Are we EventCamped out in the United States?

I started writing this post in November 2011, a few days after I attended the second EventCamp East Coast. As I put the finishing touches on this, we are a little over a week out from EventCamp DownUnder.  It’s a damn good thing I don’t have to work on deadline….

Are we EventCamped out? At least, here in the United States? To date, 9 EventCamps have been planned.  The tenth, EventCamp DownUnder, will take place in Sydney, Australia on February 26 & 27.  I’m looking forward to attending #ECDU as a virtual participant, even with the 16 hour time difference!

The first EventCamp had incredible buzz leading up to it.  Since then, each of the various versions that followed was accompanied by less and less excitement and energy, with the exception of the two non-U.S. camps in London and Vancouver.  EventCamp Silicon Valley wound up being cancelled.  The London and Vancouver were the only camps, in my opinion, to generate buzz anywhere near that of the original version.

As I write this, I am not aware of any firm plans for future EventCamps to take place.  There is a chance that EventCamp Europe may reappear later this year somewhere in the European Union.

Let’s take a look at the history of EventCamps. In the summer of 2009, during one of the evening #eventprofs chats on Twitter, Christina Coster first suggested having an “unconference” for the meetings and events industry and the seeds were planted for EventCamp.  Within a week, I was on a conference call with Coster, Jessica Levin and Jeff Hurt to start the planning process rolling.  Mike McAllen and Mike McCurry joined the team shortly afterwards and I left due to health and work issues.

February 2010 arrives and EventCamp is held at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York.  Attendees arrive from all over the United States and even Europe, despite a snowstorm that dropped over 2 feet of snow on the east coast (up to northern New Jersey) that Friday and Saturday.  It was a %@#&ing AWESOME weekend and I have never made so many strong connections at any industry event before or since.  There was a true sense of camaraderie among the attendees.  I remember a conversation with a handful of attendees that many of us were now “on a mission from God” to show that events could be done differently than the tried and true methods that have been used for ages.  Nearly everyone that attended hung out socially both nights as well.

httpv://youtu.be/MKZSqd5Y8nA

Sam Smith and Ray Hansen take the plunge and organize EventCamp Twin Cities that September.  While the original EventCamp did have some virtual aspects to it, #ECTC is deliberately planned as a hybrid event with all the educational content streamed to a virtual audience. Additionally, there is are pods in Switzerland and Dallas that are also actively participating in #ECTC. In fairness, there is tremendous buzz online during the virtual broadcast.  So much so, that it probably helped to encourage folks to sign up for the next incarnation of EventCamp two months later.

EventCamp East Coast was organized by Traci Browne and Adrian Segar.  Not following the format of the two previous camps, this camp was based on Segar’s Conferences That Work model, where content is determined onsite by the attendee’s learning needs and what skills they have to share.  Many of the onsite attendees experienced intense personal development from the format and there was hardly any online presence as they were deeply engaged in the conversations.  In addition, there was no streaming of this event.  These two factors caused some issues, as other #eventprofs were going online to follow the conference, as they did during the two previous EventCamps, and there was virtually nothing online to follow under the #ECEC hashtag.  Some comments were made about the lack of material being generated and there was a dust-up online afterwards among the organizers of all three camps. After some cooling down, calmer heads prevailed and everyone starting playing nicely in the online sandbox again.

We go forward to February, 2011 and the original EventCamp is now branded as EventCamp National Conference or #ECNC.  The “Founding Five” organize this version at the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago and it grows from one day to three days with an opening session on Friday and a half day of sessions on Sunday.

Fast forward to August!  EventCamp Silicon Valley is to be held in San Jose, followed by the second EventCamp TwinCities the next two days.  #ECSV never gets off the ground and is cancelled.  #ECTC has expanded to two days and has pods in 6 cities in 3 countries.  Having been an on-site participant in the previous 4 camps, I opt to participate in the “infamous” Philadelphia pod (see above video).  #ECTC11 had some design flaws in an overcomplicated gaming angle as well as some technical issues in involving the various pods. Exhibitor Magazine, in an editorial afterwards, declared that #ECTC had set hybrid events back several years.

A month later, EventCamp Europe was held across the pond in London.  In the weeks leading up to this incarnation, the European #Eventprofs community was excited and there was a buzz that was lacking in the earlier 2011 camps. This time, I watched virtually from the computer (starting at 4A my time).  Very informative and I enjoyed myself immensely.  This might have been due to the mimosas I was drinking with breakfast or the Google Hangout that was started by Mike McAllen (a true trooper, it was 1A his time), Gerrit Heijkoop and myself.  Over 20 different folks hung out with us during the conference and we had some great conversations about what was happening at #ECEU.

EventCamp Vancouver and EventCamp East Coast went head to head against each other in early November and probably cost each event a few attendees.  At first, the thinking was to share content and link between the two events, but the logistics fell through.  #ECEC followed its format from the previous year and added Sunday.  #ECV had the #Eventprofs in Canada looking forward to the event and, like its European counterpart, had plenty of online buzz leading up to the event and that weekend.  A few days after #ECEC, Adrian Segar tweeted that, going forward, he would be dropping the EventCamp branding from his event.

As we progressed from camp to camp, I started to hear folks commenting that “I’ve attended an EventCamp already and won’t be attending this one.” True, but these camps are not like a Burger King franchise where the Whopper is the same at every location.  The content and format were not interchangeable between Minneapolis and Philadelphia, or Vancouver and London.  Those that have been to multiple camps report some of the material being covered is beginning to become repetitive

Here, in the States, we are very fortunate to have a large number of conventions and conferences to choose from.  Maybe we are becoming jaded with having more than one EventCamp a year in the States?

What future options are there for EventCamps?

Do we have a camp based on a single topic, ala EventCamp Green? If this option is pursued, how to we not negatively impact pre-existing conferences like the Green Meetings Industry Council’s annual conference?

To those folks that supply virtual options to organizers, could we have an EventCamp Virtual where all the presenters and attendees are at their desk?

Are we having EventCamps where our audiences are?  Would you attend a camp in Las Vegas or Orlando, for instance?

A lot has changed since February 2010.  People have come and gone in the #eventprofs community.  Other industry events are trying to adapt to foster additional learning styles.  I have a tremendous respect and admiration for those that have had the courage to put on a EventCamp with the associated risks (I also think you are nuts, but that might be a good thing in this process).  A few months ago, I expressed concern that perhaps the twice-weekly #eventprofs chat were too much of a good thing as our community evolved.  Perhaps the same is true with EventCamps.

I don’t have the answers.  I hope that I am wrong in my thinking and that the EventCamp movement continues to grow.  Please share your thoughts and comments with us.  I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say on this topic.

Haven’t been to an EventCamp? Check out the upcoming EventCamp DownUnder and hopefully, I’ll see you online during the event.

19 Responses to Are we EventCamped out in the United States?

  1. I think that for event professionals who want a safe forum to try new ideas and how they can be applied to other events they should consider attending or hosting an EventCamp. I have greatly enjoyed those I attended virtually as well as those I attended in person, and Vancouver where I was one of many collaborators that created an experience which will not be duplicated; one where we are still enjoying positive repercussions from the relationships made. Is there an end? Perhaps, perhaps it is time for the next wave of event professionals that want to see where colloborative experiences can take learning and connection building to create their own Camps!

  2. This is a great post Greg! I can tell you a few things. 1. is that when we first created EventCamp we never dreamed past the first one. Maybe we should have. When Sam Smith decided to hold a second one, it was an honor to think that people wanted more.

    2. There are only several hundred people who have attended EventCamp so I think there is room to grow (last I checked there were a lot more event professionals out there). Is it necessary to attend more than one? I think that depends. I attended the two that I created and the last event in Twin Cities. My schedule didn’t allow me to attend others or I would have.

    There is still room to learn (there always will be) and that no single EventCamp is the same and that no single person’s experience is the same. What is more important than asking if we need EventCamp is do we need to experiment? Is there another way to meet our goals?

    I am proud to have been a part of “the movement” and if we changed the world a teenie-tiny bit than that’s what matters to me. And as for being crazy? Hells Yeah We Are! You got a problem with Krazy? I’m jut glad to be in good company!

    Great post Greg!

  3. Greg, you have been to too many! For someone who has only been able to attend one, I would LOVE to attend others. Financially, I can’t swing anything outside Chicago. I’m so glad you brought it here last February. I do agree that we need to keep experimenting. Great post with lots of ideas to consider. Carey

  4. Greg, what a post and how well you have bought the story together. I first came across #eventprofs and then the EventCamps through the twitter conversations. I have been fortunate through this to discover some truly great people working in the events world and many people have inspired me and for that I will always be grateful.

    I was inspired enough to help co-produce EventCamp Europe and boy did I learn a lot from that experience. There was criticism and there was also praise – a real mixed bag.

    Across the globe the adoption rates for all sorts of technology/events etc is going to be different so I believe there is plenty of room for more of these EventCamps, especially if the emphasis is on experimenting/trying out new concepts.

    If we don’t experiment how will we ever take the industry forward. I for one, hope that EventCamps will flourish throughout and continue on in the States after all that is where this all began.

  5. As one of the organizers of EventCamp East Coast I think it’s an issue of sustainability (no, not the “green” definition of sustainable). Everyone wants event camp to be “low cost” or free. Yet they want it to be cutting edge and full of cool technology. Well, that costs money. You cannot put on an event like the event camps for $90 and expect them to survive. It’s not sustainable because the people who volunteer to organize them end up footing a sizable bill.

    There were many people who approached Adrian and I and asked us to do another event camp like our first one in Philly. They either got so much out of it or they heard from others who got so much out of it and they wanted to experience it themselves. Only a couple of those people ended up coming. Adrian and I made a commitment that cost us a small fortune.

    The volunteer organizers of the event camps put a huge amount of time into them. Our peer conference was a drain on resources I can only imagine the time Sam and Ray, Tahira and Paul and the folks from Europe put into theirs.

    I did it for the community and because I believed in the concept of event camps…pushing the limits and creating something new. I was certainly not doing it for any money. And then the bill comes and I had to say WTF?

    I can’t tell you how many people told us our price tag of $350 per attendee which included two night hotel accommodation, six meals and an event was too expensive. Yet those same people were trotting off to other industry events that are anything but innovative and that cost $300-$600 just to attend and dropped another few hundred dollars on hotels and meals. As long as the organizers are not just not getting paid for their time, but also losing money event camps cannot be sustainable.

  6. What Traci said.

    Even so, I would still love to organize more EventCampish events for #eventprofs. I’d be open to do so if there are enough folks willing to contribute their time and energy into making the event a success. Let me know if you’re one of them.

    -Adrian-

  7. Astute observations as always, my friend. +1 for basically everything already said by the others! I may post in greater detail a response on my site because you’ve really got my noodle churning, but for now…

    I’m glad you finally decided to post this, Greg, so that it get’s people talking again. Maybe we don’t need another EventCamp. Maybe we don’t WANT another EventCamp. But at least let’s have that discussion before we get out the shovel and start digging the grave. Maybe we’re burned out, maybe we’re ready for something different. Maybe we need to go back to basics- unconference style for as cheap as possible. Maybe we need transparency so people know how much these things cost to put on, what things are being experimented with, and be as up-front as possible as to what might go horribly, horribly wrong.

    A lot of things went wrong at ECTC11, and I learned a metric crap-ton from each and every one of them. But for every one that went wrong, five things went right that probably shouldn’t have, some of which have made it into my standard bag of #eventtech tricks.

    All I know is that in my heart of hearts, I believe in the idea that there should be a safe place for event professionals to try things out, experiment, and fail. Experimenting with things full scale simply doesn’t work in our profession without one. There’s no computer modeling for the bridges we’re building.

    Agree or disagree with the implementation all you want, but I think if we start from that safe place and move forward, it will be a rewarding experience for all who participate in the event and the ensuing discussions. I would do another EventCamp with every one of the folks who’ve commented so far, as well as yourself, Mr. Ruby. Be well, folks!

  8. Greg:
    You have provided a beautiful summation and posed a very poignant question. Thank you. As only a lurker a.k.a. remote attendee of several Event Camps, and as an event planner who has bootstrapped more than a few events and sweated the outcomes, I’m not in a position to persuade anyone to execute another one. However, as one who fancies herself as a chronicler of the industry, I absolutely do believe we need Event Camps precisely for the experimentation, technology and evolutionary behavior that is missing from mainstream industry events (with some exceptions). The major issue appears to be that the risks (financial, reputation, opportunity costs) are not evenly distributed. Can’t this be addressed? I would hate to see this valuable resource disappear without first giving the pioneers credit where credit is obviously due and then figuring out how to move forward treating the Event Camps that have already been produced as iterations rather than one hit wonders. The hard work has been done.

  9. Michelle, your comment sparked an idea, at least for the financial side. How about a Kickstarter approach, with the EventCamp only going ahead if enough money (traded for attendance) is raised?

  10. Hi Greg,

    Do we need another EventCamp? No.

    One of the reasons that we did ECTC10 and ECTC11 was to inspire people to try new things in their events. Our goal was to do it good enough to inspire them but not so well that it seemed out of reach. We wanted people to think that they could go out and do it 10X better than Ray and me. For the most part, Ray and I put on two events that did just that. And the data and the anecdotal evidence showed it.

    When we started #eventprofs and EventCamps were the only place that you could go and talk to people about new formats and experiment with it. Two years later things have changed. PCMA, GMIC, SPINCON and MPI are all doing experimental things in one form or another in their events. While they could each push harder, I applaud them for taking these initial steps. And, I expect that these organizations will continue to push the envelope and inspire their members. In my mind, that’s a good thing. It means that the EventCamp movement worked.

    If you ask me will there be an #ECTC12? Possibly – send me an email if you want in.

    - Sam

    PS And for those that think #ectc11 set hybrid events back years – read this article: http://ow.ly/8QDpo We took the #ectc11 hybrid model and adapted it for this Financial Services firm with great success. So can you and you should.

  11. Greg: if I ever hit the lottery, I’d like to write a book chronicling the #eventprofs community. When my lucky number hits, I’d like to ask permission to include this post as a chapter. Thanks for assembling such a comprehensive history of Event Camp.

    Michelle/Adrian: I love the Kickstarter idea. Another concept to consider would be “Event Camp X”, similar to TEDx (http://www.ted.com/tedx).

    Event Camp X could mean smaller scope and lower cost gatherings. Imagine a meeting that takes place for a few hours one evening in San Francisco (to pick any random city near me). There are talks, some exchange of ideas and an archive of the ideas for the community to consume (e.g. blog postings and some Event Camp X “talks” captured and posted to YouTube).

    “Event Camp” would define the parameters, then let “Event Camp X” spread via interested adopters across the globe.

  12. This discussion ROCKS! And it proves to me again, how fortunate I am to know and be part of the Event Camp community.

    I’ve attended many and co-organized Event Camp Europe and the thoughts that come to my mind are:

    1- Event Camps have proven how important it is for event professionals to have a safe place to experiment.

    Someone wrote an article that said one of these events set hybrid events back years. However, has anyone acknowledged how far event camps have taken hybrid events? I’d never even heard of hybrid events before the first Event Camp.

    The organizers of these events, at great risk and cost to themselves, understood how important such experimentation is to our industry. The willingness of big industry events to begin taking such risks in the last two years can certainly be seen as acknowledgement that Event Camps have had a profound impact.

    2 – Event Professionals should stop eating their young

    Seriously. When we dog pile onto those brave enough to put up their own funds and reputation to create these safe places for event experimentation, just because they don’t live up to our “standards,” we are hurting ourselves and our industry. We need to recognize that as an industry, our perfectionism has turned pathological and we risk obsolescence if we don’t overcome it.

    3 – If there’s a way to solve the issues regarding Event Camp, the community will find it.

    As evidenced above in the comments, the Event Camp community contains some of the brightest minds in our industry and already this discussion is generating ground-breaking ideas.

    I don’t think Event Camps have run their course. I think they will continue. But they will need to evolve into a form that is much more supportive and nurturing for those who dare to organize them.

  13. Wondering what it says that out of 11 people commenting on this post only 4 were not organizers. And given the amount of work Brandt put into the Twin Cities event I might argue he falls closer to organizer than attendee.

  14. Greg, thanks for an excellent and badly-needed post, and what a great response from so many of the people who’ve been central to the EventCamp movement! Here’s a bit more feedback from someone who wasn’t an organizer (Traci, I don’t think this throws the ratio off by much).
    Yes to what several people have said about the EventCamp series as a place (or several places) to experiment with ideas that we dare not try out on our clients’ events. Sam points out that the more established associations are making similar attempts. That’s true, and it’s great that they are. But one possible interpretation is that there’s still as much scope, and still as much need, to continue experimenting with the *next* next practices that even the most innovative of the more established associations will find too risky or too challenging to justify. (More on this below.)
    A definite yes that organizing an EventCamp should not be a losing proposition for anyone — not financially, and not in anything approaching the degree of burnout and disappointment that I read into some of the conversation. Arguing that EventCamp is important to the community at large is not, must not be the same as expecting the same suspects or new ones to step up and take a hit for doing something that everyone arguably needs, and that many of us say we want.
    I love the idea of a Kickstarter method to finance a next program, and I wonder whether the concept could also be applied to the time and effort required to make an EventCamp work: in addition to setting a minimum for financial pledges, the lead proponents could also insist on a commitment of time and talent before going ahead with the project. And given the realities of volunteering into the unknown future, if lead organizers thought they needed, say, 200 hours of in-kind support to get the job done, they’d be well advised to set a baseline expectation of 250 or 300.
    There’s one other conversation that I began to hear in the halls during ECTC11, and I think it touches on both of the points I’ve recapped here — how long we should expect it to take to find the next round of innovative practices, and how to avoid burning organizers out. I don’t think the EventCamps have run their course, but by last August in Minneapolis some of the content was getting mighty repetitive. I heard a few people suggest, and I agree, that that would have been a good time for all of us to take what we’d learned at the various EventCamps, bring it out to our own events, see what we could learn by applying the experiments in more conventional meeting environments (like Sam’s financial services example), then report back several months or a year later. At that point, we’d have a whole new set of case studies bringing fresh perspectives on what works, what doesn’t, and what we’re still learning about — and *that* would be a great reason for everyone to reconvene.

  15. Greg-

    EventCamp will never die as long as Greg Ruby prowls the events and meetings industry.

    Long live the Founding Five. Death to all those that oppose!

    When is EventCamp Baltimore?

    Mike

  16. If an online community finds a common place of care and manages to pull off 10 events in less that 24 months, they’re onto something.

    Thank you Greg for your immediacy in supporting and feeding future firestarters. I will use your insightful blogpost and wonderful comments, views, feelings and intentions of commentators in the Event Camp Europe Brainstorm (http://www.eventcamp.eu ) in Amsterdam.

    For me the proof is in the pudding. I missed the inaugural EventCamp in New York and feel I have missed a milestone in the industry. The second round I was paying attention and managed to create an incredible set of conversations from a wine cellar in Basel, Switzerland around Sam & Ray’s #ECTC10. It fired me up to spark EventCamp Europe with Jenise, Lindsey and Paul Cook and to contribute face to face to #ECTC11.

    In my view you learn by doing and only by bumping your head will you really know what it feels like to be with your feet in the clay. I have no regrets and can only encourage others to take the leap of faith to relentlessly try and test in these wonderful lab environments.

    The brilliance of experimenting with forms and formats pushes the frontiers of not just the meetings & events industry. It pushes the boundaries of what we thought was possible because the energetic types involved in EventCamps and other “Camps” want to push the frontier because they know they can.

    It takes that pioneering spirit to break some boundaries and I agree with the fact that EventCamps have significantly raised the level of awareness across the industry to action what has been charmingly pointed out as the way forward by the innovators.

    Those that have contributed, initiated and participated will each have to determine the balance of whether they are promoters or demoters.

    The serendipitous power of meeting all the wonderful individuals who have contributed to this blogpost (+ comments) either face to face or nearly face to face is worth every drop of blood… sweat…( and tears…. well maybe not tears) has been more than worth it.

    Dennis in remark to your EventCamp X formula, I’ve organised a number of TEDx events and it is an interesting formula to spread and share working standardised methods around a common cause. The big difference is that the core stakeholders are identified in the case of TED and structured with clear ownership. That is not the case in EventCamp and that may be it’s sustainable flaw.

    Maybe the prototyping of EventCamps is a phase that leads us to a next stage of evolution.

    I welcome your thoughts and tip my hat to the wizard of this blogpost, Greg, and the wise insights from Tahira, Jessica, Carey, Paul, Tracey, Adrian, Brandt, Michelle, Samuel, Dennis, Jenise, Mitchell and Mike. Thank you for extending your brain power to this inspiring discussion and I am grateful to have made such incredible friendships across such gaps and distances.

    Greg, I will mail out this blogpost to all contributors to tomorrow’s EventCamp Europe brainstorm in Amsterdam (and on Google Hangouts) for the learning around this topic and potential for forms and formats it could lead to in the future. The discussion has me fired up.
    Will you join us with your views here? http://eventcamp.eu/live/
    ….I know you will!

    see you tomorrow,

    Ruud Janssen

  17. Hi all.

    It was thanks to Ruud’s initiative that I read this excellent post. I too feel a part of Event Camp history even though I have only participated in two of the later events (one virtually and one as a speaker). I have great admiration for all those involved in the #eventprofs and Event Camp community. I feel that you are indeed changing the landscape of the events communities and this is always to be applauded.

    I agree with pretty much all of the comments above, and I think that Event Camps should progress and continue to evolve. To add to the conversation I wanted to raise the issue of perceived value by potential attendees in terms of making Event Camps viable. Whilst experimenting is very valuable ultimately someone has to make the financial investment to cover the sometimes high technology costs of hybrid events. I know that sponsorship from technology companies is always welcome, but as far as I can tell this is not enough. Therefore if Event Camps are to compete for the same attendee budgets as MPI, PCMA, ASAE etc. large events, then they must offer something that these events cannot.

    It is my gut feeling that most event planners (largely the target audience for association meetings) cannot justify attending Event Camps if they see them as event technology sandboxes. This is a great proposal for a smaller population of independent planners who wish to become more aware of these technologies. If we are looking for the masses, then there must be a clear proposition of what Event Camps have to offer. I am not sure what exactly that is, but it will be hard to compete with the large association meetings in areas such as numbers of attendees, business done (at sessions and in the corridors) and traditional media coverage. Working at IMEX now I feel I am gaining a deeper understanding over the reasons planners make attendance choices.

    It may be worth looking at ways in which Event Camps can be merged and preventing a real burnout from all those involved, but also from the potential attendees. An event camp with two full live events simultaneously could be a possibility to split the cost and workloads. Whilst I am on my soapbox, why not an Event Camp Global where 5 different cities hold events for 24 or 48 hours continuously. Virtual audiences could tune in at any time and view sessions on demand at a later time. This is all possible, and I know that I could not think of a better community to venture into any these ideas.

    In whatever manner Event Camps move forward, I am certain this community will continue to push the barriers and fly the flag of personal and industry development for us all.

    Thank you all
    Miguel Neves

  18. Great summary, Christine. While I was not able to take part in the tater tots and marshmallows, I did attend virtually on both days, including a bright, early start for Chris Brogan’s Saturday keynote (I’m on the West Coast).With coffee mug, laptop (and pajamas), the experience did not disappoint. Looking forward to the next Event Camp perhaps I’ll attend in person!

  19. I participated virtually in certain portions of the NYC Event Camp. Because of that experience, I’ll definitely be tapping in for certain sessions for this one. The three things I love most about participating in Event Camps 1) There are usually people in the live and virtual audience I know and trust (great to see them on video or the twitter stream)2) Event Camp pushes the envelope with experiential content. You learn what works/doesn’t work.3) Dirt cheap live and free remotely. They’re just trying to cover costs baby. It’s about the attendees not about the organizer.Hope to see you there!

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