I’m getting a reputation for being the Podcamp girl, having been to and organized many of these events to date. I recently attended and presented at Podcamp Toronto, not only because I love the Canadian podcast community, but to see the innovative things they try out at this conference every year. The beauty of Podcamp being an open source conference is that each one not only has its own local flavor, but each one brings a different innovation to the table.
Chris Brogan, Chris Penn, Mark Blevis and others have been talking about how we can adapt podcamp to meet the changing needs of the community, and how we are exploring “verticals” or topic-based podcamps, to theme an event, so to speak. This was first tried out by Vivian Vasquez and Andy Bilodeau at Podcamp Edu, and we’re trying to expand the concept at Podcamp NYC 2.0 being held at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, NY on April 25 & 26th, 2008.
Last night, the Podcamp Toronto team did a great job talking with the community about the pros and cons of their event, and I think this is a key aspect of Podcamp to share with others- what went well, what didn’t, what’s worth repeating, what’s worth reworking. To that end, I thought I’d blog about what I think are the most successful elements at Podcamps so far (that I know about- I am sure I am missing something), and I would love it if you would include your thoughts about what you’ve liked the most if you’ve been to an event, or what’s been the most disappointing, so we can work to tweek the model for the benefit of the whole community.
1. The Power of Coffee and Donuts: Jay Moonah and his team at Podcamp Toronto pioneered this simple thing and it really helps people start chatting before the sessions begin and people are milling about with registration. Ideally, putting the coffee as close as possible to registration keeps everybody contained and talking, and this brings a nice social aspect to Podcamp while everyone is still searching for conciousness. I like to think we did a great job getting the Starbucks “open bar” sponsored generously by Comcast Interactive at Podcamp Philly, but we were blessed by a Starbucks in the lobby of the building where we held the event, and really, I was copying Jay.
2. Tracking: I look at this like storytelling- somehow, stringing sessions together, in one room, so that from the beginning of the day to the end, you could stay in that room and get a whole complete picture of say, video podcasting and production. It gets tricky scheduling sessions and working out the details, but when possible, making a room a “marketing room” or How To” room makes it easier to find what you are looking for if you are bouncing between sessions, or looking to learn something in more depth- you can construct a workshop-like experience between the offered sessions. This puts a bit of a burden on the organizers to check the sessions list and maybe even asking some people who are coming to speak or facilitate a conversation, to fill in any missing spots, but I look at this as meeting the needs of attendees, not trying to turn Podcamp into a Conference.
3. Keeping People Social: Feeding a variant number of people at Podcamp can be tricky, especially when registered attendees versus the number who actually show up is rather unpredictable. What seems to work is to let everyone grab lunch on their own with whomever they’ve met, but have an evening social gathering where everyone is invited, allowing people to really talk and meet in a way that may not have been possible during the day and in sessions.
There is a growing number of younger people starting to attend Podcamps, making it necessary to consider a non-bar venue to accommodate those under 21. I think the best idea on this was floated last night by the Podcamp Toronto team-maybe scope out a group dinner place that will accommodate everyone if they wish, and let any pub-activities or concerts happen afterwards.
It’s clear people want a “structured” way to meet up with others in the evenings, at least for part of the time.
4. Keeping People Together: This is a logistics thing as well. There was some thought that the great Zero to Podcasting sessions at Podcamp Toronto isolated this track from the rest of the conference. This may have been due to the fact that the room was on a separate floor from the bulk of the conference session rooms, but it also created a sense of community and comraderie maybe a bit separate from the rest of the conference. I hope to have some hands-on, how-to sessions at Podcamp NYC, but I am looking at trying to make sure that these sessions are right next door to some more “advanced” sessions, so the newer people do not feel segmented out of the larger community, and the more experienced people also feel free to come, learn, explore and help mentor others.
5. The Mentor Room: Tommy Vallier successfully pulled off a session called the Mentor Room, I suspect similar to what I tried to have happen at Podcamp Boston, which I wanted to call “Stump the Chumps” (after the segment on Car Talk from NPR) where veteran podcasters and new media folk would answer any question at all from the audience, brainstorming solutions for them on the spot. I think we’re going to see if we can’do this for Podcamp NYC, both for a longer period of time, and to help understand the problems and confusion some people face when they decide to give podcasting. video, or new media a try. I think this will serve to make veterans better teachers, as well as answering the very real and frustrating problems people face when confronted with “all this web stuff”.
6. Hyper-local: I think any Podcamp should be about the local community. It should be about bringing local people to your event, and growing the community from there, rather than expecting the handful of visible “regulars” to attend every podcamp. For Podcamp Philly, this meant involving the local tourism folks, having events in different parts of town, so people got to see Philly as well as the conference, and developing a local sponsor base.
I met Linda Mills at Podcamp Toronto- she lives about 15 miles from my home, if that. I met many more people from Philly at the originial Podcamp Boston than I had met around Philly proper. It is absurd that I had to go to another country to meet one of my neighbors with similar interests, or drive 500 miles or more to meet my local folks. Podcamp Philly and BlogPhiladelphia were events about bringing our community together, and I think it succeeded on many of those metrics.
So these are a few of the things I think help make Podcamps special and worth-while events to hold in your town or area. But what do you think? What makes Podcamp special and worthwhile to attend? What works well for you and what doesn’t? We can only improve if you share your thoughts and we make Podcamp what it has always strived to be- a community based new media conference- about the people even more than the cool tech tools.