The Big Yak 2014

Saturday 28th saw us bright and early at EBay HQ in Richmond to literally set out our stall at this years Big Yak, the second 'unconference' for all internal communications professionals, organised by the IC community group @theICcrowd.

As honourable sponsors we were given some floorspace to fill and this year we arrived with a display inspired by famous fairy tales, our creative response to current communications industry debate around thoughts that all content should have a solid, resonant story at its heart. On occasion we like to practice what we preach and this year was no exception with some two way interaction in the form of our MagIC tree, onto which we invited visitors to contribute their thoughts on storytelling in internal comms with a view to our publishing the results as an informal but informative publication, and for 5 lucky winners, a limited edition book as a souvenir of the day.

But enough shameless self-promotion, on with the report.

Visitors arrived promptly at 10am for a light breakfast and the official welcome before our facilitator for the day, self-styled Social Technologist and Problem solver Benjamin Ellis brought us all up to speed with the 'unconference' format - a loose format popular with the Tech industry sector that comes with no set agenda or speaker roster, the idea being that the attendees set the course of hot topics that they themselves wish to discuss.

For the uninitiated this can be daunting so Ellis gave us two exercises to demonstrate that a large group can still self-organise into a meaningful system. Buoyed by the success of the exercises the group moved on to setting the topics for the day. Under the auspices of this type of day anyone is free to stand up and nominate a topic and indeed themselves as facilitators of the meetings, which those present duly did leading to a full 'optical super computer' (or day planner and post it notes) in no time.

The beauty of the unconference is that while initially daunting its free-form nature keeps topics wide-ranging and arguably more focussed than their structured counterpart; everyone, whether speaking, tweeting, note taking or just listening is keen to get the best from the sessions. And if you don't like the way a meeting is going you can get up and leave freely…

With an agenda set it was time to get straight into the sessions. Rooms had been named according to popular songs about talking, chatter, and conversation. Each group of people interested on a certain topic were then sent to the requisite room for their chosen session and the chats took off.

Key to the running of the day is the whistle which blows after a 45 min period at which point the talk shuts down immediately and its on to the next one. Two sessions down, a very welcome refreshment break allowed us to cerebrally regroup before session 3. Mid-day saw the unveiling of an extensive catered lunch after which, duly satisfied by the smorgasbord of sandwiches and salads, it was on to the afternoon sessions until we found ourselves at the final whistle. The full group was reconvened for the summing up and prize giving of a charity raffle that had been running over the day.

All that now remained was an invitation for all to relocate to the local hostelry for drinks and food, a part of the day’s sponsorship that Ego was more than happy to provide as we like to think that this was where the real conference began. But all joking aside it was a truly energised group that slowly split as everyone made their goodbyes until next year, the promise of exciting new conversations ringing in the summer evening air.

Another amazing day of knowledge sharing was over but we are sure we are not alone in feeling that on this evidence the internal comms practice is an area thriving with enough passion, intelligence and creativity to put many other so-called leading industries and communities into shame. Roll on the next one!