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Event Camp East Coast: Unplugged

Event Camp East Coast Improv

The Event Camp East Coast "Improv Orchestra" Conducted by Jenise Fryatt

This weekend, I attended Event Camp East Coast. It was organized as a structured unconference and followed the Conferences that Work model. Conferences That Work is one of many group processes that put the participants at the center of the event to establish common ground, build community and create something together.

There was no agenda. There were no powerpoints. No overhead projectors. And no presentations. There were no speakers. There was no looking at the back of anyone’s head in sessions.

Are you still with me?

There was no production equipment. No stages. No livestream. And only a light twitter stream. The most advanced technology at the event was EventMobi from Bob Vaez.

The event was unplugged. Yet, we were so plugged in.

Identifying Our Talents and Strengths

There were two key processes that helped us get started. The first was a process called the “round table.”  In that process, we went around the room and answered three questions:

> Who are you

> What do you want out of the event

> What can you offer

Two scribes then took notes on flip charts and posted those around the room.

Out of that process, I learned about the hidden talents of the other attendees that were in the room. So, when it was my turn to go – I could say – “I want to learn about Design from Deb Roth, Improv from Jenise Fryatt, Advanced Social Media from Kiki L’Italien and talk about Brain learning with anyone that wants to talk about it.” (@brainstrength – identified herself as an expert on brain research when it was her turn.)

This process was lengthy and tiring, but it helped me get to know some key facts about the other attendees. This came in handy once we cracked open the wine.

Tapping Into Our Wisdom

While consuming wine and getting to know each other better, we started to build an agenda. This was the second step.

We created the agenda by coming up with discussion topics and then writing our name down beside each topic. If we had expertise and willingness to lead a session – we could indicate that with a letter code.

Then, while the rest of us continued to talk and network – a group of 6 people went into the “serious room” and sorted everything out. What emerged in the morning was a 14 session program that tapped into the collective wisdom and talents of the people that we had at the event.

For some people, this step was too unstructured and too slow for their tastes. For me, it gave me plenty of time to have productive and engaging conversations with a bunch of different people – including some who were skeptical.

I liked that.

We The People

The next morning was a lot of fun! The session rooms were setup with chairs organized in a circle with 1 flip chart. The session leader would kick off the session with a few points and then a dialogue would take place.

Each room had a circular seating arrangement. This made sure that we were all equal. We all had an opportunity to ask questions or make comments when we wanted. Since, we knew each other – the dialogue flowed much smoother than if we were unknowns in the session.

While we didn’t get a powerpoint deck with 62 slides from each presentation to take home – what we did get was a bunch of new resources for answers, help and support.

Those resources were our fellow attendees. The people.

A Group Unites

The final sessions gave us an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what we had seen, experienced and learned. Then we could choose to share those insights with our colleagues around the room. (We had moved from “fellow attendees” to colleagues at this point). Since each of us came from a different place we took away something different.

Final Thoughts

  1. I have never been to a conference where I felt like I got to know so many new people so well. We shared together, learned together and established common ground.
  2. I thought it was remarkably empowering to get to know the people around me and then say “I want to learn from you” and then go have a discussion with 10-18 other people that feel the same.
  3. This isn’t the type of event format that lends itself to webcasting. A video stream here would have failed – badly. It would have been like watching the Ann Arbor City Council on public access television – people would have left after 3 minutes. Then, they would have complained that the livestream was no good.
  4. It takes courage to put on event like this. It takes courage to register and pay for an event like this. Yet, I would attend again – because the networking and collaboration were so powerful.

Bottom Line

We have a bunch of different formats and technologies that we can use in our events. Your selection of event format should depend on your objectives.  Not all formats are good for learning. Not all conference formats are good for engagement. Not all conference formats are right for livestreaming.

Event Camp East Coast was great for building a peer-to-peer community.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sam,

    Gosh darn! You are a talented guy. You summed it up so well and I love the videos that give people a little taste of the event. I absolutely agree with you on the live streaming. It might have been nice for the #eventprofs faithful but anyone else would have signed off cursing about “this is why I hate virtual meetings”.

    God bless the #ecec10 team for sticking to their guns on streaming. Although I was hesitant about signing up due to the lack of that component I know it would not have been the same meeting.

    I would love to see what you would do with the decor in this type of meeting and I am interested in hearing your thoughts on 3D design as they develop.

    Enough can not be said on how much connection between people face to face took place. So many ideas were shared. At four in the morning I could not sleep after 22.5 hours of eye open intensity. My brain was on fire and it felt so good. Best $94.00 I have ever spent ever! How many conferences cost six times that and provide ever fewer ideas and connections.

    Event Camp is an amazing event lab and I can’t wait for the next one!

    Thank you for the great summary Sam. The post conference conversation is guaranteed to be a great one and you have started it off excellently!


    November 15, 2010
  2. And THIS is exactly what a group of us in the industry have been doing since 2003!

    It’s been by invitation only and for women — for a variety of reasons that can be explained at some point. (And yes, it will remain such .. for lots of reasons.)

    It’s changed each year based on who’s there – what we learned the prev. year and in year ’round communications via various methods – and it’s always been at the same venue bec. they get it and bec. they have helped create what it is, has been and will be.

    It is relaxing – it is intimate – it has conflict and resolution – we contribute to others by doing it – and so much more.

    WHY is this then not the model for more of these? Do “we all” only attend the big (huge by comparison) industry meetings because we want to spread THIS word or because we are gluttons for punishment? (A friend always texts me from huge general sessions – I only attend if there is a truly compelling reason and I find few of those – that he’s in a large dark room w/ spotlights and seating too close to others and I’d hate it.)

    Passion about all this? YOU BET!

    Frustration? Even more.

    WHY and how did BIG become better? Why and how did not using the power of the participants become the norm?

    Stopping now before I lose it!

    November 15, 2010
  3. Sam,

    I am going to be referring lots of people to this post. You’ve always been one of my favorite bloggers because of your ability to get to the meat quickly, make complicated things easy to understand, and convey passion. Here you do all three so well.

    Another thing you do well in this article is bring up the idea of show vs. meeting. As an Event Camp East Coast attendee who co-owns a staging company (and has a background in theater) like you I was keenly aware that the sessions there would not make good television. The reason? It was all about interaction between individuals. A typical presentation which divides audience and presenter, makes clear what the “show” is. ECEC had very little of this. But that gave the interaction between participants such power.

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE hybrid meetings. After attending Event Camp Twin Cities and being blown away by it, I was disappointed to hear that ECEC would not be live-streamed. But after having attended it, I whole-heartedly concur that choosing not to live stream was the correct choice – not so much because it would be un-engaging to a virtual audience, but because I now realize how important it is to provide a place where people can be completely candid without fear of retribution from clients or colleagues. I had a conversation with one participant who said she would not have shared if it were live-streamed, and, in fact, said something during a session that she was grateful to be able to have stricken from the transcripts.

    I would love to see (the way it was done at the first Event Camp) parts of Event Camp East Coast live streamed. I believe that, in small doses, it could be engaging to a virtual audience. And I know many attendees who would like to share more of what was going on there. But very key to the success of this event is it’s democratic nature. So I believe it should be the participants of the next ECEC themselves, who decide what and whether or not anything should be live streamed.

    Thanks again for an awesome post!!

    November 15, 2010
  4. Sam, great post. Love the experimentation that Event Camp East Coast demonstrated! It’s awesome to read about the rich learning and relationships that each attendee went home with. Sounds like the event was a home run for all that attended!

    November 16, 2010
  5. @CameronToth: Thanks for your nice comments. It was great to see you again. You brought a lot of positive energy into the sessions. What I like most about the 2010 Event Camp series is that all three have been very different. While Ray and I created a “sampler platter” of event innovations – ECEC10 went in another direction with their innovations. I whole heartedly support Adrian, Traci and Lindsey for doing this.

    @Joan: I think that we hang out in the wrong place. A few weeks ago, I went to a strategy conference – where I met hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people that call themselves meeting designers and use methods like this. I was delightfully surprised. I think there is hope – we just need to keep cross-pollinating ideas and spreading them around to as many people and places as possible.

    @JeniseFryatt: Thanks for your kind words – you are always so kind. Also, thanks for bringing up the privacy factor, I think it was a relief for those attendees that were not used to living their lives in social media.

    Rather than webcasting, I think it would have been nice to capture some of the session highlights and a few interviews on video. Then create a video trailer for the event. I think that would have given people a taste of the event and encouraged them to attend next time.

    @davelutz: The Event Camp events are refreshing because they are putting into action all of the different ideas that people are talking about. I am tired of reading blogs that are regurgitations of the same ideas with a different picture and analogy.

    November 16, 2010
  6. Yes and …

    When a camera is near, people have a) less privacy and b) may act differently. I’m not a fan of live-streaming for the sake of live-streaming.

    More, what I may say in a small, intimate group (where the ‘norm’ may be confidentiality) I don’t want broadcast to all.

    It’s a conundrum.

    November 16, 2010
  7. I agree that only about half of all events should be live streamed – and then only if there is a massive strategy around doing so…otherwise you’re putting out tepid content that may or may not garner the interest of a few people who sit and essentially watch the boob tube.

    @Joan I am SO excited for our gathering this Spring…CANNOT wait!

    However, I must say that I still love a great general session. I love to be inspired and entertained by a good orator – as long as we recall that that is exactly what we’re there for. Less about education and more about information and emotion delivered in what can be an exciting and fun format. It’s just making sure we know the objective for sitting in that chair really.

    Can’t wait to see the session summaries from the indomitable, intrepid, brilliant Mitchell Beer!!

    November 16, 2010
  8. Bravo Sam – I think you captured the spirit of EventCamp East Coast beautifully. I think this unconventional approach is exactly what the events community needs to continue cultivating new ideas and taking risks. I was quite proud to be a PART of this event knowing that had there been one more or one less individual, conversations could be influenced and different perspectives generated. It’s partially indescribable to watch something grow as quickly, powerfully and substantially as it did this weekend.

    November 16, 2010
  9. @joan & @midori: I think you are both hitting on something that deserves attention. Live streaming needs to have clear purpose, objectives and targeted audience. If you don’t have a clear vision or strategy – you are just livestreaming just because you can.

    @midori – thanks for your comments. I always appreciate your energy and enthusiasm.

    @Eric – It was great to meet you F2F this weekend – Finally! You are right – we had a great mix of people from different backgrounds. It’s so true that – if any one of us had not been there (or other people had come) – the entire event would have been different. Glad to have finally met you F2F!

    November 16, 2010
  10. Sam, I was so glad you came half-way across the country to attend ECEC. I also was a huge fan of what you did in Twin Cities with the virtual components. I’ve always advocated for the use of the right tools for the right purpose. In our case virtual was not the right tool. Not this time around anyway.

    This was the right way for us. Do we feel that this is the right way for everyone? Not necessarily. EventCamp is all about experimentation. This was our experiment…others will tweek it here and there. It will be their experiment. And by ours I do not mean Adrian, Lindsey and myself. I mean our entire community. Those who attended in person, those who could not be there and those who’ve never yet heard of eventprofs.

    November 16, 2010
    • Hi Traci,

      You are welcome! It was actually my pleasure to make the trip. I had a blast! You, Adrian and Lindsey should be very happy with what you accomplished.

      Regarding webcast – it would have failed badly at your event. The format doesn’t lend itself to webcasting. I am so glad that you didn’t try.

      Also, I think too many people get caught up in the webcasting as the only way to “tell the stories” of your event and “share the love.”

      Personally, I think using the Conference Publishers to write summaries of the summaries was a great strategy. Event Camp Twin Cities has had over 50,000 page views on the content summaries that were distributed after the event. I expect that you can achieve something comparable.

      Thanks again for investing all of your personal time and energy into Event Camp East Coast. You did a great job. It was a privilege to be there!

      November 16, 2010

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. EventCamp East Coast : The Un-Conference | Pink Inc.
  2. 14 Personal Highlights from EventCamp East Coast « ChatterBachs… Composing Social Media Strategies

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