I am back from PodCamp NYC, the first Podcamp that I’ve helped to organize that has actually happened. (I am also one of the organizers for PodCamp Philly- September 6, 7th & 8th at Drexel University!)
The final count for the number of people who registered for PodCamp NYC was 1312. We can confirm that at least 631 people showed up, by who signed in and registered on site. (We know there were some more people there, because a few people, like me, simply forgot to register because I was helping set up for the event at the time!) This makes Podcamp NYC the biggest Podcamp to date, despite a last-minute change in venue and its occurrence on a holiday weekend.
There were lots of concerns about whether Podcamp could maintain its inclusive nature if it got too big. I still felt like I met a lot of great people, and had a chance to connect. But running an event is definitely different than attending one. Much like planning a wedding, if you are the person getting married, the connection with every relative is a lot less than if you were attending the wedding as a guest.
As I think about how the event worked, what you would change in the future, and what you might do differently, I have the following thoughts:
1. The Venue Is Important.
Which is better? Colleges or Hotels? Or Someplace else?
At Podcamp Boston, and Podcamp Toronto ( The 2 podcamps I had attended before PC NYC), the venues were colleges. Podcamp NYC was at a hotel conference center. Colleges and Universities are big, academic institutions, and event planning is not always a focus. They host many events, but they are not service-industry focused in the same way a hotel is. Hotels focus on pleasing clients, Universities have more of an educational and “This is ok- that is not” focus.
So for Podcamp NYC, the helpfulness of the staff at the New Yorker was outstanding. Where the previous venue we were working with had us swimming in streams of red tape, the New Yorker, by contrast, made things easy for us, and we could not be more grateful. But the expense was considerable over the initial cost for holding the event at the educational venue in NY. The Hotel also allowed us to expand the event to allow up to the fire code amount of attendees, we had many more additional rooms available for presentations, and the hotel obviously was a great place for attendees to stay during the event. Great advantages for a hotel-based conference.
But hotels are not really designed with as many “group congregating” spaces as colleges are. At Podcamp Boston, and at Podcamp Toronto, there were lots of places where people could sit, chat, have coffee, record sessions, and continue conversations. We got a little of that in Podcamp NYC, especially in the Podango Room, where lawn chairs and tables were placed all around, allowing people to sit, record and/or blog . But I think because the sessions were spread over three floors, with not much space in hallways for just talking and connecting, it made it harder to get that participation thing going than it was at other podcamps. Less people camped out in hallways just talking, sitting on the floor, etc., more people moving from session to session in an efficient manner.
So I am left thinking that architecture and space matter more than we think. (and perhaps even food and drink as well). Actively encouraging people to sit and schmooze, with couches, bean bag chairs, coffee and snacks available- all of that encourages connection. As people, we eat and we talk. Without that component, we simply move into analytical working mode, not social mode. The networking party and after party at SLATE were terrific for this purpose, and it would have been great if more of this seemed to be happening during the day at Podcamp NYC.
I think it was not anything that we as organizers could control- architecture dictates use- but I think we also underestimated the power of coffee and donuts.
2. Tracks and Schedule Organization
We had a bunch of debates on how the sessions should be organized, and whether having themes or tracks was a good thing or not. the feedback so far seems to indicate that tracks worked well. Knowing that one room would have video things going on all day, or marketing oriented sessions, for example, made it easier to find what you were looking for.
We assigned sessions to different rooms by trying to get a handle on how big the sessions might be, how popular they might be, and I think we did an okay job, but I know we weren’t perfect in this regard. I am not sure you can always predict who will want to see what speaker, and where people will congregate. I think bigger rooms are harder to fill, with people and with sound, even with popular speakers- just like filling a huge cathedral for your family wedding- the empty pews make it look weird.
I think the lesson here is rooms that holding around 100 people are better than rooms that hold 600. Smaller rooms encourage more audience participation, they’re easier for people to speak in, and create more sense of a community and intimacy.
The last thought for today in this vein is that the number of sessions seems to matter as well. When you have 10 things going on at once, people are often confused and conflicted about where to go, what to see, and how to be in more than one place at a time. Previous podcamps only had three or four sessions at once- this may be more of an optimal number that 10 competing topic at one time.
3. One Day or Two? Or More?
For PC NYC, we had the conference on one day. This made following up with more advanced topics on day two impossible, and made it harder for people to connect yet again and expand the relationships they just started n day one. While one day is certainly cheaper and less exhausting (perhaps) for organizers, I think the two day experience is important. The social time, the connections from previous podcamps are the things that have meant the most to me, and these things take time- a luxury I didn’t feel I really had as much of at Podcamp NYC as I might have liked.
Just so everyone is clear- These thoughts are just compare/contrast- not critique or slams in any way. I think Podcamp NYC was a clear success. The growth just in terms of interest- the number of people from all different walks of life-was amazing, and I think Podcamp will continue to grow as a way to make new media about connecting, in a very real way for real people.