Welcome to the world of the unexpected where restaurants, stores, and classrooms pop up overnight with the spontaneity of a pimple on prom night. While impromptu conference sessions have yet to appear in the traditional conference setting, there are signs that instant gatherings of like-minded people tipped off by the lightning fast transmission of messages over social media channels could be coming to a conference near you.
Here’s how a pop up session might look: Let’s say Chris Brogan, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Seth Godin attend BlogWorld. Shortly before lunch they tweet to their followers that they will be in Room 2204 to talk to anyone who wants to listen about how they made millions of dollars blogging (or their biggest blogging blunders). The tweet (or Facebook post or text message) also informs readers that Ford Motor Company is providing lunch for everyone and a cherry red Ford Mustang car for the first person through the door (OK maybe just signed books from the speakers to the first 200 people). Who wouldn’t want to go?
Flash sessions, “unpanels,” and impromptu meetups are the logical next steps for conference producers looking for viral “sugar.” The fact that many conferences have tweetups (CES had over 1,000 people show up at their tweetup last January) demonstrates that attendees respond to informality. The flash mob phenomena, which gives the appearance that people just spontaneously start dancing together in the middle of a conference center foyer, garners YouTube love every time a new video appears. Pop up panels like the one with Jeremiah Owyang and friends on the future of content creation during SXSW was covered on a number of blogs. In fact, SXSW conference organizers presided over a number of instant initiatives: flash mobs, pop up stores, unpanels, and lots of user-generated publicity.
In addition to the yen to experiment, conference organizers would need to plan ahead of time to perfect the look and feel of spontaneity:
- Non-programmed blocks of free time when attendees are available to attend
- Speakers, topics, and incentives with broad appeal to attract followers
- Forward-thinking and flexible sponsors to underwrite costs
- Open spaces capable of accommodating large crowds
The Takeaway: With all the talk about unconferences, barcamps, and other self-organized gatherings, pop up conference sessions seem like a natural fit for organizers looking to breathe new life into an old format or attract the newly social hipsters who have outgrown the rave parties but still crave the excitement of the unexpected. They’re also a great way to get more followers using the conference’s social media platforms. Who knows, could pop up trade shows be next?