Where do unconferences fit in the conference ecosystem?

Chris Brogan recently asked, after attending PodCamp Pittsburgh, whether it makes sense for unconferences to bundle together with similar events.

Scenes from PodCamp Europe 2007

The answer to this question depends on goals and strategy. Traditional conferences have very different business imperatives than unconferences like PodCamp. PodCamp is more of a movement, a decentralized idea that isn’t a sustainable business model in its current form – and shouldn’t be. Its goals are reach and engagement, not to operate as a full business. Other than breaking even, unconferences need to do little more in the way of business. Experience has shown that attempting to turn unconferences into commercial enterprises have largely been failures.

A traditional conference has business imperatives like profitability, lead generation, and sales. Because it’s more of a traditional business, its strategy tends to be much more zero-sum. To operate in a collaborative way requires that co-collaborators get significant mutual benefit to make it worth their while, and ideally be in different industries. Two marketing conferences bundled together tend to cannibalize from each other, and each jockeys for position and dominance over the other. This has happened in the Boston conference market in the fall, with numerous different events attempting to take share of voice from each other, and the end result is usually that no one benefits.

Scenes from PodCamp Europe 2007

PodCamp Europe, embedded inside of Jeff Pulver’s VON Conference, worked. While VON was a traditional conference, PodCamp had different goals and outcomes, and was largely non-competitive or additive to VON. In terms of collaborative conference models that work, this would be the suggested model going forward.

PodCamp Europe introduced new media professionals to the VON world, while not putting the burden of paying the VON ticket price to experience at least some of the content VON had to offer. Conversely, VON was able to experiment and leverage new formats and content as part of the overall conference experience, adding value to its attendees and providing content that might not have stood on its own, but was informative and forward-looking for VON attendees.

What would be ideal would be for a series of unconference events to bundle together with a commercial event as sort of an event village. The individual unconferences would provide tons of content and new ideas, while the commercial event would provide basic infrastructure. Well run, the synergy between the two groups could make for an exciting, dynamic mega-event.


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How to make interactive, annotated slides live on stage

At Salesforce Connections, I tried something new out that the audience liked: turning my slides into 21st century overheads. I prepared a workbook (which you can download here), but instead of just talking through slides, I was able to draw on them on screen. Here’s a quick demo:

Now imagine this on the big screen, the ability to not only show content, but interact with it. How do you do this?

The secret, at least for me, is built into the software and hardware I use. Most modern Macs (made after 2013) and modern iPhones/iPads (ones which connect with a Lightning cable) can connect to each other to share the mobile device’s screen.

On a Mac, be sure your iPad or iPhone is plugged in via the Lightning cable.

Then open Quicktime Player. Hit New Movie Recording:

Screen_Shot_2015-06-17_at_8_04_26_AM.jpg

Then when the standard movie window appears (probably with your webcam activated), switch to your iPad as the camera:

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That takes care of the infrastructure setup. You can, of course, buy a separate Lightning to VGA/DVI/HDMI connector and plug your iPad in directly to the system, but the advantage of going through your laptop is that you can also record what you’re showing, which can be handy for events.

Once you’ve got the wiring done, it’s time to share content. Create slides that have lots of whitespace for writing in the slide making software of your choice. Export those slides as JPG images.

Then, in the drawing app of your choice (I use Penultimate, part of the Evernote family), drop your images in:

screen of ipad.jpg

Now you’re ready to make live annotations on your slides in front of the crowd.

Try this out for a fun, different way to interact with your audience!


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The freedom to not speak

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Google Analytics Summit, an event hosted for Certified Partners (my employer, SHIFT Communications, is one) to gain insight into the latest advancements in marketing measurement.

What’s novel and unique about this conference for me is that it’s under NDA, a non-disclosure agreement. Every session, every talk, every slide: not a word of it can be shown to the public. No photos. No Tweets. No blog posts (about the content). An attendee who violates the NDA is at risk of losing their Certified Partner status and access to the most valuable information being offered.

NDA.jpg

As odd as this sounds in this social media age, the lack of sharing is quite freeing. You have no focus other than learning, absorbing, taking notes. There’s nothing to share, no selfies to take, no interviews to conduct. No social media leaderboard in the lobby counting up how many times the hashtag has been mentioned; in fact, there is no official hashtag in order to discourage inappropriate sharing.

Your focus is only on the content being shared and the implications for your business.

For speakers, what would you do differently in your talks if you knew no one was permitted to share the information? What would you share? Think about how your presentations would differ. Would you feel more free to share an extra goodie or two?

For audience members, how much more would you get out of conferences if you had no reason to share? How much more could you focus if you didn’t need to think about photos, videos, tweets, Facebook posts, etc.? Would you catch more information without the cognitive load of determining what to share?

For conference organizers, while locking down an entire conference might be impractical, what if you offered a lockdown session or two, in which each attendee paid an extra NDA fee that was refunded X days after the event in exchange for a completely private session?

It’s a worthy challenge, considering how much mental bandwidth you give to publishing and sharing – and what you could do with that bandwidth instead. Give it some thought before the next conference you attend.


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