What I discovered recently is that they've shaped my expectations of conferences too. I found at LGComms Academy in Cardiff that I struggled a bit to stay with the old format of speakers - however brilliant (and they were) - talking to, and sometimes at, us one after another after another.
Unconferences, done well, allow for more collaborative learning approaches; more listening, exchange and engagement and I recognise that - as a (terrible and incessant) talker - my learning style prefers that.
So when @lloyddavis arrived at LGComms to run an all-too-brief unconference session as part of the Academy it felt like a bit of a relief.
Until he asked me to pitch a session.
I'd never done that before. But he and @allyhook said I had to, in case it all went 'too quiet', so I did.
And I loved it.
Ally suggested I run a session on how we might take up Alex Aiken's offer, made the previous day, of moving into sexy and leadership jobs in central government comms. So I asked a group of people who fancied that decussion how we might take him up on his offer.
It started brilliantly, not least because people who knew Alex explained that he meant it: and as a consequence of @garethdn and his genuine enthusiasm for the idea. He led us into some of the obvious and not-so-obvious practical responses. Ring up and offer to go and muck in. Volunteer to work on the news desks. Look for short term contracts (if that's open to you financially).
We recognised that some of those ideas might not work for some people, depending on geography or other commitments, but as we started to look at the barriers to those practical ideas, what we discovered was quite saddening.
We largely agreed that we have become riddled with self-doubt, as communications people, and as public sector workers.
We confessed that too often we lack the confidence to apply to new jobs in ANY sector.
Not one person in the group (of 15 to 20 by that point) was prepared to back themselves in an application to the BBC for example, in spite of believing we share at least some of the skills and behaviours that BBC staff require.
Very few felt the private sector would entertain us.
Many felt applications to government would meet with a response summed up as 'sniffy' (while recognising that some of us can sometimes be sniffy in our own way towards those from "lesser" councils...
What we came to realise was that we have perhaps internalised too much of the stuff that has been poured on public sector workers for what feels like ages now. We've come to entertain that debilitating, nagging doubt at the back of the brain; 'Maybe they're right... Maybe the TPA are right. Maybe we are all rubbish; in non-jobs; time-servers; blockers'.
We recognised that we have become self-limiting, and we decided that it's high time it stopped.
We agreed that we communicate for everyone but ourselves; that we enable collaboration between groups of everybody but ourselves; that we sell everything but ourselves.
And we agreed that we need to try to regain some pride, to trumpet our value, and to support each other to show that we are the dreamers of dreams, the creatives, the innovators, the narrators, the meaning-makers and we can work anywhere we damned well want to because we're proud of who we are.
And then it all went quiet while we tried to work out if we really believe that and if there is really a way to make that happen.
Don't be surprised if we do.