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Green Business Camp Unconference

May 1, 2009

Green Business Camp

After attending yesterday’s Green Business Camp Unconference, I think all conferences should become unconferences.  It was a self organized event.  For those of you familiar with other meeting facilitation models, think Future Search meets World Cafe with a dash of Open Space thrown in.

The only “talking head” was Paul Hawken, who started the day off with a some stories and antidotes about his experiences starting companies and working to green corporations. Paul reminded us that it might be too late to save the world, but we need to change how we work together-a new way that builds community.  Rather than have the mindset of “saving” the world, he suggested we ask ourselves, “How can I be of service?”.  He commented, “I don’t care about the word green or sustainability. I care about preventing harm.”

When I asked a question about how we reach those who just don’t get it, like the Harvard MBA I met recently who thinks climate change is hype, he replied, “You can only change yourself.”  And also added that “rightousness is a form of racism.”

He concluded by reminding us that “nature sucks!”  It pulls things in,  draws resources to it–successful businesses don’t push, but pull the market to them.

The Unconference

The 100 participants were able to propose different topics for 45 minute sessions and then we voted as a group to select the top 20.  They ranged from social media, green business best practices and group collaboration. My favorite session was co-lead by Nick Aster from Triple Pundit and Curt Dowdy of Matter Network on New Media.  The participants were a mix of seasoned vetrans with years of experience with social media to new green entrepenuers and an eclectic mix of consultants, coaches, graphic designers and green building experts.

Then there was my session–an interactive playshop on authentic communications and presenting your passion with sizzle.  A few brave souls missed the session on social media to tackle what I think is even more important–how to show up in person and use your words to connect with others.

The idea came from my recent observation that at green events, how people present them selves is boring.  I don’t want to know what you do, I want to know what you are passionate about. And presenting that in an authentic way that connects with your audience and gets folks excited about who you are was the goal.

We got silly and did a few improve exercised to loosen up,  journaled about our passions and took turns presenting 5 words to the group and getting feedback.  The feedback was one word from the other participants about how your words impacted us. I participated equally with everyone else and was reminded to slow down and deliver each word so it could be received. My words were connection, authenticity, creativity, action and contribution.  The phrase that still stands out to me from another participant is “strawberry kiss”-a reminder that taking the risk to be authentic and personal in our public communications can make us more memorable.

Tips for Planning an Unconference

While this was the first official unconference I attended, based on the other self organizing events I have participated in and my background in cross-sector dialogue, I offer these tips for others planning an unconference:

1. Who should participate?: The Green Business Camp registration was open to anyone and everyone–first come, first served and registration was cut off at 100 participants.  While there were a few successful green business owners there to share their insights and experiences, I think the event would have benefited from even more participation from the business sector.  While it might go against the “unconference” concept, think before hand about the ideal mix of participants and find a way to market to them.

2.  Background:  Paul Hawkin did a fabulous job of setting the context for the green business camp. He summarized the work of Saul Griffith to underline the theme that to deal with climate change we need an incredible plan. I think a great guideline for the unconference is NO powerpoints, only telling stories that inspire. I think context setting is like cayenne pepper–you only need a dash to catalyze the group.

3.  Space:  Hold the event in a space that is conducive to both gathering in a large plenary and can comfortably accommodate 5 breakout groups.  Things to take into account:  acoustics, temperature, wall space for notes and healthy food.

4.  Facilitating “Unworkshops”: Too much time was wasted each session doing unstructured introductions where participants were pitching all their credentials and affiliations.  Another chunk of time was spent identifying what questions folks wanted to focus on.  Perhaps one role of the facilitators could be to help the group frame one or two key questions that would be important to explore so the remaining time is spent harvesting the juiciest pieces in the room.

I noticed in several sessions that a few people dominated the conversation.  Another potential role for facilitators would be to enourage the silent voices to participate.

5.  Sharing collective discoveries:  At the end of the day, we each paired up with a person to share our key learnings from the day.  But I felt this is one area where the day could have been stronger.  The organizers encouraged folks to share with the larger group a key learning, but he had few takers.  Think creatively how to harvest the collective discoveries in the room, when folks might be a bit burned out from networking and talking all day. Perhaps a follow-up survey or ask people to write a key lesson on a card and leave it behind.

A great collective exercise that was included was each of us was given a brown paper bag and instructed to write on it needs we had that the community might be able to meet.  Each participant then dropped their business card into bags that matched their services and expertise.  A fun goody bag to end the day with.

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