This weekend, I attended Event Camp East Coast. It was organized as a structured unconference and followed the Conferences that Work model. Conferences That Work is one of many group processes that put the participants at the center of the event to establish common ground, build community and create something together.
There was no agenda. There were no powerpoints. No overhead projectors. And no presentations. There were no speakers. There was no looking at the back of anyone’s head in sessions.
Are you still with me?
There was no production equipment. No stages. No livestream. And only a light twitter stream. The most advanced technology at the event was EventMobi from Bob Vaez.
The event was unplugged. Yet, we were so plugged in.
Identifying Our Talents and Strengths
There were two key processes that helped us get started. The first was a process called the “round table.” In that process, we went around the room and answered three questions:
> Who are you
> What do you want out of the event
> What can you offer
Two scribes then took notes on flip charts and posted those around the room.
Out of that process, I learned about the hidden talents of the other attendees that were in the room. So, when it was my turn to go – I could say – “I want to learn about Design from Deb Roth, Improv from Jenise Fryatt, Advanced Social Media from Kiki L’Italien and talk about Brain learning with anyone that wants to talk about it.” (@brainstrength – identified herself as an expert on brain research when it was her turn.)
This process was lengthy and tiring, but it helped me get to know some key facts about the other attendees. This came in handy once we cracked open the wine.
Tapping Into Our Wisdom
While consuming wine and getting to know each other better, we started to build an agenda. This was the second step.
We created the agenda by coming up with discussion topics and then writing our name down beside each topic. If we had expertise and willingness to lead a session – we could indicate that with a letter code.
Then, while the rest of us continued to talk and network – a group of 6 people went into the “serious room” and sorted everything out. What emerged in the morning was a 14 session program that tapped into the collective wisdom and talents of the people that we had at the event.
For some people, this step was too unstructured and too slow for their tastes. For me, it gave me plenty of time to have productive and engaging conversations with a bunch of different people – including some who were skeptical.
I liked that.
We The People
The next morning was a lot of fun! The session rooms were setup with chairs organized in a circle with 1 flip chart. The session leader would kick off the session with a few points and then a dialogue would take place.
Each room had a circular seating arrangement. This made sure that we were all equal. We all had an opportunity to ask questions or make comments when we wanted. Since, we knew each other – the dialogue flowed much smoother than if we were unknowns in the session.
While we didn’t get a powerpoint deck with 62 slides from each presentation to take home – what we did get was a bunch of new resources for answers, help and support.
Those resources were our fellow attendees. The people.
A Group Unites
The final sessions gave us an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what we had seen, experienced and learned. Then we could choose to share those insights with our colleagues around the room. (We had moved from “fellow attendees” to colleagues at this point). Since each of us came from a different place we took away something different.
- I have never been to a conference where I felt like I got to know so many new people so well. We shared together, learned together and established common ground.
- I thought it was remarkably empowering to get to know the people around me and then say “I want to learn from you” and then go have a discussion with 10-18 other people that feel the same.
- This isn’t the type of event format that lends itself to webcasting. A video stream here would have failed – badly. It would have been like watching the Ann Arbor City Council on public access television – people would have left after 3 minutes. Then, they would have complained that the livestream was no good.
- It takes courage to put on event like this. It takes courage to register and pay for an event like this. Yet, I would attend again – because the networking and collaboration were so powerful.
We have a bunch of different formats and technologies that we can use in our events. Your selection of event format should depend on your objectives. Not all formats are good for learning. Not all conference formats are good for engagement. Not all conference formats are right for livestreaming.
Event Camp East Coast was great for building a peer-to-peer community.