The ALC Unconference

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I have to admit I was a little sceptical about taking 3 days out of the office and travelling 5000 miles to something called an unconference.

As a new CEO/business owner in the language industry, I am always looking for opportunities to develop my own knowledge and grow my company so threw caution to the wind and took the chance.

After a day’s journey from London, I arrived on Wednesday at the first Association of Language Companies’ Unconference at the PGA National Resort Florida.

First impressions were good!

What is an Unconference?

An unconference is a conference without agenda/set topics/speakers where the attendees bring the topics to be discussed with them and create the (un)conference around what they want it to be. Instead of the traditional conference format, everything is open and attendees who have particular expertise in a set topic volunteer to lead breakout sessions.

Prior to the gathering, the ALC asked all attendees to submit an issue they had in their professional lives, which I had done.

Day One

The morning on day one was all about updating us on what the task forces had been working on the last few months.

Very quickly into this, it made me realise just how many people (some of which are CEOs) volunteer considerable amounts of their own time to develop the association (and therefore the industry) into what it is, it was a very humbling experience. We saw presentations from the teams that had been working on marketing, social media, the preparation of the conference (in May), industry standards, the industry survey and the people who put the unconference format together.

The rest of the people in the room then discussed each task force and we came up a lot of great ideas and innovations for our industry – about half a dozen of these I’ll be implementing into my own business as soon as I can. This alone provided me with the value to make the trip worthwhile.

Day Two

The first half of day two we spent working on semi-structured conversations initially about ourselves and then about our businesses.

We were put into different learning teams every 30 minutes with new topics to cover. This meant we worked with everyone in the room on at least one topic.

After lunch we reconvened, assembled into work teams and began the work together on everyone’s business issue which they brought with them. Where else would you get a chance to do this? I mean sit down with entrepreneurs in your industry who are all at different stages in their journey and talk for as long as you need to AND get honest feedback about your particular business issue. This is priceless.

It was relaxed and informal (we found a great spot next to the pool) but this didn’t mean that we didn’t do anything, quite the opposite. This couple of hours gave me real clarity in my thinking and together we developed a plan to help me introduce my vision into the company as I hope it did the other people in the group.

Day Three

Day three was about creating a tangible plan to solve our issue. Or we could have used this to plan out anything else in our lives.

To help us the organisers asked us to considered the following;

  1. what we’d like to be doing 3 years from now
  2. therefore where we’d need to be 12 months from now
  3. and what tasks need to be completed to put us on this pathway 12 weeks from now

We were given a half-hour to prepare our thoughts and then put into learning teams again where we discussed each part of it. We then committed to achieving the first 12-week step which will be before the ALC Language Industry Conference in May this year.

On closing the conference down the ALC asked for feedback. The feedback they received was out of this world.

Time for After Hours

Social events were organised by the ALC each night for people to attend should they wish (I think most did) and the resort was so good it contained everything we needed. This meant the conversation continued into the night and gave us time to reflect further on what we’d discussed each day. And we also had time to make some new friends.

We had time to play golf a couple of times. It was truly amazing to get out and hit some balls on a course like the PGA National. In case you didn’t know it was the venue for the 1983 Ryder Cup, the one where Europe ALMOST beat the USA on home soil.

This was the thing that made the ALC Unconference 2013 different – we had time, we had time to think, time to consider, time to discuss issues/ideas with 50 like-minded people, time to get to know what makes people tick, time to form partnerships, time to work on (not in) our own businesses, time to commit to making a change, time to develop ourselves, time to explore new ways of working, time to innovate and time to make new friends.

Would I recommend it? You betcha! I got literally pages of ideas to develop further and a very real plan to help me to achieve my professional goals.

Big kudos goes to the leadership of the ALC for taking a chance on an event like this – The feedback they received was out of this world and it really was a breath of fresh air for the language industry.

The ALC Unconference 2014

Want to know the best thing? It’s on again for 2014. Same amazing resort (bring your golf clubs), its the 6th – 8th of Feb so the weather will be perfect and I’ll be there! So what are you waiting for? Register for the event via the ALC Unconference website. Can’t wait to see you there.