A small group of us, die hards from Podcamp Philly and Podcamp East, came together this past weekend for Podcamp 2023 in Philadelphia.

There were amazing sessions talking about how AI and Chat GPT will pose challenges to those of us who are involved in digital marketing, or looking to build brands for passion projects in the age when getting digital attention is going to get harder unless you are willing to pay for it.

We talked as a group about how making your voice heard is critical, especially in local government- and how to try to pressure people to make change- and the pushback from people like Gov. DeSantis who is looking at laws to make bloggers register if they want to talk smack about him. (But somehow, registering your guns is a problem? Maybe the keyboard is mightier than the sword…)

Learning Together

Podcamp 2023 proved once again that having smart people in a room, questioning and exploring things together makes all of us smarter. Somehow, Zoom calls alone don’t foster the same give and take, and learning from others. It works in a pinch, but being around friends in a space where exploring and sharing new ideas is the cornerstone – is a different, and compelling thing.

It was disappointing that we had fewer people show up than signed up- the co-pay model for these small conferences helps get some people to come, but others – it’s not enough to compel attendance. However, organizers have to plan for the max number of people that sign up, leaving them holding the bag for things like extra catering or rented space, and that’s a drag, and a deterrent when planning future events.

If you have any ideas on how to get more people to sign up and show up for organic events, especially those where sessions are planned the day of rather than weeks in advance, let me know.

Preplanning, or Ad Hoc?

I think the pre-seeding of sessions and signing up in advance for spots may be what’s needed, as we all seem to want everything to be more predictable, especially in a world that seems more and more uncertain. We went full bar-camp day of sign up this time, nd I think it may have led more people to stay home, but I don’t know for sure.

Or it could be the era for the small, community-based unconferences has passed, and everyone wants a big event or nothing.

The magic of podcamp was always that people from a variety of backgrounds, industries and experience got together and shared ideas and expertise in a pace, at low to no cost- making it available to everyone. This also fostered sharing and community, in a very quaker-values way- everyone has something to contribute, so we should honor everyone and let them decide what to share, providing space for the conversation to the place.

The space isn’t brand new any more, and many people have “niched up” – developing expertise in areas, and the number of “newbies” is fewer as well- so maybe the value proposition also needs to change.

What I do know is this weekend was like returning to a place where I felt immediately at home- it was kind of like having a high school reunion- seeing people you haven’t seen for forever, but fall back in with like no time at all has passed- and post-pandemic, this was a real balm for my soul.

When we got together and played “Battledecks”- memories flooded back, and seeing what a great tool all of these early experiences were that helped make me a better presenter in my professional life. Podcamp made me a better and more confident public speaker, and it made me better as an elected official later on as well. I will be forever grateful to everyone I’ve met at Podcamp and for every experience, as they all continue to pay off for me in the long term.

Question for you

Are you interested in Unconferences? What is the appeal? Why this vs. a normal conference? What’s your ROI for coming? And how do we intriduce these community-centered conference to a new generation?

Looking forward to your comments!