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How to Run a Blockchain Unconference

Sticky notes.

A colleague from the insurance industry once told me about a conference that changed her life. Only it wasn’t a conference; it was an UNCONFERENCE.

What is an Unconference?

“Imagine all these executives from the insurance industry,” she said, and I tried to picture the wild parties that must ensue. “Except there’s no programming: the participants choose the topics!”

She breathlessly told me about how an “Unconference” works. Modeled after the Open Circle model, it’s a kind of open-source meeting driven by the participants:

  • First, participants suggest topics on sticky notes
  • Next, participants vote on topics using colored dots
  • Then, we break into small groups around top ideas, with each group having a “leader” for organizing the discussion, and a “scribe” for taking notes
  • Then, we reconvene as a larger group and read our notes

She said the Unconference was the most interesting insurance conference she had ever attended. I told her the bar for insurance conferences probably wasn’t that high. She insisted it was great.

When we tested a blockchain Unconference in Boston earlier this year, I saw she was right. The Unconference model really works, for reasons, I will discuss below (with downloadable notes). But first, let me tell you how we ended up doing an Unconference in Las Vegas.

Group of people at a conference.

The World Crypto Conference Unconference

In 2018, at the terrific World Crypto Con, we hosted a full day of training workshops. It was eight hours to fill, but I had the help of several colleagues, and we each took a workshop. It was a big success — I wrote about the experience at the end of my book Blockchain For Everyone — and this year the organizers asked us back again.

In 2019, though, my colleagues couldn’t make it.

I was alone. With eight hours to fill.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, but desperation is the grandmother of invention. I flashed back to the Unconference model. “Eureka!” I shouted. “In the spirit of blockchain, I shall decentralize our training workshops!”

In other words, I’d get the attendees to do it for me.

When the big day arrived this week, I was sweating marbles. The worst case would be that one other person would show up, and it would be me and some guy trying to hold an Unconference between the two of us.

So I was thrilled to see the conference room packed for our first session. This was 9:00 am, on the day before World Crypto Con, and the room was full and buzzing.

Even better, the people were engaged. Over eight hours, we held four amazing workshops, each led by the participants and exploring a variety of topics from “The Future of Bitcoin” to “Best Crypto Wallets” to “Finding Hidden Gems.” (Downloadable notes below.)

I received about a dozen compliments afterward on the workshops. “Thank you for organizing this!” people said. (Little did they realize I didn’t organize anything.)

Why do these Unconferences work? Same reason as blockchain: decentralization.

Group of people at a conference sitting at round tables.

Why Unconferences Work

  • They allow everyone to learn from each other – not just from a single speaker.
  • Participants get to choose topics they want to discuss.
  • They build connections between people.
  • They build connections between ideas.
  • They unlock all the brainpower in the room, from beginners to experts.
  • They create a sense of community and fun!

One of the coolest things, though, was getting a pulse on which blockchain topics are hot. You could easily see, with colored dots, which tokens and technologies were on everyone’s mind. It was a valuable way of seeing where the market is.

As each small group read their “takeaways” to the wider group, I took notes on the high-level learnings. So many people asked me for a copy of this master document that we’ve made it available to Bitcoin Market Journal. You can download it here!

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