The shortest answer is this: an unconference is a highly informal conference. Two differences are particularly notable. First, at an unconference, the program isn’t set: it’s created on the first day with the help of all the participants rather than beforehand by a program committee. Second, at an unconference, there are no presentations—all participants in an unconference are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session.
An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture; going to an unconference is like being a member of an improv troupe where going to a conference is (mostly) like being a member of an audience. Perhaps the best example of the ‘unconference’ format in the humanities thus far has been the THATCamps that originated at the Roy Rosenzweig Center of History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. (A portion of this description has been adapted from THATCamp.org under the terms of a CC-BY license.)
What do I need to know before coming to an unconference?
You don’t need to know anything more about the unconference format itself than what is here. Just come ready to participate yourself. Our experience over the years suggests that what you get out of an unconference is directly related to what you put into it!