What’s An Unconference? Lessons From The First World Experience Summit

Meet the Unconference: where crowd-sourced creativity meets unexpected collaborations… 

The World Experience Summit was created to further the WXO’s key aim to help experience innovators Connect, Learn, Share, and Lead the Experience Revolution.

And while traditional keynote talks and workshops are an important part of that, we also want to embrace the spirit of co-creation that underlies our community and make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute.

Enter the Unconference: casual, collaborative, and creative conversations where everyone is an active participant. 

There are no keynotes: everyone has a say. There is no audience: everyone has a part to play. And there are no set themes: you decide what you want to talk about and what you want to hear. The aim is to let loose, embrace the chaos, and bring your full self to the party, whether you’re hosting or joining as a participant. 

Why Host An Unconference?

  1. We’re real believers that amazing creativity exists across the Experience Economy. And while we’ll try to represent as many sectors, ideas and people as possible in our keynote speakers and workshops, the Unconference presents another opportunity to welcome ideas from the fringes.

  2. We recognise that presenting from a stage isn’t for everyone. These sessions are designed to be casual, collaborative, and welcoming, and don’t require as much preparation. They can form a conversation, debate, co-created experience, or skill share, rather than a “sage-from-the-stage” presentation.

  3. We want to allow for last-minute ideas and collaborations – especially those that might have been inspired by the people you meet and the ideas you hear. Last year we had new friends and colleagues team up for sessions sparked by conversations they’d started earlier in the event.

  4. Vulnerability breeds connection. The Summit is a safe space – and when you’re brave enough to share and be honest on a level with your fellow participants, you get much more back. The Unconference opens up this opportunity to share to not only the session hosts, but to all those who participate.

Potential Unconference Topics: What Happened Last Year

World Experience Summit 2023

Each session is low-tech, high-impact. Participants get 30 minutes total to tell a story, start a conversation, share a skill, or co-create a mini-experience with their fellow attendees. 

Here’s a taste of what happened last year

  1. Start A Conversation: Debates & Provocations

Sessions where the host posed a question or hot topic, welcoming diversity of thought and opinion to tackle a challenge.

We recommend you spend 5 minutes setting the context and asking your question, 20 minutes opening up the discussion, and 5 minutes to close. Remember to manage the conversation and wrap it up with a brief conclusion.

Last year’s titles included:

  • Are We Asking Too Much Of Transformation?
  • Bullshit Jobs: Corporate Mythology Meets Cultural Mythology
  • What Does An Exceptional Solo Dining Experience Look Like?
  • Crowd DNA

  1. Get Hands On: Workshops & Experiences

Interactive sessions where the host taught a technique, shared a skill, or invited participants to co-create an experience with them.

We recommend spending 10 minutes explaining and demonstrating your skill, and 20 minutes guiding your peers as they have a go themselves. Remember to think about whether you need to bring props in advance.

Last year’s titles included:

  • Scream! Like You Mean It: Scares Work Both Ways
  • Impression Design: The Power Of Writing
  • How To STEAL From Theatre To Electrify Corporate Events
  • Room To Co-Create: How To Enable Co-Creation & Interpretation
  • The 5 Love Languages In Experience Design

  1. Create A Safe Space: Roundtables & Shares

Sessions where the host invited people to get vulnerable with their failures and challenges, or ask for help to solve a problem.

We recommend you spend 5 minutes setting the context, 20 minutes opening up the discussion, and 5 minutes to close. Remember to manage the conversation and wrap it up with a brief conclusion.

Last year’s titles included:

  • Riding Shotgun In A Trainwreck: Lessons Learned From Failure
  • Sharp Stick In The Eye: AKA Ask An LBE/Immersive Attorney Anything
  • You Are Not Alone: Business Owner Roundtable

  1. Share Your Wisdom: Frameworks & Masterclasses

Sessions where hosts shared their case studies, frameworks and insights, unpacking them to give participants real takeaways for their own work.

We recommend spending no more than 15 minutes telling your story, and leaving at least 15 minutes for group discussion. Remember to keep it honest, authentic and real.

Last year’s titles included:

  • Designing & Measuring Extraordinary Experiences
  • Tacos + Transformation: An Unexpected Masterclass In Brand & Customer Experience
  • Journey To The Center Of Time
  • Fostering A Culture Of Creativity
  • Gamification In Immersive Experiences

What Unconference Participants Say

World Experience Summit 2023

Here’s what some of the attendees of last year’s World Experience Summit who put themselves forward to host an Unconference had to say about it.

“Transforming is growing, and the Summit was my platform to take that giant leap”

Adi Livneh, Learning Experience Design Expert

“The ‘unconference’ was an invitation open to everyone to share their knowledge and expertise in a short session that was planned in advance – or spontaneous! I decided to offer a 20-minute mini-workshop about “Impression design – the power of writing”, and was thrilled to see 15 participants show up to explore THE ACT OF COURAGE with me, in both a writing exercise and an experiential learning method.

I was in charge of the way this experience was crafted for me as a participant, and I’d like to thank myself for signing up to this adventure and for entering this experience with the most open mind and spirit I possibly could. When we understand and learn a new thing, about ourselves or about the world, and when we get a new insight which leads us to feel a new feeling about something – and later on we find ourselves adopting a new behaviour or habits – it’s a sign that the change is being made. We are in the process…

For me, days and weeks after the Summit was over, I found myself working even more passionately on new methods, projects and ideas to develop my specialisation and to expand my set of tools, and doing so filled with curiosity and joy. Transforming is growing, and the Summit was my platform to take that giant leap.”

(Read Livneh’s full debrief of her Summit experience here.)

“It was unlike any speaking opportunity I had previously participated in”

Goc O’Callaghan, Global Experience Lead

“I decided (very last minute) to do an Unconference talk for two key reasons:

1) I had learnt so much in the preceding days and was completely engrossed by the depth of knowledge in attendance at the Summit, and I wanted to contribute to that communal sharing of information. 

2) I’d acknowledged very early in the conference that the WXO was already a very important organisation in the experience world, and I wanted to be able to say that I had spoken at the inaugural Summit.

From my experience of speaking at an Unconference session, it was unlike any speaking opportunity I had previously participated in. This is, I believe, due to the sheer curiosity of the attendees, and their full-on engagement both through their listening and their interaction after the talk. It fueled interesting debate and in-depth conversation. There was a buzz about it.

What I took away from it was that within the WXO the members, whilst wildly different in their immediate lines of work, are all underpinned by their lust for knowledge in order to improve the experiences they are offering their audiences. This ‘herd’ mentality unlocked people’s willingness to share their knowledge in pursuit of a broader collective understanding – not just in the unconference, but in the Summit overall.”

“The room buzzed with love, laughter, and creativity”

Frances Vieras Blanc, CEO & Experience Designer

“Elena and I led an Unconference workshop focusing on integrating the five love languages into experience design. We shared our realisation of aligning our love languages with our career and core company values. After describing what the five love languages are along with examples (including business case usage), we grouped the participants into five teams. 

Through rapid prototyping, each group crafted a mini-experience centred around one of the love languages. The room buzzed with love, laughter, and creativity as participants shared and experienced their mini love language-inspired encounters one by one. It was a really fun session filled with collaborative ideation and laughter.”

“The real value here is in talking to fellow experience designers from around the globe and across different genres”

Michael Badelt, Immersive Live Experience Creator
World Experience Summit 2023

“My Unconference talk in 2023 was called “The Joy of Fear”. In two brief sessions I made an introduction to how fear is used in scare entertainment, and some of the methods scare actors utilise to be most effective, in part through showcasing exercises usually used in actor training. 

It was great to see the attendees’ reaction to those rather unconventional methods, and talk about how these ideas translate to even more areas of experience design. The real value here is in talking to fellow experience designers from around the globe and across different genres to exchange ideas that probably wouldn’t even cross your mind when sitting in front of your computer all by yourself.”

Want to host or participate in an Unconference session? Discover more about how to attend this year’s World Experience Summit, June 12-14 2024, here.