Making History, Unconference Style

February 7, 2010

Growing up, the best part of my childhood was the time that I spent at summer camp. Camp allowed me to be myself. Camp was informal, a refreshing break from the structured learning during the school year. Camp left me with lifelong friends and lessons that I will never forget. From camp fires to swimming lesson to camp songs to late-night talks after it was “lights out,” camp left me with memories that will stay with me forever. As an adult, I have often longed for that type of camaraderie and environment.

On February 6th on a not-so-snowy day in New York City, I experienced camp again at Event Camp 2010. Having been asked six months earlier to participate in creating “Event Camp,” I had no idea what I was signing up for. As a meeting professional, it seemed like something that I should do. I never imagined that we could create a learning environment that combined cutting-edge techniques while bringing together a group of people that would define the content. Yet, somehow, with an unconference style event, we did it.

Reflecting on the last 48 hours with a sense of pride, I am sharing my new camp memories.

Selecting a Camp: I will never forget reading through brochures as a sixth grader to select the camp that was the right fit for me. There were so many options: Dude Rank, Sports Camp, Computer Camp…you get the picture. Planning for Event Camp was similar except that we were the ones building the brochure. We knew that we needed to create something different. We tried to balance content that we thought would appeal to our target audience with attendee-generated content. The final agenda combined planned content with open-space sessions, a mix that seemed to work well for our attendees.

The Camp Fire: I can still picture sitting around the camp fire of my youth, warm and toasty. Event Camp contributor, Samuel J. Smith, created his own version of the camp fire in what is known as a “fish bowl” set-up. A more modern approach to a breakout session, the fish bowl design includes a circle of participants surrounding five ad hoc panelists. The group in the middle is charged with discussing a pre-selected topic, in this case it was Incorporating Social Media On Site. Inside of the bowl one chair is left open and the audience in the outer circle is encouraged to jump in and join the conversation. This session was a huge success and not only did the attendees learn from the content of the session, but they took home a new technique to implement at future events.

Camp songs: No camp experience is complete without music and classic camp songs like “I’m a Nut.” Event Camp had its own version of the classics as we were serenaded by The Three Waiters, a three tenors style act where the performers pose as wait staff and surprise the audience with a humorous impromptu mini-opera. The attendees enjoyed the show during lunch and were pleased to learn that one of the waiters was actually Brad Wilson, a member of the #Eventprofs group on Twitter that many attendees participate in.

Swimming lessons: For those attendees that were just learning how to swim in the waters of the Twitterverse and other social media sites, our counselor’s cabin provided hands on lessons on how to get started. Thanks to a team of volunteers and Core Staging who donated the computers, the counselor’s cabin was the Event Camp version of a “Genius Bar.”

Lights Out: By far, the best part of camp was the friendships that were created, often after hours. Event Camp was no different. With a kickoff dinner with 22 people, the conversation began early. With many of the attendees originally connecting on the Twitter group #Eventprofs, it was like a reunion of good friends, even though most had never met face-to-face. With so many people, it was a long table and there were people that actually tweeted each other from opposites side of the table (hey – we all met on Twitter, what did you expect?) As a tech savvy group, most of the diners “checked into” Piola (the restaurant) on FourSquare, a social location service.

The Good-byes:
The worst part about camp was saying good bye to new friends. When I went to camp, email did not exisit and long-distance phone calls were expensive. Fortunately, with Event Camp, good-byes are short-lived. With an active online community at, and an active Twitter hashtag (#ec10) the conversation and learning continues.

At summer camp, there were always a few people that stay with you after it’s over. I met some incredible people at Event Camp, but it would not have happened with out the core planning team of Christina Coster, Jeff Hurt, Michael McCurry and Mike McAllen. In all my years of collaboration, I can honestly say that there was not a better team to work with.

Sadly, I outgrew summer camp. I am so thrilled to have been a part of the adult version of camp and look forward to Event Camp 2011…coming soon to a city near you.