Confessions of a first-time EventCamper

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As I may have mentioned, I finally got the chance to participate, if only remotely, in an EventCamp: EventCamp Twin Cities, or #ECTC11 in Twitterese. It was my first real hybrid meeting experience. It also was one of the most interesting conferences I’ve been to in a while. Here are some of my thoughts. (Picture is of my assistant, Mango, who diligently tweeted for me on the rare occasions when I had to leave to room.)

My assistant Mango tweeting along with EventCamp Twin Cities

Thought 1: If I had to use just one word to describe ECTC, it would be “overwhelming.” There was just so much stuff to do, from filling out the learning journal, to listening to the theme song, to following the Twitter hashtag, to listening to the sessions on the regular channel and on Facebook, to getting to know my teammates and working with them to earn badges, meet challenges, and otherwise play the really cool, if involved, game that Kurt Nelson designed just for us, to watching the videos people were posting about the event to YouTube…you see what I mean? Even when there wasn’t anything officially going on, we had virtual emcees Emilie Barta and Glenn Thayer to keep it all going with speaker interviews and all sorts of engaging patter. It was total sensory overload, and that was just participating remotely!

Thought 2: If I got to add one more word, it would be “exhilarating.” If, as the organizers continually stressed, this was all a big experiment, then I was one happy lab rat scampering from bell to whistle to score my virtual cheese. All that frenetic activity kept me from giving into the temptation of constant e-mail checking or even (heaven forbid) getting work done. Yes, while I had intended to just drop in and out casually while getting articles written and edited, instead I found myself hopelessly addicted to reading and responding to that Twitter hashtag, gobbling up what the speakers were talking about, unlocking badges (who knew I knew so much about mobile technology even before the session about it?) and coming up with ideas for a team name and motto that instead I ended up working late into the night to get my regular work done.

How addicted was I? Because Minnesota is an hour behind Massachusetts, EventCamp went beyond my regular work day. So there I was out in the garden after officially shutting down for the day, picking tomatoes and beans with my trusty netbook at my side so I wouldn’t miss anything. I know, right? Sad, but a true confession. Good thing my husband was out of town, because he would have laughed at me.

The strange thing is that the sessions themselves were the least compelling aspect. Well, it’s not that strange, seeing as they were also the least interactive. The Pecha Kucha presentations held my attention because not only were they short and sweet, they were also really well done. Mike Scott of Dale Carnegie Training also had me the whole time, but he did it by asking participants for our ideas on how his organization could use social media in its programs. And BizBash’s David Adler’s vision of the future of meetings design for the most part kept my attention, in part because he asked us to think about what meetings can learn from summer camp (creates long-lasting memories, relationships, community) and the famous gym membership curve (spikes in January, deep dip come Feb.). I have to admit that a lot of the sessions became kind of background while most of my attention went to what people were saying about the session on Twitter (!). Never done that before. And these were all sessions I would have been glued to in real life, led by people I'd love to hear, but for some reason it just didn't grab me as streaming video the way I know it would have had I been in the room.

Thought 3: The difference in what you got out of it depending on where you sat, be it on site, in a pod (a group of geographically related folks who gathered together to participate remotely), or, like me, on your own. From this discussion of one pod’s experience and from some grumbling I heard from other pods, their expectations for participation were higher, and perhaps because of that their experience may not have been as satisfying as mine was.

And would all that scurrying around that kept me wrapped up in the experience perhaps have been more annoying than addicting if I had people to interact with? I’d be curious to hear from those who were on site (I haven’t seen any blog posts about it yet—if you know of one, please leave a link in the comments. Thanks!). Was all that attention given to those not in the room distracting from your experience? Did it enhance it in any way? What did we all miss by not being there?

Thought 4: Unlike previous EventCamps, ECTC was more of a traditional conference with pre-scheduled speakers and topics than a barcamp. While normally I’d much rather go with a more Open Space type of environment, in this case I think what already was jamming would have a high probability of sliding into chaos if they’d gone that route. And I have a strong feeling that we would have ended up with similar topics and many of the same people leading the discussions anyway.

Thought 5: Add my data point of one to the “not” side of all the arguments you hear about whether or not hybrid events will encourage people to just attend remotely and skip the live conference. All they do is whet your appetite for more, trust me. Better yet, don’t trust me—try one of these yourself. Watching the community build as people work and learn together just makes you want to be even more a part of it. And maybe have the chance to do a little after-hours karaoke, too. Hmm, maybe not.

A big thank-you shout-out to all the organizers, volunteers, techies, participants, virtual and IRL emcees, and especially the sponsors who were willing to get behind this great experiment. Even when things went horribly wrong, as Murphy’s Law insists they had to, you all kept it a fun, engaging, learning experience.

As to what went horribly wrong…as the organizers kept saying, remember that they're experimenting so we don't have to!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jE9EFRHwUmo[/youtube]

P.S. This post was much better the first time I wrote it. Darn you, hurricane Irene, for making the electricity flicker just as I was hitting that "publish" button! Lost the whole thing. Argh!

P.P.S. Remind me to write a post just about the game piece of ECTC11. If you were there and have thoughts you'd like to share or if you have seen someone else's writeup about it, please let me know. Again, this was a first for me, but I have a strong feeling it's something we're going to be seeing a whole lot more of in the future.

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