SXSW 2008 — Your Unpanel Awaits

Last night as I was going to bed I had an idea.

Knowing me, I had to write it down before I went to sleep lest I forget and since my computer was still on, I twittered it. To whit, I said, “thinking of doing an unpanel at SXSW. Anyone want to join? topic TBD. DM if you want to pontificate in public with me. :)” Most of the reaction was “un-what now?” Which makes sense. I’ve explained this idea to about 5 people today via IM. It just isn’t something that lends itself to being fully explained via Twitter, but I guess that’s why we keep our blogs around.

The Idea

Get 4 to 5 people to stand in front of an informal gathering of interested other people and talk about… something. Much like an unconference, this idea would have the topic of discussion driven by those who show up. I know those interested in speaking will come with a few ideas of their own, but I think audience participation makes for a more engaging experience. That would be the initial part of the unpanel. The second part would be an open Q&A, cleverly entitled “Ask Us Anything.” (Hat tip to Steve Marshall for helping me coalesce this part of the idea, based on his experience.) And by “anything” I mean anything. Likely the questions will stem form the conversation that preceded, but we all need to keep each other on each other’s toes, so anything goes. If you are offensive, expect to get back what you give.

Why?

A couple of reasons. Totally my reasons which you might share or completely disagree with.

I looked through the schedule of panels on the extremely helpful sched.org and was quite uninspired by the offerings. Some things I saw made me think, “Must. Get. Front. Row. Seat.” while most of them made me utter “meh” quite a lot. I also noticed a lot of the “same old names” cropping up. Most of those “same old names” I have a lot of respect for, but I’ve also heard them over and over and over again. And finally, having been to a couple of SXSWs (Westeses?), I know there’s a lot of smart people that attend who are not as well known as the “same old names” and potentially never will be.

Given all that I thought, why not see if those people have something to say? You are probably one of those people. In fact, most of the people who go to SXSW are one of those people. That’s a lot of people!

And Just Who Are These People?

So far I have received confirmed interest from Michael Montgomery, Julio Fernandez, the aforementioned Steve Marshall, Martin Ringlein, James Aylett, Alex Giron, Andrea Schwandt-Arbogast, and me. I think panels are optimal at 4 people so we’ll go for that as much as possible.

I’ve added: Lisa Brewster, Abi Jones, and Alex Hillman. So it’s very likely we will do 2 unpanels.

When?

The short answer is: no clue. Likely on Saturday and/or Sunday. Likely in the afternoon. Mostly it depends on the schedules of those who are going to speak and attend. I won’t be able to find the perfect time slot. If you want to know when it’s going to happen following me on Twitter is the easiest way to get updates. I’ll know more as the time approaches and will communicate what I know when I know it.

If you think this is a good idea, please pass the word so as many people as possible can chose to attend if they wish.

Unpanel?

I realize it isn’t the best name for it, but its what came to mind. I guess you could call it Impromptu Panel, Salon-o-rama, or Lawrence. I guess part of the thing about this is I think it’s something that could happen at any conference. Unconferences are all well and good (they really are) but I suspect there’s a lot of people who would benefit from an informal, lightly-structured session-with-a-session so to speak at any and every conference out there. Few conferences are 100%interesting for 100% everyone. So why not orgainze something like those meetings-between-the-meetings we are all so fond of saying are “when the real conference happens.”

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14 Responses to “SXSW 2008 — Your Unpanel Awaits”

  1. Alex Hillman Says:

    I think this is a great idea, I’d love to participate as a panelist if you’re interested in having me. Just drop me a line.

    Thanks to Martin for passing along the note of your call for participation.

  2. Erik Says:

    I’ll do it! Does it disqualify me if I’ve been on a SXSW panel in the past? Despite this I still feel like I’m flying under the radar.

    Let me know as I love impromptu things and this appeals to me.

  3. Matthew Oliphant Says:

    @Erik: the idea is definitely to have people speak who have never spoken at SXSW before. I know what you mean about flying under the radar, I am there too.

    Depending on the initial reaction I’d like to keep to my made-up-on-the-spot rules, but if it gets big enough I will let you know.

    @Alex: If you meet the current requirements, welcome aboard. Start following me on Twitter and I’ll give you the URL to the unpanel wiki.

  4. Jeff L Says:

    Matthew,

    Are you aware SXSW is having “OpenFormat” time?

    You can find more info on Ian’s blog here:
    http://ian.sundermedia.com/index.php/2008/02/26/sxsw-openformat/

  5. Michael Montgomery Says:

    Sounds like a Barcamp panel (Barpanel? Hmm.)

    Looking forward to it, any way.

  6. Lisa Brewster Says:

    Saw your post on SXSW Baby and I’d love to participate!

  7. Matthew Oliphant Says:

    @Jeff L: I hadn’t seen that. Thanks for pointing it out. Frankly, it never occurred to me that SXSW organizers would offer such a thing. I’ll look into it, but I still think it’s a good idea to move forward with the unpanel idea as it will prepare people either way.

  8. Dave C. Says:

    Found via @alexknowshtml. I think this is a great idea and would love to attend. One idea for an “unpanel” I’ve thought of but never executed is to have the audience sign up with their urls and info ahead of time, and then it’s the panel’s job to research every audience member’s work/presence and develop a question to ask *them*. Kind of a reverse panel.

  9. Dave Seah Says:

    Hey Matt, I’m definitely going to check it out and the OpenFormat, whatever it is. Sounds intriguing, and I am looking forward to actually being social :-)

  10. Anton Says:

    Heretic!!!

    Kidding. I will be there as your cheerleader. But I will not wear a skirt.

  11. Michael Galpert Says:

    I would be interested in paticipating in an unpanel. let me know if i should unprepare

  12. Todd Sundsted Says:

    Great idea! I’d like to attend and would be happy to participate.

    Looking at the SXSW OpenFormat post now…

    Todd

  13. Peter Flaschner Says:

    LMAO @ Michael Galpert: “let me know if I should unprepare”. Classic.

  14. Rita Y Says:

    Always wanted to go to SWSX. Especially after that episode of Entourage.