#TRU London 3 Recruiting Unconference Review

Posted by | March 07, 2011 | Conferences | 9 Comments

I was invited to attend TRU London 2 in 2010, but I unfortunately had a scheduling conflict and was unable to make it.

So when Bill Boorman, conference disorganizer extraordinaire, asked if I could make it out for TRU London 3, I blocked out my calendar as I was determined not to miss this event.

Unconference?

I had been warned by attendees of previous TRU London events that I would be entering a chaotic atmosphere with a lack of organization.

In fact, I was advised it would likely be best if I didn’t have any expectations at all.

However, I must say that I felt that TRU London was quite organized.

I hope Bill isn’t offended by that observation, because I know he takes pride in his unconference experience which is specifically designed to deviate from the standard conference format where a bunch of people listen to one presenter for an hour at a time.

It’s obvious that a different format from the recruiting conference norm does not necessarily lead to a poor experience. Although there were some track, track leader and schedule changes, I did not find them to be an issue, disruptive, or to lessen the impact of the event at all.

On The Money

It should not be overlooked that Bill doesn’t charge much for the TRU events.

It’s not that Bill doesn’t know how to price a recruiting conference – it’s that Bill feels that cost should not prevent people from attending an event and getting the opportunity to hear from and exchange ideas with the top minds in the industry.

Many companies have tightened their budgets and some simply won’t allow their employees to expense conferences. Bill’s TRU events are affordable for the corporate sourcer/recruiter as well as the independent – there is no $1000+ barrier to entry to rub elbows with the sourcing, recruiting, and social media elite.

When it comes to conferences, one has to wonder what a conference organizer’s primary motivator is – to make money, or to offer a forum for information exchange and thought leadership?

It can’t be both, as there can only be one primary reason.

For Bill and his TRU events, it’s the ability to offer a low (and sometime in the future, perhaps NO) cost gatherings for people to learn and share.

Bravo Bill!

More Bang for Your Buck

TRU London 3 was comprised of at least 66 discussion tracks over 3 days.

That wasn’t a typo – 66 tracks!

Where else can you be exposed to that much content in 3 days, let alone 4 separate conferences?

Top Shelf Facilitators

If you didn’t attend TRU London 3, you missed out on a truly top shelf assortment of thought leaders from multiple countries.

Bill was somehow able to draw the likes of Matt AlderFelix WetzelChina GormanKevin Wheeler, John SumserMichael LongSarah WhiteAndy HeadworthArie BallCraig Fisher, Irina ShamaevaGreg SavageGordon LokenbergJacco ValkenburgGeoff WebbLucian Tarnowski, Laurie Ruettimann, Mark Williamsto facilitate various sessions over the course of the TRU London 3 event.

And that list of names only begins to scratch the surface of the talent Bill attracted to TRU London 3!

Increased Engagement

I’ve been to my fair share of recruiting conferences, and I have to say that the TRU London event was by far the best I’ve attended with respect to attendee engagement, which is directly attributable to the “unconference” format.

The TRU experience is not about a group of people listening to one person or a panel speak for an hour with the hope of being able to ask a few questions if there is time.

From what I witnessed at TRU London 3, the experience is about engaged discussion and Q&A that can start immediately.

Most of the sessions I attended were healthy discussions of engaged participants. If it weren’t for the introduction of the track leaders, in some sessions you would be hard-pressed to identify who the track leader was because they were not busy dominating the discussion.

Organizers of social media, HR, and recruiting events, take note – it’s not so much about the big brand speaker as it is about the engagement, interaction, and the idea exchange of attendees.

Networking on a Different Scale

When it comes to conferences of any kind, people sometimes comment to the fact that they feel the networking opportunities available can sometimes exceed the value of the content being presented by the speakers.

I’m not sure if that was the case at TRU London 3, but I can say that the networking opportunities were, plentiful, strong and diverse.

Over the course of the event, I was able to connect and talk shop with recruiting and social media professionals from Canada, the U.K. (including Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland), the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Australia, Switzerland, and the United States.

Moderators Would be a Good Addition

As good as the engagement was due to the “unconference” format of TRU London 3, some of the discussion tracks were dominated by a few attendees.

I think this is a natural function of group dynamics.

Some people are dominant and “take control” over discussions and participate more than others. Some people are comfortable speaking out before others stop talking, whereas other people more comfortable waiting for others to end their statements before speaking up.

If you’re one of the latter – you may never get a chance to speak up and share your ideas and experiences.

I didn’t witness any track leaders taking action to ensure that the discussions were not dominated by a few outspoken people and prompting for questions and comments from those who had not already spoken.

In future TRU events, I highly recommend that in addition to the track leader(s), at least one person should function as a true moderator to facilitate participation and make an effort to ensure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussions.

The smartest, most talented and experienced people aren’t always the natural public speakers, and they certainly aren’t always the people who seem to talk just to hear themselves speak. The best discussions are ones in which everyone has a chance to share.

Recruiting is More than Social Media

There’s more to recruiting than social media and employer branding, but you may not have been able to tell that at TRU London 3.

While there were sessions addressing HR, diversity, SEO, RPO, the graduate experience, technology, job boards and Boolean strings, TRU London 3 was dominated by sessions involving social media and branding.

I know social media and employer branding is hot – but I would like to have seen more of an equal mix of topics as well as more diverse content.

It’s important to recognize that there are plenty of people who attend recruiting conferences who do not have a say at all in their employer’s branding efforts.

And believe it or not, social media is not the universal answer to all recruiting and talent attraction challenges. In fact, for some professions and for people from certain countries, social media isn’t effective or even a viable option.

Observations

Prior to attending TRU London, I had heard some rumors that the U.K. and most of Europe was slightly behind the U.S. when it comes to sourcing, recruiting, and social media.

I’m happy to report that’s not the case – at least from what I could tell from the people I was able to engage at #TRU London.

Additionally, I have to make mention of the fact that I met an astounding number of international entrepreneurs – people who have created ATS solutions, own multiple  job boards, developed semantic job search technologies…just talking with some of these folks made me feel like I haven’t done anything with my life. :-)

Special Thanks

Ricky Wheeler and Dan Martin from Broadbean – thank you for dinner, at a Mexican restaurant in London of all places (it was fabulous!), and for the fantastic discussion about the future of recruiting technology solutions.

I owe special thanks to Keith Potts and Felix Wetzel from Jobsite, as I was one of the fortunate few among the TRU London presenters and attendees who was treated to a truly VIP experience – being able to walk out onto the pitch and watch the Portsmouth Football Club win by a goal scored by the enigmatic Kanu from the director’s box – thank you gentlemen!

Overall

I found TRU London 3 to be a fantastic experience and a welcome (and needed!) deviation from the traditional conference. I was exposed to more content and more engaged discussion than I have ever experienced at a recruiting conference of any kind.

There is no doubt that Bill Boorman is on to something with his signature TRU events – other conference organizers should take notice, as Bill is effectively serving as a disruptor to the traditional conference model.

I applaud Bill for setting the price of admission as low as he does, as I agree that cost should not be a barrier for entry into information and idea exchange, and I sincerely hope he is able to achieve his vision of a no-cost conference at some point in the future, with entire events funded completely by sponsors and not attendees.

If you’d like to read other’s thoughts on TRU London 3, here is a blog that is curating all TRU London 3 posts.

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About Glen Cathey

Glen Cathey is a sourcing and recruiting thought leader with over 16 years of experience working in large staffing agency and global RPO environments (>1,000 recruiters and nearly 100,000 hires annually). Starting out his career as a top producing recruiter, he quickly advanced into senior management roles and now currently serves as the SVP of Strategic Talent Acquisition and Innovation for Kforce, working out of their renowned National Recruiting Center with over 300 recruiters. Often requested to speak on sourcing and recruiting best practices, trends and strategies, Glen has traveled internationally to present at many talent acquisition conferences (5X LinkedIn Talent Connect - U.S. '10, '11, '12, Toronto '12, London '12, 2X Australasian Talent Conference - Sydney & Melbourne '11, '12, 6X SourceCon, 2X TruLondon, 2X HCI) and is regularly requested to present to companies (e.g., PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen Hamilton, Citigroup, etc.). This blog is his personal passion and does not represent the views or opinions of anyone other than himself.

  • Anonymous

    You write:

    “When it comes to conferences, one has to wonder what a conference organizer’s primary motivator is – to make money, or to offer a forum for information exchange and thought leadership?

    “It can’t be both, as there can only be one primary reason.”

    What if the objective is to make money BY offering “a forum for information exchange and thought leadership”?

    They can co-exist nicely, and I suggest you attend the HR Technology Conference to see how. We offer blogger passes, but not T&E to buy coverage as some other conferences do.

    A dedication to quality does not require a dedication to penury.

  • @BillBoorman

    Interesting comment Bill. my view is that there is space for all types of conferences, unconferences, barcamps etc etc. that gives attendees choice, and thats a good thing. A real unconference has difficulty being acredited against SHRM or other criteria because of the undefined outcomes. those attending to gain qualifications are better off elsewhere. An unconference, by nature, has a much lower cost base than a traditional conference. The organisers have the choice to either increase the margin or share some of the saving with attendees. I choose the latter. I know of many people who have been unable to attend conferences because they simply don’t have the budget or can’t secure corporate funding. most of these are practitioners or sole-traders, and I’m choosing to reach these people by moving to a free “ticket by application” model over the coming year, in keeping with the real unconference ethos. The coverage we get from events, primarily participant driven, means that we attract sponsorship. my intention is to generate profit in this way.
    It is common practice, as far as i’m aware, to pay speakers travel and expenses. (I quite often benefit from this.) I’m no different, in that I will get a sponsor to cover the cost of 4 – 5 track-leaders who I think will add to the event. If you pay no one travel or expenses, I congratulate you on having such a good event that all of the speakers want to speak at their own expense. I know other events, ERE included, do not have that luxury. coverage is largely earnt. bloggers blog because they want to rather than because you pay them to do so, at least that has been my experience. i can only speak for #tru in saying that we have never made any payments conditional on coverage. You are clearly speaking from a position of knowledge about other events, and personally, I’d wish all other event organisers good luck. They choose their own path to promotion.
    one of the other benefits of the unconference, while it’s not scaleable (no more than 150 attendees really), it is easy to stage. this means I can run one or two events a month on a local basis. each event makes money, because the cost base is low, and multiple events equal the return of one big one. it’s certainly not a dedication to penuary, it’s a dedication to different.
    Theres space for everyone, and the more choice the consumers have over format, the better in my opinion.
    I wish you well with your show, but felt it was worth clearing up any confusion that may be caused by your comment.
    Bill

  • Anonymous

    I loved hearing more about your business model, Bill, thanks for sharing so much explanation. I can’t believe there was confusion about my comment, which was simply that well-intentioned people can both make money off a conference and still offer a terrific forum for information exchange. Clearly, you do both, and we do as well. Differently. So let’s call the whole thing off.

  • http://www.booleanblackbelt.com Glen Cathey

    Bill,
    Of course the objective of a conference can be to make money by offering a forum of information exchange and thought leadership.

    However, I will stick to my argument that there is still a primary motivator – the world is never a magically equal place where everything is weighted the same.

    There’s nothing wrong with someone identifying the opportunity to make money from conferences and capitalizing on it. But there is a difference between a person whose first thought is how to make money, and the person whose first thought is how to create the best event. It’s the same with software or any product or service for that matter.

    No value judgment coming from me – just a simple analysis.

    Also – conference organizers have many choices when it comes to monetizing events. Some seek maximum gain from vendors and sponsors as well as attendees. Some seek maximum gain from vendors and sponsors to “subsidize” attendees and charge them less, lowering the cost barrier for entry and participation. A third choice is an option that no major conference I am aware of has implemented, which is to completely subsidize attendees through vendor and sponsor funds. It’s all a matter of what you’re really trying to accomplish and what is perceived to be acceptable profit margins.

    Many attendees have to pay for their flight and hotel in addition to the cost of admission, so attending a conference can easily be a $2000+ affair. Of course, for many conferences, it is almost guaranteed that a number of major corporations will send a person or two, and these companies typically will allow their employees to expense the trip. This is money in the bank.

    However, many companies – even large ones – won’t allow employees to expense conferences which is a huge deterrent and prevents a larger attendance, not to mention less diversity in attendance as well (if it’s always the same companies).

    I argue that you can be 100% dedicated to quality and not charge over $1000 per attendee for an event.

    BTW – I’m not a professional blogger, and as such I have never written a blog post for compensation of any sort.

  • Anonymous

    I misplaced my response to Bill earlier. I loved hearing more about your business model, Bill, thanks for sharing so much explanation. I can’t believe there was confusion about my comment, which was simply that well-intentioned people can both make money off a conference and still offer a terrific forum for information exchange. Clearly, you do both, and we do as well. Differently. So let’s call the whole thing off.

  • Anonymous

    Glen, are you and Bill both paid by the word? Your reply is as well stated as Bill’s. ‘Nuff said.

  • http://www.tempworks.com greggdourgarian

    As someone who has sponsored both conferences discussed here (HRTech and TruLondon) let me say both of you do a great job and if you think I’m a glad-handler of conference organizers then read this http://staffingtalk.com/2011/02/dissed-staffing-industry-executive-forum/

    HrTech was excellent for its low cost and also because Bill Kutik himself has a golden sense of humor that surprisingly can make even HR fun. The negative was Chicago’s vast McCormick Palace required a genocide-like march to get to. Perhaps this is the only way to accommodate a large number of attendees.

    TruLondon excels from a sponsor’s perspective for the lack of a class-system usual at conferences (speaker -> attendee -> exhibitor). I met a lot of great people there and Bill set us up with many introductions and meetings.

    Ultimately, like the news business and marketing in general, conferencing is going through convulsions, and it’s exciting to see two entrepreneurs tackle it in different ways.

  • Plovallo

    Awesome read, love your wit and found the content refreshing!

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