First impressions from EventCamp 2010

(This is the first of two posts about EventCamp 2010. This one contains my first impressions; tomorrow I’ll write about what I learned there.)

EC10 - you had to be there...
EC10 - you had to be there...

Yesterday I attended EventCamp 2010 (#ec10) in New York City, a remarkable one-day conference organized by a colorful group of folks who coalesced around the #eventprofs hashtag on Twitter. In one year, their online connection generated enough energy to fuel the hard work needed to put together and run a successful face-to-face and simultaneous online conference for progressive event professionals from all over the U.S. A big shoutout to Christina Coster, Jessica Levin, Mike McCurry, Mike McAllen, their volunteers, and all the other folks involved for all their hard work putting EventCamp 2010 together.

EC10 was billed as a hybrid conference. While I’ve used the term hybrid to refer to conferences that are a mixture of peer conference and traditional conference, the #eventprofs crew use it to describe a conference that’s both face-to-face and online. Some 70 of us came to NYC, with an unknown (to me currently) number virtually. Since even I can’t be in two places at once, I couldn’t experience what it was like for the remote audience, but I’m very interested in reports from members of the #eventprofs community who attended online.

One really cool thing that the EC10 organizers did was to stream live interviews with each sessions’ leaders right after the session ended. This gave the remote audience exclusive extra content, with even the opportunity to ask questions directly afterward (remote questions were also answered during the sessions). It was like TV award ceremonies, where the cameras go backstage and the TV viewers get content that the physical audience doesn’t. The interviewer was the remarkable Emelie Barta, who I’d recommend to anyone needing smart media-savvy company promotion. While I’m handing out kudos, all of us owe a big vote of thanks to Core Staging who donated their time and equipment to make it happen for both the live and virtual conference.

When I walked through the door of the charming Roger Smith Hotel, I had never met a single member of #eventprofs face-to-face. That changed in the next few hours as I fell into conversation with #eventprofs luminaries at Lily’s Bar, and later 22 of us took cabs for a meal at Piolas. Those little Twitter avatars I’d seen over the last few months were replaced by real live people. What fascinated me was how the spirit that I had felt in our online conversations came right through face-to-face. And no longer was our conversation restricted to 140 character tweets and blog posts.

I was really surprised by the professional diversity of the folks I met at EC10. Convention center managers, trade show presenters, hotel sales managers, social media consultants, trade booth designers, association staff, marketing professionals of every stripe, show service vendors, eco-event organizers, event management gurus, the list goes on. I didn’t meet anyone who seemed to be a direct competitor of anyone else – everyone had their own niche, servicing a unique set of needs. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that the events industry is HUGE ($100B per year), but it was cool to learning more about the field from every person I spoke to.

We had a full day of sessions on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. The program had several sets of simultaneous sessions; I chose sessions on creating a hybrid event, integrating social media on-site, creating an online conference community, and balancing the needs of face-to-face and remote audiences. The latter was my favorite, run by the skillful Jeff Hurt. Jeff showed himself to be a master of finding out the group’s needs and then leading a focused discussion that uncovered many useful insights. (And he even ended on time!) I also enjoyed Samuel J. Smith‘s fishbowl (a favorite group technique of mine) on the on-site integration of social media. But every session contained nuggets of useful ideas and information.

For me there were only a few minor negatives to the event.

  • I was disappointed that the conference program ended up having no free time slots for alternative sessions proposed by several conference attendees. I offered a couple of sessions related to Conferences That Work, but with worthy pre-announced sessions filling all the time we had, I didn’t get a chance to lead a session. (OTOH, there was widespread interest in my book, and I sold many copies, making my suitcase a lot lighter on the return journey to Vermont.)
  • The hotel’s wifi connection often buckled under the strain of live streaming and the highly connected attendees, which led to somewhat unpredictable Internet connectivity.
  • The clever unannounced lunchtime entertainment was entertaining, but took away time I would have preferred to spend on our energetic mid-day conversations.
  • Deirdre Breakenridge’s closing general session was, for me, the weakest. While a knowledgeable and likable speaker, she didn’t ask the audience what we wanted to hear about, and gave a prepared talk that didn’t really grab my interest. It was noticeable that, unlike other sessions, the #ec10 Twitter stream reflected very little of what she said.

After a high-energy but very enjoyable day, those of us who didn’t have to jet off somewhere else retired to Lily’s once more and from there, walked a block to Connolly’s where I greatly enjoyed dinner with Karen Levine, Jenise Fryatt (the famous @lyksumlikrish – my favorite Twitter name), and Traci Browne. And then I staggered off to bed…