In episode 20 I have described the main differences between traditional conferences and the idea of BarCamps. In this session I wanted to give you my 15 tips that your first BarCamp visit becomes a success.
I have meanwhile joined several BarCamps. And I have made a lot of things wrong. Mainly because I was not aware of. Sometimes also I thought it is better done in another way. But there are a some main phases you are confronted with. And for all of them you can do things well and you do things much more better.
Starting into a BarCamp well prepared lets you enjoy the atmosphere even more intensively. You get much more quicker into connection with the other BarCamp-members. And you finally get more out of the time you’re staying at the event.
All BarCamps can be separated in three different phases: BEFORE, DURING and AFTER the BarCamp. Even the AFTER phase is as much important as the other phases. If you do not care for the AFTER-phase you loose a lot of momentum you have gained during your time before.
Please take these 15 tips into account. Let your first or next BarCamp become an even more thrilling success.
The BEFORE phase
BEFORE the BarCamp it is much important to prepare yourself than in traditional conferences. In traditional conferences you more or less get surprised by the presenters and the program. On BarCamps the program will be designed and composed by all contributers. Therefore it is essential to get the idea and perhaps already the spirit of the BarCamp you’re willing to join. Even more, if you want to get the best out of it, a well preparedness is essential. Let’s start into it:
BEFORE the BarCamp it’s all about communication. Prepare yourself for communicating a lot. Not only verbally, but mainly also by Internet. The main intention is to get familiar with upcoming participants.
- Twitter seems to be designed for BarCamps. Regularly the organization announces a hash-tag for the social media. Search for this hash-tag in Twitter and get acquainted with the persons using it. Announce yourself as upcoming BarCamp-participant and connect yourself with them. And prepare yourself for Meeting your Twitter mates. It’s great to meat these guys in reality. Best thing is that you initially have someone you know if you enter the BarCamp the first time.
- Raise questions before the event. Whether you need to know something about the motto, the organization, the situation or the environment. Do not hesitate to engage yourself and ask for support. It’s the very best way to get acquainted with all these guys even before you have go for journey.
- On some BarCamps they are having introduction rounds. I have one time joined a 120 persons BarCamp. They announced the introduction and I winced due to the expected amount of time. But they have considered that and everbody has had only 3 words to describe herself. Thus, consider your 3 words introduction before joining the BarCamp. It might be very distracting if you need to think about some words about you (only 3) if you’re not prepared. You will not create enough attention for all the other participants to gather their introduction. Interesting persons might slip through your attention. And, don’t be foolish and try to remember everybody. Concentrate on the interesting ones. Therefore, be interesting, too, with your 3 words.
- Get yourself clear about the intention of your visit. What are the main topics about the event you’re interested in. Please remark, there might be several sessions in parallel. You will have to decide every 45 minutes to whom you will spend your attention. Or are you only there for getting in touch with other participants. Fine, then prepare yourself even better to meet them.
The DURING phase
DURING the BarCamp could be considered the most important phase. However in my experience it is not. It might be of course the longest phase, but without your good preparation in the BEFORE-phase you might not get the full potential.
DURING the BarCamp it’s all about getting the most out of it. In what direction? That depends on you. But you should have an agenda, an intention, which you have prepared in your BEFORE-phase.
- After the session collection there will be a board with all the parallel sessions, the time schedule and the locations. Take a photo of this schedule-board. This will give you lot of assistance if you want to quickly know what’s happening next, where it will take place, or what goes on in parallel. I personally have also made me always familiar with the room location. If I wanted to switch a session I already know where to go. It’s not always that easy like in Dornbirn with 4 rooms in a row.
- Do not hesitate to leave a session if you get aware that you’re not interested. There might be reasons like you have not understood the topic in the presentation in the way the presenter has meant. Or the topic tends during the session into a direction you’re not interested in. That’s fine. There should be no offense against the presenter. You’re simply not matching for this session. I have to admit it is somehow weird if you’re presenting yourself and people leave the room. But it is even better if others came in and stay.
- Take the breaks as opportunities to become acquainted. That’s the best thing in traditional conferences. Learn new and interesting persons. But on BarCamps it is an additional benefit you should not drop. There is one problem – if you have arrived with some colleagues or other acquaintances, do not hang out with your buddies all the time. Take the opportunity and get familiar with the ton of other persons in the room. Have your ears open, independent where you are. In Dornbirn, right in the beginning, someone at the coffee-machine was telling his neighbor that he would have liked to stay in Barcelona. Hey man, I was there – that was a good entry to become familiar. Do not be shy.
- If you will well enough, if you have a topic and you have the right mood, then apply for your own session. Besides my very first BarCamp, I have taken every BarCamp as an opportunity to ask, provide or present something in my own session. If you feel yourself comfortable give it a try. You’re not paid for it, thus there is no pressure by the others, only by yourself. If you’re eager to have your own session, but you feel not unsure, ask for help. The Org-Team will be willing to assist you to find some more experienced person to assist in a session.
- Experiment with sponsor’s gifts That’s something you might see that some sponsors provide their material for usage. Great for example are Stattys replacing the traditional pinboard-cards. I haven’t known them before. But at some BarCamps Mikko Mannila is supporting and you can try his cards for free. Meanwhile I have ordered my Starter-Pack and Stattys are supporting me in my daily work. I also got details about a new insurance company for IT-freelancers as I am. They presented me their product right at the moment I was considering to replace the existing one. Coinicidence?
- Follow the BarCamp via Twitter. If you have the chance or the opportunity, then follow the BarCamp, the sessions by Twitter using the given hash-tag. Some of the participants will provide details out of ongoing sessions. A great opportunity for you to have a glimpse into other session. If you cannot join the BarCamp, the Tweets are sometimes similar like a summary or pictures in a row, thus you get the impression. I personally prefer to listen more to the Tweets than writing that much during the sessions. But I’m delighted to see others contributions.
- Last not least in the DURING phase, but most important, enjoy the sessions and the participants. You’re there for learning, listening, providing your experience and having a good time. Therefore do not overreact. Do not get offensive or get provoked. It’s not worth the price. There might be very eager participants holding their opinion or their attitude like a monstrance over their head. Ignore them. Avoid crashing into them. Say yourself The map is not Territory. Everybody is free to have his own interpretation of reality. But you do not need to have the same one. Thus, if everything else fails, stay away of trouble making evangelists.
The AFTER phase
AFTER the BarCamp is different from regular traditional conferences. As your connection on the BarCamp was on eye-level and you’re already connected with other participants via Twitter, the BarCamp still continues for a while. It slowly goes down in the next two or three days. But everybody has the common days in mind and is eager to recapitulate or remember things.
In the AFTER the BarCamp phase it’s all about doing the aftermath, providing details, hardening your contacts and stay in touch with the participants.
- Contribute to the documentation-wiki if you have run your own session or have promised or confirmed to contribute, then it’s now the time to do it. Imagine that others want to refer to you and your details. Providing nothing is highly unfair for the audience who have spend their time for your presentation.
- Check out the documentation, photos and Twitter-threads by yourself. Especially photos are very interesting from my perspective. Also for the sessions you could not or have not joined by intention, have a look at their details, too. I prefer to forward the documentation-links to persons who have not even known about the BarCamp, but get excited as I’ve told them. Take the documentation as advertisement for the event itself.
- Connect with the persons you’ve met. If you’re not already connected via Twitter, then do it now. Also consider to connect with your preferred ones on Xing or LinkedIn. Maybe Facebook is an option, too. But always remark when and where you have met these guys. You might loose their names or circumstances you have met. And wouldn’t it be great you know the next time you meet them that you’re already old comrades?
- Join the aftermath discussion. That was the most impressing detail for me. There is always that much traffic on Twitter or LinkedIn (I’m preferrably at LinkedIn), that I’m regularly flooded with tons of tweets after BarCamps. That comes down to a regular level. But for sure it gives your visibility a great push.
Selected Links and Resources From This Episode
- Pictures #PMCampDOR
- Session documentation #PMCampDOR
- Impulse presentation by Nadja Petrovskaja (German)
- Impulse presentation by Robert Weißgräber (German)
- A critical Retrospective by a GPM-member (German)
- 5 years Project-Management BarCamp in Dornbirn (German)