Organizing an UnConference may seem like a simple thing. Open Source. Group Participation. Everyone working towards a common goal. But in reality, it’s just as complicated as organizing a “real” conference, a book fair, or and event, with a volunteer workforce. (I’ll assume for the moment that paid conference organizers have a different set of parameters motivating their team.)
In organizing PodCamp Philly, I’ve found that it is really no different from organizing a golf tournament, bake sale, or bookfair. As much as “open source” means open participation, that doesn’t change the basic fact that someone pretty much has to be in charge of coordinating what’s needed and making sure the boxes are checked.
We have a really great team for PodCamp Philly. I am thrilled to know and work with everyone. But I have also learned that I have to ask for help when I need it, and I have to be able to delegate, making sure whoever gets a job knows what needs to be done and on what timeline. “Just go do it” doesn’t always make others feel empowered and involved. People have to catch the ball and then run with it, too.
Organizing the “un” way is great if everyone is used to “un”. If your team has a lot of people who don’t know each other that well, and come from standard business backgrounds, you need to adapt and have a little more structure. Make sure people feel valued and dole out work and benefits across the board. Value everyone’s input, but be willing to bring it to a decision and close. We’re all busy- keep things short and sweet.
(I adopt Chris Brogan’s Calories in/Calories out system- do the things that add value- those that just keep people busy or suck up too much time with little return- forget ’em.)
Also remember that when organizing an Unconference, it is all about the community. This often means planting seeds with attendees and potential sponsors early. Things take time to grow and spread, just like kudzu. But just like kudzu, things also will slowly take hold and then experience exponential growth. but you need to hack away at it consistently.
Some of the things we’ve found helpful for spreading the word about Podcamp Philly include:
Engaging the local business, PR and Media community through networking events, groups like Social Media Club, BlogPhiladelphia, and Junto. There are movers and shakers in every community- track them down.
When you send sponsor letters, give the sponsor a reason why this is a good opportunity for them. Can they add value by presenting? Is this a good demographic for them? It should be about asking to help them first, helping you second.
We tried to make our UnConference about Philly as well as Podcamp. Our events are spaced out a reasonable distance in the City, but highlight unique areas and give people a sense of Philly beyond a conference room. Ultimately, we want our local community and those from out of town to have more than a “rubber chicken” convention experience.
Use your local resources. This means if there are colleges in the area, contact faculty and students in Departments that might have an interest- business schools, law schools, engineering, computer science, media, and beyond. look for research topics of faculty and send them an email telling them about the event and why tthey might be interested. Who knows? It could help their research and give you a potential stellar presenter all in one.
As much as possible, use the LEGO approach. I tried to design Podcamp Philly in such a way that the money raised would first go to pay expenses, and then if we got enough money, we could start adding on amenities like “modules” or Legos as time and money allowed. Things like printing and tshirts need lead time- make rational decisions about how long to wait to okay those kind of items. Give sponsors and other people firm deadlines to make decisions and contributions. Prioritize. Ask for Help. Have a timeline. And be fiscally responsible.
Underpromise and overdeliver. I never promise sponsors or anyone else anything I can’t deliver 100% for sure. If money allows for things like registration kits and schwag, make that a special add on and suprise value add- people will feel like they got a prize inside, and they’ll be more likely to sponsor you or another podcamp in the future.
Don’t pee in the pool, so to speak, and make sponsors feel short-changed. It hurts more than just you and your credibility, although that should be reason enough, right there.
Organize this for the community, not for you. I’m glad there are going to be sessions I can’t wait to see at PodCamp Philly. But the purpose here is to bring our community together – I’m tired of meeting new media people who live in my backyard in cities 6 hours or more away from home, or even in other countries. That’s just crazy.
I’m glad people are getting to know me through PodCamp Philly. But Podcamp Philly isn’t about promoting me, or the LD Podcast, or my blog projects. It’s about the connections, the conversation and communication.
If you think organizing a Podcamp is simply a slick self-promotion tool, you’re crazy. There’s simply too much work to be done, and if it’s all only about you, your motivation will eventually flag- if it’s about everyone else, there will always be a reason to tough it out through the rough spots. You can’t build a team if the only word you know is “I”.
I want to thank everyone involved in making Podcamp Philly such a success. We had a great community of sponsors we’ll blog about (after I get some sleep…..) a great group of speakers, volunteers, and a group of Organizers that have become really great friends over the past couple months.
Some quick special thanks-
Drew Olanoff- The Rocky Run was inspired- Let’s keep this spirit going and make sure Podcamp isn’t just a once a year event, by getting involved in the community now. You helped bring on fun sponsors and donors, and helped bring some extra special when we needed it- thank you Dr. D!
Annie Heckenberger, Alex Hillman, Geoff DiMasi and everyone from Junto and BlogPhiladelphia who made me think I could pull this thing off, got behind it, and helped in big and small ways to make it happen….
To Chris Penn, Steve Garfield, Mark Blevis, CC Chapman, Linda Mills, Lynette Young, Rand, Smitty, Eric Skiff, The KROOSH, and all the other folks who just become part of the community and helped out. If something needed to be done, you made it happen. Thanks for being part of my family- I couldn’t ask for better friends.
To Todd, Russ and everyone at UsedWigs.com- The live participatory art really made Podcamp Philly’s Sunday something special. Souvenir in french means “to remember”, and your participation in Podcamp gave people very special interactive Souvenirs that will help them always remember you and Podcamp Philly.
And to the organizers who helped make this all happen:
Steve Lubetkin: You helped with the PR, the Podcasts, and making sure we approached the “grown-ups” and made them aware of Podcamp. This helped make the event real, and will help even more in future years.
Lisa Marshall: Despite having a chaotic summer and lots of stress, you helped so much in getting Drexel interested in the event, and making sure we kept ourselves realistic.
Alan Chaess- The buttons and badges were such a great idea, and really made the conference feel like a fun event. You were calm and pitched in, and we knew it would all just work out ok.
Adam Plante-I admire you more and more every day. You are insightful, and just amazingly calm and just made things happen. The House of Geek are the go-to guys, and I hope you know how much I appreciate all you work from designing the website and logos, to taking care of the last minute “help” calls- you were amazing. Thanks isn’t enough.
Bill Rowland- You came on the team and things went from a “good enough” to a professional standard immediately- I couldn’t have pulled off without you. You helped with every aspect of communication, to helping with sponsors, to the tshirts and guide, the video- you are an amazing guy, soft spoken about all you did, and I can’t thank you enough.
Jen Yuan – thanks for quietly cleaningup the wiki and really pitching in with the schedule- that was awesome.
MaryHelen Votral – Thanks for stepping up and dealing with registration-You took that whole worry out of my hands, and it worked well and smoothly.
Every one of the organizers brought their own talents to the table. They are stand-up people, and I am so lucky to call them my friends.
Thanks again to everyone- off to get a little sleep, and then I’ll continue the wrap up.