Judy Rees is a former journalist and media executive who specializes in helping people communicate more effectively, especially those that are geographically distributed. She's an expert in an inquiry method called Clean Language and co-authored a best-selling book on the topic. Additionally, she organized Metaphorum 2016, an online unconference for people using Clean Language in fields like management, training, teaching, agile coaching, and executive coaching.
By Niki Kohari, Retrium COO
You can tell when you first meet Judy that she deeply cares about bringing people together, regardless of where they live. As a freelance facilitator, coach, and trainer, she specializes in closing the communication gaps and enhancing collaboration on teams of people who have never met in person.
This focus on virtual community-building helped her think outside the traditional conference box to create a truly unique "unconference" experience for those in the Clean Language community. After her event, she used Retrium to get feedback about each session, so the team could narrow their focus on the most important topics, talk about ways to improve, and make the next unconference even better!
Most people understand the logistics of a traditional conference. There's a set agenda of talks decided upon ahead of time, everyone travels to the same location, and people share and learn information about topics that interest them.
In contrast, unconferences have no set agenda or topics before the start of the event. It's a fully self-organized, emergent program, that's more about sharing experience than sharing prepared content. It's a really cool experience if you've never gotten to participate in one.
Judy loves unconferences because there are "no talking heads" and instead the conversations are between equals. Because of this, she decided to plan one for the Clean Language community. However, getting a group of people together who share a common interest can be challenging when those people are scattered all over the world (not to mention the cost involved for each person to attend).
She wanted to try something different, so she organized a video-based unconference, Metaphorum 2016. It was the first virtual conference to be done on a large scale, with with over 150 attendees!
The event had different "rooms", which were video calls, each with a different topic. People split up into these different sessions and then came back together several times over the course of a 12-hour day. It was such a cool opportunity for people to connect and share, that I'm bummed I didn't know about it at the time.
As you can imagine, there's a lot to think about when organizing any event, and when you're the first to try a new way to approach a conference, there's even more to consider. Because you don't physically connect with people, it's even more important to check in and understand their experience.
In true Agile fashion, she knew she wanted to incorporate lots of feedback, so she wanted a tool that would collect information about each session, and the event as a whole. Specifically, she wanted to run a retrospective, to learn more about what worked and what didn't.
Running lots of retros in a short period of time can be challenging enough, and that doesn't even bring into play the difficulties of doing them remotely. She knew she needed a tool that would be easy to use, straightforward, and would work with a large group of people without creating logins for everyone at the unconference.
The Clean Learning community is incredibly diverse, with people from lots of different backgrounds, not just those that understand Agile. This presented a unique challenge because many attendees would be doing a retro for the first time, and many more would be doing a retro remotely for the first time.
This created a clear picture of exactly what they needed in a retrospective product for Metaphorum 2016:
We had a lot of non-techies who were going to use the retrospective tool, so we knew we couldn't use spreadsheets or a Google doc because there was no clear process of what to do. It would just be too confusing. The Clean Language group uses Facebook for text-based interaction, so we needed something as simple as that. We tried out several tools, but they were much too complicated. Retrium was so intuitive that it was obvious to everyone exactly what is was and what they were supposed to do.
Each session at the unconference had a link to a retrospective room in Retrium, where people could easily access the tool (no login required). From there, each team would write comments about the topic discussed in the session about what they liked, lacked, learned, and longed for.
A few days later, a smaller group of people went back and grouped the notes together, voted on what was most important to discuss, and chatted about what they could improve for next time around. This really helped them process lots of feedback quickly and efficiently, to get to the real actions they needed to take.
Retrium helped them learn how to make the program more effective attendees next time around, including building in more slack into the system and having space for people to report out the discussions in other sessions, so there was even more sharing of information.
Judy received such great feedback about the event that they're doing another unconference in the Spring (March 31st) instead of waiting a year for the next one.
Judy couldn't pick just one feature in Retrium because many aspects of the product made it successful for Metaphorum 2016. Most importantly, because our product was simple and straightforward with fun, bright colors, people "just got it" without any instructions on what to do.
Judy didn't want to use something that would require an invitation, as that would be too much to manage with such a large group. Luckily, Retrium has a security setting that allows anyone with access to a link to join a session. This made it super easy for everyone to give feedback without creating any friction.
Judy also mentioned that she loved the "anti-groupthink" properties in Retrium, so people could think independently and give awesome feedback that really helped the team make some decisions about what to do for the next conference.
We couldn't agree more!
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