.
  • Lots of joking, laughing, and jabs.

It is challenging to relay the full experience, but I captured some provocative questions and ideas that emerged during a few of the tracks I attended. In unconference fashion, here are my “overheards” in 140 characters or less:

  • Social Media Circus: Social media can change a company’s reputation on a dime. Active participation is a must to retain and attract quality people.
  • Anti-Social Recruiting: Has social media made us less social? Is the phone an “opt-in” tool now? Is communication just about being smart within 140 characters?
  • Gen Y: Gen Y is a higher-needs group with helicopter parents, bigger loans, and higher expectations for perks.
  • Blogging: A blog is a recruiter’s #1 marketing tool. It helps you build trust, provide advice and insights, and keep in touch with clients.

You can view a full list of the published tracks on the TRU USA website. TRU New Zealand is next up May 13, 14, 2010 with more TRU events all over the globe throughout the year.

Image credit, francisblack, via iStock