8 Things I Learned From (Un)Organizing a Micro-Conference

In May, I met up with a small group of interesting people to hold a micro-conference on the topic of (un)productivity in a remote library in Wales. In all modesty, we called it the World (Un)Productivity Summit (WUPS). As I’m bad when it comes to doing live blogging or diary entries, I instead decided to share a few observations that could help you (yes, you!) to organize your own micro-conference. Because that’s something totally worth doing if you like people, any topic whatsoever, and a nice excuse to drink fine rum.

So, without further ado, here’s a few things I learned from co-organizing and participating in WUPS 2015.


1. It’s easy to do.

Coming up with the idea was probably the hardest challenge. After that, we had something like three Skype calls: One to come up with other invitees. Another to agree on a date. And one more to have a relaxed chat before meeting up.

That was it.

If we can do it, you can do it.

2. It’s enlightening.

One of my mottoes in life is that everybody can be your teacher. This is good news, because it means that it doesn’t really matter who you meet at your micro-conference: People will always have great (great!) things to share!

As for WUPS, I learned about yarn-bombing as a friendly anarchist pursuit (and a subversive way of political messaging). I learned about meditation and mindfulness as a daily practice. I relearned the power of engaging in creative work each and every day (and still be gentle and allow myself to fail now and then). I learned about the (un)productive philosophies behind Chi Kung – and how to put it into (non)action.

All these lessons have stuck with me since then, and I’ve remembered (and practiced) at least some of them every single day.

3. People are good.

This one is related to number 2, but I have to make this explicit: Apart from our motley crew, Gladstone’s Library was full of writers and gentle, elderly people with a friendly smile on their face. A few of them joined us during our Chi Kung sessions. Had they known anything about blogging, I’m pretty sure they would have been a great fit for our summit.

While this isn’t news for those of us who don’t work in politics, it’s still something worth to highlight: For WUPS, we mixed together five people in a small and somewhat isolated place, some of whom had never met – and we all came along great. Everybody was nice, interesting, polite, engaged and beautiful in their own way. Call it confirmation bias, but I found this to be truly delightful.

4. It helps you refocus.

Hell is being stuck in routines. At WUPS, all my routines got a reset, and my mind opened to completely new things. At the presentations and in our lovely conversations – during long walks, pleasant meals, and a few glasses of rum – I really could feel how my focus shifted: From the “unimportant many” back to the “important few”. Life isn’t about being rushed and efficient, it’s about being calm and present. I strongly believe this kind of refocus will happen at any micro-conference, as long as it sticks to one rule:

5. It’s good to have a (loose) theme.

(Un)productivity: Our theme was as loose as that. And, yet, having this theme was absolutely invaluable. If I’d ever participate in the organization of a micro-conference again, I would try to find a theme just as fixed. And just as loose.

6. Plane travel continues to suck.

I tried everything to find a ferry, a cutter, a sailing boat or even a crazy guy with a dinghy to take me to the British Isles. In vain: There are no public boat connections available from Denmark anymore, nor from any of the harbors nearby in Northern Germany. When I considered taking the bike to Hamburg or Cuxhaven and board a ship there, I found out that even that wouldn’t help: The closest ferry connection leaves from the Netherlands.

So I had to swallow my pride and board a plane. It sucked as always: Horrible times to get up, uncalled-for connections (Paris CDG WTF?!), ridiculous security measures, uncomfortable seats, really bad food. On the plus side I got a free night in Amsterdam, thanks to a delay leaving from Manchester. Too bad I had to get up at 4:30am in the morning to make my flight to Hamburg. Oh well. For now, I continue to support life on trains.

7. It’s challenging.

(I know this contradicts number 1, and that’s the intention.) Creating your own micro-conference is still a challenge: After all, you have to find the people, agree on the place, commit to a date and a theme, organize (and do!) the trip, and pay for it all. I felt that this challenge was kind of the right size to be interesting, yet doable. For the next time, I could imagine something slightly bigger – to see how that goes.

8. It’s worth sharing.

Despite the intimate nature of our event, we decided to open-source a good part of it. Milo did a wonderful job of setting up an email list for those of you who would like to hear our talks and learn some Chi Kung.

Please sign up here if that sounds interesting to you:

We’ll send you a confirmation email right away!

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