benjamin-facilitaorA week ago today I was in the final moments of The Big Yak, 2014 edition, having had a day packed with discussion out internal communications in the business world. Created and organised with the kind of boundless energy that only the IC Crowd can provide (Rachel Miller, Jenni Wheller and Dana Leeson are great to work with) , they pulled off the all day, ~150 person event with finesse, again!

As with last year’s Big Yak, I had the privilege of facilitating the event. It is an experience that is something akin to a free-fall jump from a light aircraft, but without the parachute – you never know quite where or how you will land. Communicating with professional communicators, and organising professional organisers is about as intimidating as it gets, so I am very grateful for all the fantastic feedback I got on the day and since. I have facilitated dozens of unconferences, both corporate and those very much less so, over the last several years, but The Big Yak remains the most intense and diverse. There is huge a range of skills and experience in the room, due to the breadth of backgrounds that the internal comms world attracts, and the many different places that it sits within businesses operating structures. There is always something new to learn.

benjamin-originalWith over 30 sessions during the course of the day, and my time spent hopping between them to check that everything was ticking along, it is hard to pick out a particular session. HR comms was a very popular topic – or rather, how to make HR comms interesting!

It was striking how many times the issue of leadership came up, and the prevailing sense of change in the work place – changing employee work styles, changed communication styles, changing expectations of the workplace and changed work roles. Digital comms has become a mainstay, and the challenge with technologies like Enterprise Social Networks has moved from “how do we deploy this?” to “How do we use this most effectively?”

The eBay offices in Richmond provide a great venue for an unconference. There is a healthy mix of formal and informal meeting spaces, and the main room provides enough space to get everyone up and moving about to ‘break the ice.’ There were six tracks of sessions running though out the day, which probably could have been pushed to seven, given the number of people prepared to run sessions.

It was very encouraging to see unconference “first-timers” throwing themselves into the proceedings, running sessions and shaping the conversations. The “everyone gets to play” structure is a wonderful way for people to get to know each other, and to discover the expertise in the room. It was during an unconference in the eBay offices 5 years ago that I met a group of people that have shaped the most recent years of my working life. The Big Yak is about more than exchanging expertise, although that definitely did happen, it is about building support networks and connecting with the pulse of the industry. It is about people giving up their Saturday to grow their expertise, and share their skills with others in the industry.

I strongly encouraged folk to create “useful artifacts” from the day, and that was clearly taken on board, with an array of blog posts:


There is also the  buzztale story (thank you Andris Berzins for the use of the pictures from it in this post) and a snazy infographic by Kate Jones. I made a storify from the tweet stream and posted some pictures to Flickr.  I am always happy to talk about running unconferences in corporate settings, or share digital communication success stories. I am buzzing with ideas after The Big Yak, now to go a put some of them into practice!