The Making of #untech10

Members had a creative solution to the cancellation of the 2010 Technology Conference.

The Washington, DC, region is infamous for being underprepared for bad weather, yet in recent years ASAE & The Center's Technology Conference has proceeded in the face of snow, ice storms, and freezing rain. But in February, two storms dumped more than 30 inches of snow on most of the region in less than a week. The second storm, and its foot or more of snow, struck the day before the Technology Conference, causing its official cancellation.

"The difference this year is that the storms had prevented most people from outside the region from getting in," says Amy Ledoux, CAE, CMP, vice president, meetings and  expositions for ASAE & The Center. "And travel within the region—where 70 percent of attendees come from—was paralyzed."

Some attendees did make it into the city, however. And as the second storm imperiled the Technology Conference, a radical idea was sown, and plans for an underground conference began to take shape. Dubbed the UnTech Conference, and better known by its Twitter hashtag #untech10, the unofficial technology conference was the brainchild of Aaron Biddar from the ThePort and Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer from SocialFish.

"Aaron from ThePort called me and said he could get a room at the Renaissance that could seat 200," says Grant. "He asked if we thought we could get something going if the [Technology] conference was cancelled. Without even thinking through it, I said, 'Yes!'"

The association community was extremely active on Twitter leading up to the conference, and it's through this channel that Biddar, Grant, and Dreyer communicated plans about the UnTech Conference. ASAE & The Center's event-cancellation insurance prevented them from replacing or rescheduling the Technology Conference, so its leaders did not participate in the planning of the UnTech Conference and neither encouraged nor discouraged it.

With only a day and a half of planning, the UnTech Conference blossomed. It had its own website, streaming technology, and other virtual components, all provided from ASAE & The Center industry partners, plus the meeting room in the Renaissance. On February 11 at 11 a.m., the UnTech Conference launched to 75 live attendees  and 425 online attendees with a full day of in-person and live-streamed content. The second day of the conference featured 14 sessions, all of them online only. The UnTech Conference website, http://untech10.conferencespot.org, is still active.

"I think it's proven to be an amazing case study of what can happen in a community that is tied together through social media," says Grant. "We had about 36 hours to pull it together … and everyone just rallied around the effort. It was a unique and incredible experience."