Over the last few days, I’ve been slowly returning to Earth after soaring through the innovative design and timely content of EventCamp Twin Cities, a hybrid meeting that brought 100 participants to Minneapolis September 9; with small groups of attendees in Dallas and in Basel, Switzerland; and attendees joining in from a reported 164 desktops across North America.
EventCamp evolved from #eventprofs, an online Twitter group of event professionals launched in February 2009. Its first face-to-face meeting was held a year later in New York City, and the group continues to explore issues of onsite collaboration, innovation, and social networking.
My company was one of the content suppliers for EventCamp Twin Cities, and in a future column I plan to ask for your feedback on one of the new content strategies we helped introduce during the conference. But EventCamp itself is a much bigger story that points toward some immediate opportunities for our industry to learn, evolve, and grow.
1. The hybrid meeting has arrived. The industry has seen an explosion of ideas and options for virtual meetings, co-located meetings, and meetings that brings together several regional nodes. EventCamp didn’t quite have it all, but it demonstrated that a cluster of face-to-face meetings can combine with virtual participants, make presentations available to all, and make sure everyone has a chance to interact with other participants.
2. Meeting design can drive room sets. Meeting designers routinely lament the need to adapt their plans to the available space, since the typical meeting room is anything but adaptable. One small difference that pointed in the right direction: Participants in Minneapolis got to choose between standard seating, comfy chairs, and exercise balls. Seating isn’t enough to transform a session hall, but it’s a good start, as is the underlying assumption that design and purpose trump infrastructure.
3. The virtual audience was never forgotten. I’ve covered meetings where access for virtual attendees amounted to a bored technician pointing a camera at a speaker. If a session divided into rounds or the face-to-face group took a break, the virtual audience was lost. At EventCamp, virtual host Emilie Barta interviewed speakers and invited comment from the remote audience at every break. When live participants broke into discussion groups, Barta facilitated the virtual community as its own breakout. The Twitter traffic, meanwhile, was second only to the Minnesota Vikings’ season opener as the region’s top trending topic, and organizers frequently read out tweets from the virtual audience, using some of them to spot and correct technical glitches along the way.
4. The meeting never ends. Speakers repeatedly emphasized the need to keep the on-site community engaged after a conference, using virtual technologies and effective content capture to extend the dialogue and maximize its impact. EventCamp walked the talk. The Twin Cities gathering was a follow-up from the group’s first meeting in New York. And at the end, organizers urged participants to implement their best ideas and bring the results forward to future EventCamps, in Philadelphia in November and in Chicago next February.
EventCamp was not always a picture of logistical perfection—and that was a good thing, too. The Dallas group joined late after participants were delayed by a local tornado, later still because someone forgot to enable their Skype connection. The Dallas and Basel nodes both had to adapt to a 20-second delay in the video transmission from Minneapolis.
Co-chair Samuel J. Smith joked early on that “experimentation is the get-out-of-jail-free card,” but later added that “if we weren't having tech hiccups, we wouldn't be innovating.” That kind of wisdom pervaded EventCamp, making it an important milestone on the way to a new state of the art for meetings.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.