How to BarCamp Like an Old Pro

Kate calls me out about the argo, alpha male smackdown I put on a BarCamp n00bie yesterday. And the worst part about this is that Kate is correct, behaviour like mine might be driving away diversity and new participants from this community. With BarCampTdot just days away, and the planning cycle almost complete, let me try to sum up what n00bies can expect.

What is BarCamp?

BarCamp is an alternative conference. It is a non-excluseive, “open” alternative to FooCamp. Take all of the innovation, excitement and the concept as started by Tim O’Reilly and open door it. Make a conference around the people who attend.

“BarCamp provides a democratizing alternative, where talking is just as important as listening.”

What to expect at BarCamp?

Ken Schafer asked me what can people expect at the first BarCampToronto (aka TorCamp).

We will start Saturday morning by getting everyone together in a room. We will invite the group to propose sessions, anyone can propose and lead a session, they do this by announcing to the group what the session is about and giving it a title which will go on a sticky on the grid later. Once we have a bunch of sessions, we then invite the presenter to schedule the session. It's up to the presenters to put their session on the grid. Once the sessions are on the grid, we'll just let things roll. People can move between sessions, participate in the discussions.

I think that this description is still completely relevant. We’ll have a lot more people present at BarCampTdot and the space will be bigger. But that only translates to more sessions on the grid. More opportunities to have a session.

We will be providing a space, some furniture, some electricity, a wifi network, and a framework for a unconference to happen. Sponsors have provided some funding, so we’ll have water, pop, some snacks, maybe some t-shirts, maybe some lunch and dinner. BarCamp is what you as a participant make of it. Individuals are bringing their laptops, some are bringing projectors (there is a risk that we might overload the circuit in this warehouse space). The space for BarCampTdot is more raw than most of the spaces we’ve used.

Anders Ramsay describes BarCampNYC on BoxesandArrows as:

“The organizers didn't give any instructions on what to do or where to go. Everyone just figured it out on their own, found a space when they got tired, and bedded down. In the morning, people got up, showered, and were ready by 10 or 11. Again, no direction, no alarms, people took care of themselves and each other.”

Does everyone have to present?

People should be prepared to participate.

Participation comes in a variety of formats. So for all of my smackdown, I don’t often present. Why? Because I’m usually tired from all of the running around (actually most people will tell you it’s because I’ll have too many bourbons the night before ;-). The best sessions are a mix of presentation and discussion. The goal is to provide stimulus for a conversation. Challenge the audience. Talk about something you are deeply passionate about. For many entrepreneurs the thing they are working on is the thing they are passionate about.

“The informal feel of the event also makes people less concerned about presenting fully developed ideas, instead, increasing the comfort-level of throwing out off-the-wall ideas just to see what the response is. And by the same virtue, an audience who, in a more formal setting, might politely listen quietly to a not-so-great presentation, is more comfortable speaking up, maybe even turning the presentation into a workshop to see how a bad idea can be turned into a good one.”

There are two phrases that get spoken alot at BarCamp. No Spectators, Only Participants and No Tourists. These are trying to express the desire of community for involvment. BarCamp is not a large corporate conference where you can sit in the back of the room and take a couple of days out of the office. There are a lot of other conferences that you can attend if that is your thing. BarCamp is a framework to allow people to share and learn in an open environment.

How to BarCamp like an Old Pro?

Here are my tips on how to BarCamp like an Old Pro. I hope that Tara and Chris will speak out about this, as they have attended way more BarCamps on way more continents, with way more people. And that others will include their experiences with BarCamps.

  1. Don’t drink too much bourbon the night before BarCamp
  2. Show up early, get a spot on the grid or find someone that needs help with their session
  3. Have fun, remember that BarCamp is what you make of it, so if you’re bored, then start a session that will interest you.

6 thoughts on “How to BarCamp Like an Old Pro”

  1. David, some of your recent posts sparked me to think about what a movement of unconferences focused on progressive social issues would look like (some ideas are here). Would enjoy your thoughts on how it might or might not work outside of our gadget-obsessed technology communities?

  2. <p>I too am concerned that people feel free to (responsible to)<br />
    participate. So, I'll say it one more time: the simple practices of<br />
    OpenSpace may seem silly to some, but they provide a little bit of<br />
    ceremony to level the playing field and remind everyone that they are<br />
    participants, not observers. That they are making the event, and if they<br />
    didn't like it, they should look to themselves. OpenSpace uses<br />
    psychology to disarm preconceptions, power games, cliques. I felt there<br />
    was too much *perceived* &quot;power&quot; among the organizers. We didn't hold on to it, explicitly, I don't think. But silence is a powerful power tool.<br />
    And because there was no opportunity made to explicitly debunk the myth of leadership, people assumed it was there and acted accordingly.<br />
    Silence worked against us & we were not explicit about how things<br />
    worked, so people assumed it worked the way they are used to (i.e. not<br />
    like a BarCamp)</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I heard people say the following (no, really): &quot;what the heck does<br />
    'wildcard and beer' mean?&quot; (on the schedule); &quot;I wish I'd understood how<br />
    it worked, it took me hours to figure it out&quot;; &quot;I wish people would have<br />
    had more time to prepare, so they would have had better slides&quot;; &quot;blah,<br />
    blah, blah for 30 minutes. so that's it!&quot; (huh?); and &quot;somebody moved my talk. no, *I'm* the convenor!&quot;</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I offered a couple of the organizers my services as facilitator,<br />
    explained carefully the pattern I used (which is really quite close to<br />
    what we did, except for expectation setting and sharing results). They<br />
    didn't answer my email. I asked for feedback. They didn't answer. Nice.<br />
    So I sent a note saying &quot;I assume the answer is no, so I'll put my<br />
    energy elsewhere&quot;. Oh well, I tell myself they're young and brash. the<br />
    down side of being young and iconoclastic 🙂 I could have my offer to a<br />
    largeer number of people, but this event definitely, by the very way it<br />
    was created, had a perceived power structure, even to me.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Information lowers the intimidation barrier and levels the playing field & we all know the rules, we all are tasked with the same mission: make this event for yourself. We all are given the tools to do so & a<br />
    scheduling system that is not cryptic, an understanding of what responsibilities (and privileges, like changing the time or location) of<br />
    the convenor, that it's ok (necessary) to self-organize. The avantgarde<br />
    don't need this prompting & that's you and me. But the &quot;early majority&quot;<br />
    do, and I think that's who came out this time.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I must admit, although TorCamp2 was ok, I was disappointed. It lacked passion. And it was uncommunicative & I couldn't tell what half the<br />
    schedule items were. In Open Space everyone gets to stand up and state<br />
    what their topic is in a whole sentence, and people get to see their<br />
    face. Also, if there end up being 5 topics in one slot, it's ok, it is<br />
    encouraged, and it will self-organize to a hallway or courtyard or<br />
    whatever. Because this wasn't discussed, only 4 items appeared in each<br />
    of four apparently limited spots. As I teach my Agile teams – Perception<br />
    is Reality – it doesn't matter what we meant or wanted – what eventually<br />
    happens is going to be informed by *people's perceptions*, and if we<br />
    don't communicate well, these perceptions will have to rely on<br />
    preconceptions.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>If you want to know how I run a classic OpenSpace, you can read it here:<br />
    <a href="http://vitalbrew.blogspot.com/2006/04/openspace-for-collaborative.html&quot; target="_blank"><a href="http://vitalbrew.blogspot.com/2006/04/op…</a>.<br />
    " target="_blank"><a href="http://vitalbrew.blogspot.com/2006/04/openspace-f…</a>." target="_blank">http://vitalbrew.blogspot.com/2006/04/openspace-f…</a>.</a> </a> Perhaps we'll have an opportunity to try it some time. Whatever. If<br />
    TorCamp dies, as someone noted, something else will spring up. But I'd<br />
    be happy to help people experience the incredible empowerment and<br />
    synergy of a huge collaborative party 🙂 Why? Just because I'm an<br />
    inveterate collaboration-evangelist 🙂 and can't help myself :-))</p>

  3. <p>+1 to deb's comments and +1 to david's post at:<br /><a href="http://davidcrow.ca/article/1127/barcamptdot-some-things-need-changing</p><br />
    " target="_blank"><a href="http://davidcrow.ca/article/1127/barcamptdot-some-things-need-changing</p>&quot; target="_blank">http://davidcrow.ca/article/1127/barcamptdot-some-things-need-changing</p></a&gt; </a> <br />
    <p>bottom line: less noise and a bit more 'structuring the unstructured' and BarCamp Tdot aka Torcamp2 would have been even better</p>

  4. I too am concerned that people feel free to (responsible to)
    participate. So, I'll say it one more time: the simple practices of
    OpenSpace may seem silly to some, but they provide a little bit of
    ceremony to level the playing field and remind everyone that they are
    participants, not observers. That they are making the event, and if they
    didn't like it, they should look to themselves. OpenSpace uses
    psychology to disarm preconceptions, power games, cliques. I felt there
    was too much *perceived* “power” among the organizers. We didn't hold on to it, explicitly, I don’t think. But silence is a powerful power tool.
    And because there was no opportunity made to explicitly debunk the myth of leadership, people assumed it was there and acted accordingly.
    Silence worked against us & we were not explicit about how things
    worked, so people assumed it worked the way they are used to (i.e. not
    like a BarCamp)

    I heard people say the following (no, really): “what the heck does
    'wildcard and beer' mean?” (on the schedule); “I wish I'd understood how
    it worked, it took me hours to figure it out”; “I wish people would have
    had more time to prepare, so they would have had better slides”; “blah,
    blah, blah for 30 minutes. so that's it!” (huh?); and “somebody moved my talk. no, *I'm* the convenor!”

    I offered a couple of the organizers my services as facilitator,
    explained carefully the pattern I used (which is really quite close to
    what we did, except for expectation setting and sharing results). They
    didn't answer my email. I asked for feedback. They didn't answer. Nice.
    So I sent a note saying “I assume the answer is no, so I'll put my
    energy elsewhere”. Oh well, I tell myself they're young and brash. the
    down side of being young and iconoclastic 🙂 I could have my offer to a
    largeer number of people, but this event definitely, by the very way it
    was created, had a perceived power structure, even to me.

    Information lowers the intimidation barrier and levels the playing field & we all know the rules, we all are tasked with the same mission: make this event for yourself. We all are given the tools to do so & a
    scheduling system that is not cryptic, an understanding of what responsibilities (and privileges, like changing the time or location) of
    the convenor, that it's ok (necessary) to self-organize. The avantgarde
    don't need this prompting & that's you and me. But the “early majority”
    do, and I think that's who came out this time.

    I must admit, although TorCamp2 was ok, I was disappointed. It lacked passion. And it was uncommunicative & I couldn't tell what half the
    schedule items were. In Open Space everyone gets to stand up and state
    what their topic is in a whole sentence, and people get to see their
    face. Also, if there end up being 5 topics in one slot, it's ok, it is
    encouraged, and it will self-organize to a hallway or courtyard or
    whatever. Because this wasn’t discussed, only 4 items appeared in each
    of four apparently limited spots. As I teach my Agile teams – Perception
    is Reality – it doesn’t matter what we meant or wanted – what eventually
    happens is going to be informed by *people’s perceptions*, and if we
    don’t communicate well, these perceptions will have to rely on
    preconceptions.

    If you want to know how I run a classic OpenSpace, you can read it here:
    http://vitalbrew.blogspot.com/2006/04/openspace-for-collaborative.html.
    Perhaps we'll have an opportunity to try it some time. Whatever. If
    TorCamp dies, as someone noted, something else will spring up. But I'd
    be happy to help people experience the incredible empowerment and
    synergy of a huge collaborative party 🙂 Why? Just because I'm an
    inveterate collaboration-evangelist 🙂 and can't help myself :-))

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