Three Days, Two Conferences – Some Thoughts


I know I am a way too infrequent blogger.  Really, I will try to be better.

This past weekend I attended EventCamp’s National Conference in Chicago (note that the online on demand stream is now available) and yesterday I attended the ReThink Forum in New York.  I thought I’d share my thoughts on both.

EventCamp:

Well, relative to blogging, I did have one great takeaway just from a very serendipitous moment (which are always great at any conference or event).  I happened to be sitting in the small studio set-up where Glenn Thayer was to interview me after my own presentation on Sunday morning.  He was just finishing up an interview with Liz Strauss, one of our great keynote speakers from Saturday.  She was commenting on her blogging process and said that she didn’t always have time to finish blogs in one sitting and that she kept a running notebook of potential topics that she came back to over and over and even worked on blogs a lot before posting them.

That was good for me to hear.  I tend to always want to just be perfect and without always having the time I use that as an excuse to just not write.  I’m really going to try and do as Liz suggests and keep a list of topics and try and write on them over time.  That’s my email to myself that I’m going to put in action, which was Liz’s homework assignment to all of us.

Overall, EventCamp continues to be one of the most interesting events I’ve attended.  It’s a great laboratory for experimenting and sharing ideas on how we could transform the event industry to make it more about engaged learning, how we can develop and use social tools and hybrid/virtual technologies to bring people together in new and interesting ways.

Here is one thing I want to challenge our EventCamp and #eventprofs community on though.  I’ve seen a ton of tweets showing a lot of love to EventCamp, including from me, but we need to also call out things that don’t work.  Constructive criticism is really vital for any community to learn and grow.  Not everything is perfect with EventCamp.  I share the high and the energy that came out of EventCamp, and I hate it when that energy gets dispersed so quickly at the end of the event, not only with everyone leaving, but with not enough immediate feedback on areas of improvement.

There are some good notes from the event that Liz King put together on her blog, so I’m not going to use this post as a recap, but more some personal insights and reflections on why this is a great event and how we might make it even better.

One of the things that makes it successful is the size of it.  We can do more, I think, in this more intimate setting, with fewer people, while still reaching a (slightly) larger audience virtually.  Small audiences seem to get more done in a shorter time.  I hope we continue to explore new things and keep this more of a laboratory than an event where we feel the need to expand audience size.  The model of having offshoot EventCamps is a better way to reach more people at an affordable price.  I’d also like to see us explore even more hybrid/remote models of engagement, though I think that EventCamp is ahead of the curve on that front compared to most of what I have seen from other events.  There were a number of good suggestions from both the F2F audience and the remote audience on this topic – things like more cameras focused on audience and more collaboration tools that we could possibly use to work together more efficiently.

I applaud the planning committee of EventCamp for outdoing themselves, again, in providing inspiring speakers and content in a very interactive, engaging way (and not just saying that because I was one of them).   Almost all of them were great presenters with a sense of storytelling that keeps the audience not only engaged but inspired, and that is one of the main reasons I take the time to go to events or conferences in the first place, looking for those elusive moments of inspiration and provocative thinking that gets me re-engaged with the whole lifelong learning process we should all want to be on.  Chris Brogan, Hank Wasiak, Lindy Dreyer, Liz Strauss, Scott Klososky, Erica St. Angel, Brandt Krueger, John Nawn – just a really stellar line-up.  They all made me think in some interesting ways.

Chris Brogan re-taught me the importance of authenticity and just being personable when speaking.

Hank Wasiak re-opened my eyes to how to change the way I see and how I think differently, and made me think about the four people I would put on my own Mt. Rushmore (a tough task Hank to narrow it down to just four – still working on it).  Hank was my personal favorite of the weekend – maybe because he’s older than me and still can inspire a bunch of younger folks, and because we old guys need to stick up for each other.  And, since I was pretty active on twitter, it got me his book as a reward, so that asset based thinking must work!

Lindy Dreyer gave me some good new insights into how to think about content and not to be afraid to explore new modes of publication and to empower our audiences to be co-creators with us.

Liz Strauss reinforced the power of storytelling and humor as a way into content, not to mention getting me inspired again to do some more writing beyond the microposting I do almost daily on Twitter and Facebook and the ocassional commenting on other blogs or discussion forums.

I didn’t actually get to see most of Erica St. Angel’s session, but I did walk in at the end and that was enough time to get one great takeaway about hybrid events.  You should design and execute your hybrid event to be so awesome an experience that it will be talked about even by people that didn’t attend either physically or remotely.  Something to think about there, for sure.

Scott Klososky literally made me afraid, and that was a really good thing.  He presented some concepts that take all of what we know now about how interaction happens at an event and kind of turns it upside down and inside out.  I’ve been reading a fair amount about gamification, but Scott took it to a whole new level for me.  It feels a little like Big Brother in some ways, but I think he is right.  All of this immersion and location tagging and the like is coming and we should be thinking now about how to make best use of it at our events, as well as starting to educate our attendees on the advantages of it for their own experiences.

And, of course, I can’t neglect the contributions of the remote audience.  Cameron Toth provided some especially useful insights for me in my session as did Dennis Shiao.  I haven’t read through all of the comments yet, but I really, really appreciate the feedback and idea sharing that came out of my idea hunt for Oracle OpenWorld.  I know some of you were kidding about my using all of you to help design the hybrid experience, but I would never want to take advantage of my audience in that way.  I do like the idea hunting model though and as long as the audience has given permission it feels ok to me, and I did ask for that permission, which was nicely given.  Thanks again to everyone in the room and online that threw out some great ideas.

We’ve been talking a lot in various forums about the idea of “environment matters” in choosing a venue and how you set it up.  Catalyst Ranch was an inspired choice for this EventCamp.  it provided a lot of visual and creative stimulation, had windows to outside and a great staff that made the experience seamless and let us really get our work done.  It was a real plus for this kind of lab feeling that EventCamp is to have an environment/venue that shares those qualities.  Would that every conference and destination and venue thought more about how the environment they provide made learning, networking and fun a pleasure rather than a depressant.  When you’re trying to have a unique experience it’s enormously helpful to have a unique environment to have it in.

So, how could EventCamp be any better?  Well, that really depends on the community to practice what it preaches (myself included).  We talk(ed) a lot about the need for an event to have a robust pre, during and post event strategy and components of engagement.  I would say that right now, the structure is there to do it, but the community, speakers and attendees haven’t quite arrived.  Both last year and this year the level of pre-event activity was relatively low in terms of spurring interesting discussion and feedback.  The idea to crowdsource and vote on a few sessions was great (thanks to all who voted on mine), but the number of votes was relatively low considering the size of the #eventprofs community.

There were also few discussions started or really promoted through the various channels we all use – the website, Twitter, Facebook and Linked In.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very aware that this is a labor of love for a small team of people, and busy people at that, which is why this is more of a community practice what we preach criticism than one directed at any individuals.

Now that we have reached the post part of the event, I’m not sure what will happen.  Yes, for sure we have our regular tweetchats and just general activity on social channels, as well as planning for other offshoot events in Twin Cities and West Coast (and maybe more I don’t know about).  The question is, do we continue any conversations and energy around this specific event or not?  I’ve already seen a few other blog posts and some photos posted and the on demand stream.  Are we, or should we aggregate any of that content into one place so that all relevant content is easily found?

I’ll defer to the organizers here, because maybe this is happening and I’m just not aware of it, but some kind of plan to capture relevant content associated with the event and one place to find it would be enormously helpful for me.  As would follow-up chats or some kinds of ways to keep the conversation going.

Beyond that there are minor improvements we talked about – camera for the online audience to see the room more – is one example.

In essence though, EventCamp is a home run and an ongoing sanctuary for great thinking and great networking and I look forward to how this all progresses fr0m here.

ReThink Forum:

On Monday, David Adler of BizBash teamed up with Flemming Fog to produce the ReThink Forum in New York.  It was advertised (in the invite anyway) as wanting to get together 100 “radical thinkers” in the event industry to do a kind of global meetup and brainstorm about how to multiply the value of conferences.  It wasn’t clear to me if that was entirely successful in terms of who ended up in the room, but it was certainly flattering and got me interested enough to attend (plus, I was already in Chicago, so why not hop over to New York).

The event was set up as a fairly robust hybrid event with links into groups in Minneapolis, Paris and Copenhagen as well as a stream for people to participate remotely online.  There was a satellite link or video conference set up through Stratosphere and there was a host(ess) for the online stream who was talking to the remote sites, talking to the virtual audience and monitoring the twitter stream.  A lot to do for one person and not sure she was handling all of it.  There had not been a twitter hashtag promoted in advance, which created some confusion and probably led to much less online conversation than there could have been.  I think they were actually surprised that there was back channel happening at all.

Flemming Fog is part of Wizerize, which is kind of an audience engagement system that gives every attendee their own laptop computer as a feedback tool to engage with each other, answer poll questions and input ideas, comments and questions that then feed into a reporting mechanism to aggregate and report data.  It’s a little bit like an audience response system on steroids.

The problem, for me, is that it felt like too much technology in a way for a brainstorm session and I found the netbooks they used to be difficult to use and kind of clunky and awkward to type on and navigate on.  I would have rather it be simpler, maybe mobile-enabled so I could do everything on my phone and more focused on the content and audience ideation than the technology.  It came off too much like a commercial for the technology and less like an idea-sharing forum.

From a content perspective there were two parts to the day.  Part one was themed around ideas that multiply the value of conferences.  There was some context setting by Mary Boone, which for me was merely confirmation and repeating everything we’ve already recognized and been talking about for 2 years or more.  It was well presented and clear, but ended up taking time away from actual idea generation activities.  I think the content is available on demand, so you should go watch if you want and comment rather than me trying to recall or repeat what was said.

The second part of the day was focused on the theme of why so few conferences deliver maximum value and looking at the forces for – and against – bringing innovation into our thinking and what are some ways to accelerate change.

In both cases there was a short period of time for the attendees to work at their table, in groups (or individually if you were a virtual attendee) and discuss the topic, then you voted on some questions they posed in their computer system and then you could also individually write some ideas.  The time was very short for these activities which limited what you could actually discuss, and it felt like it limited the discussion more to what people had done rather than any breakthrough ideas on how we change things.

Admittedly, this was only a 3 hour forum so there is only so much that could be accomplished.  If this continues as an ongoing F2F forum of some kind, I would hope that they consider making it longer and working on more specific problems.

Interestingly, what might have been the most provocative and mind-bending part of the day was having a mentalist (can’t quite remember his name) perform his mental acuity and energy skills during a break.  He did things like bend spoons, write down (accurately) names and numbers that people were thinking, etc.  They kept a hand held camera focused on him during it so people online could also see what was happening.  I think he kept people almost more engaged than the rest of the content.

All in all, I would say this might have been the start of an important discussion and affirmed for me a lot of what we’ve been doing for awhile now and what we are thinking about within the event industry.  What will be interesting to watch is what happens now.  They have created a website for attendees (but it is actually open to anyone with an invite,  so let me know if you want to be invited to participate or check it out) that is intended to expand on what was done at the forum by sharing feedback, result sharing from the organizers, idea hunting and then networking with other members.  I’ll be interested to see what kind of uptake they get.

So, packed a lot into three days.  Lots of it was stimulating and energizing and I hope we all carry this energy forward.

Now, it’s off to the Green Meetings Industry Council’s Sustainable Meetings Conference in Portland next week.  Will try reporting as much as I can under the hashtag #gmic.

And, if I get my act together, maybe even another blog post.

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6 responses to “Three Days, Two Conferences – Some Thoughts

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Three Days, Two Conferences – Some Thoughts « Spheres of Influence -- Topsy.com·

  2. Thanks so much Paul for sharing your takeaways and challenging both events to continue to raise the bar. This post is full of truths and recommendations. I for one greatly appreciate it!

  3. Thank you for your ReThink write up (I couldn’t attend onsite), and your rallying cry to push even farther with Event Camp. I look forward to sharing ideas with #eventprofs about how to even more tightly integrate the onsite and online experience. Perhaps that conversation could continue at http://eventcamp.conferencespot.org/?

    And I’m honored to have made your roundup list from Event Camp. In case others would like to experience/revisit, here’s that link to the on-demand sessions: http://hosted.mediasite.com/mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/EventCampChicago2011.aspx

  4. Jeff, Kevin and Erica – thanks for your comments and support. Appreciate the comments and feedback.

    Marius – yes, you should have been there. You would have liked it and you would have contributed a lot to the conversation.

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