PodCamp 4 Boston
Along with about three hundred others, I attended PodCamp Boston 4 (#pcb4) this weekend, August 8th and August 9th, at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Harborside Campus Center. If you are interested in podcasting, want to learn from seasoned practitioners, welcome the opportunity to meet others from all walks of life and a diversity of fields, and can spare $50, then next year you can’t go wrong attending this informative and engaging event.
My Goals for Attending PodCamp
My main reason for attending PodCamp was to begin understanding the mechanics of delivering information via podcasts. Whether for purposes of technical communication (for example, see Tom Johnson’s podcasts) or marketing communication (see Christopher Penn and John Wall’s Marketing over Coffee podcasts), podcasting seems to me an information-distribution mechanism that no forward-thinking communicator can afford to ignore.
I was looking especially for specifics on how to get started podcasting, and PodCamp delivered those introductory details, with plenty of resources for further reference. In addition to the nuts and bolts of podcasting, there were also sessions on general social media topics, including SEO and how to measure the value of social media. (The range of topics was probably the biggest surprise of my experience this weekend. I thought podcasting would be the major focus, and though it was a well-covered topic, I would say the spirit of PodCamp Boston is much broader.)
PodCamp’s Unconference Approach
Founded by Chris Brogan and Christopher S. Penn, PodCamp-Boston follows the “unconference” format—meaning that the sessions are provided as only a starting point for deeper and more interactive discussions on not only podcasting, but also general social media topics. In A PodCamp Primer, the organizers describe the event’s “unconference” approach:
If you’re brand new to PodCamp, you’ll find enough on the schedule to make you comfortable (or justify the expense to a boss who isn’t coming!) while letting you experience the unconference format at your own pace.
U-Mass-Boston, Harborside Campus Center
The venue itself, in this case UMass Boston’s spacious Harborside Campus Center, is part of the PodCamp approach, as the organizers deliberately promote “the Law of Null Space”:
We do our best to pick venues that have lots of open space, flexible seating, and opportunities for ad hoc discussions and conversations. The formal programmed sessions exist only as support for people not already engaged in great conversations of their own. If you and a few like minded folks want to talk about something, broadcast it on Twitter, yell it in a hallway, and gather people to the nearest convenient space to have the discussion you want to have.
Learning and Sharing
I can vouch for how comfortable the whole PodCamp experience felt to me—somehow being in a university setting made the event feel like learning and sharing, for learning and sharing’s sake…The weekend time-frame also gave the event a very relaxed, personal feel, making even the most high-profile speakers seem approachable.
In between scheduled discussions, I was able to ask a more experienced blogger for some free advice on my approach to blogging and do a bit of job networking with other attendees. It was also great to chat with other first-time PodCampers, who are also just coming up to speed in social media and to hear about the almost universal challenge of introducing these new technologies to their organizations. The most recurrent themes from these off-the-cuff conversations was just trying to figure out what social media means, learning how to convince the boss about the benefits of social media (despite the potential liabilities), and wanting more information on how to monetize.
Unscheduled Discussions (including “Gender Issues in Social Media”)
The sunny, clear weather, especially inviting on Sat., made it easy for anyone interested to join together on the lawn outside the Campus Center, in a sea-side, outdoor classroom that tops any “classroom” or traditional conference setting I’ve attended. Cooler and slightly overcast on Sun., I still noted other impromptu lawn-side and indoor “open space” discussions in progress. (One impromptu discussion, which I didn’t hear about until after PodCamp, has spilled over this week into various lively blog posts, concerning gender issues in social media.)
New to the “unconference” format, I realize in hindsight that I should have been checking the white board or wiki web page to keep better tabs on the unplanned discussions, which according to the organizers are the heart of the PodCamp experience (that serves me right, for arriving late and missing any possible orientation information provided during the opening session). As Twitter-savvy as I am, I also didn’t realize the organizers were tweeting information specifically to @pcb4, which may have helped me better keep my ear to the PodCamp wall, find more like-minded folks, and join more unscheduled conversations.
I almost think there needs to be a scheduled orientation session on PodCamp, on both Sat. and Sun. mornings, just for newbies, that would help reinforce ways to get the most out of the “unconference” approach. Perhaps, too, the white board/s where information was being centralized could be more prominently displayed at the Registration table (it’s possible I missed it somewhere), or some other more visible location.
An experienced PodCamper I talked to, who has attended all the previous PodCamps in Boston, agreed that it would also be helpful if there were “tracks” in the scheduled discussions, from beginner to advanced, which might help people at the same experience and engagement level, better identify each other.
Scheduled Discussions – Excellent, Highly Recommend
Despite these suggestions, PodCamp was of great value, for the scheduled discussions alone…If you were able to attend even a few of those informative sessions, then your small $50 investment was reimbursed many-times-over. Here is a sampling of the sessions I attended:
Social Media Has Gone Mainstream
There was really something for everyone at PodCamp, and a way to engage in any way, or to whatever degree you were comfortable. And there was such a rich cross-section of attendees. I met folks from insurance, telephony, public relations, geography, science, education, and civic settings. I met men and women from all parts of the country, young to older, new to social media, to more advanced. According to event organizer Michelle Wolverton, a hand count estimated that 75% of attendees were first time PodCampers like myself. Most of us were eager to explore and define the direction of new media. We were all communicators that weekend, excited about collaborating and moving toward the future together.
Thanks to PodCamp Volunteers: The Democratization of Media
Many thanks to the volunteer PodCamp organizers and discussion moderators who made such a community-building and informative event available to so many, at such an affordable cost. In particular, co-founder Christopher Penn set the tone of the “unconference,” offering that we all have a window of opportunity in social media to make connections which would otherwise be closed to us, or at the least, a lot more challenging to make. In the ballroom, at some of the more highly-attended discussions, CEOs were rubbing elbows with more rank and file attendees, and people from all disciplines and fields were engaging, debating, and willing to share their passions and concerns about new media. What Penn refers to as “the democratization of media” —a leveled playing field for information exchange— is, more than anything else, the beauty of the PodCamp ideal, and something to strive toward, while social media is still in its infancy. Penn encouraged attendees to seize the opportunity to engage, while there’s still room to more easily stand-out, based on ability.
Did you attend PodCamp 4 Boston? How did you like the “unconference” format? Do you have any impressions, take-aways, suggestions, or links to share? Here are some helpful links I’d like to review more closely:
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