Association Congress

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My very personal experience of Event Camp Europe

“What would you do in a crisis?” was the question posed by Ruud. Well, I followed the advice of the virtual Pod from Croydon in England: if there is a crisis always have alcohol as a backup. I had a crisis in confidence in Hybrid events, so Event Camp Europe is still going on but I am at the bar.
Firstly I have to make this very clear, I am exceptionally impressed by the vision of the four main individuals involved in organising Event Camp Europe. Just trying this and somehow pulling it all together is an exceptional achievement. I doubt much money (if any) will have been earned and this was all singularly done to help push the boundaries of our industry.
Bravery should always be commended but it is OK to question it too.
And because of this I am sure that the organisers will take this blog in the spirit is was meant, especially as I think they have replicated many of the issues that organisers are likely to have with Hybrid events. And in allowing me to point that out from their event they have already succeeded in highlighting those issues!
We need to know ‘why’ before we do the ‘how’
So here’s my feedback. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t feel included; I didn’t really learn anything; I didn’t get to talk to delegates about their experience or reasons for looking into Hybrid events; none of the presentations were from curious organisers like me, with my issues and my concerns. I felt I was being preached to: Hybrid events, my child, will solve all your issues, they are the savior. Praise them.
To sum up the event based on my and other attendees views, which I am sure they will share, this event was a “how to run Hybrid event” and the delegates wanted a day on “why to run Hybrid events”. Just because we were attending didn’t mean we had totally bought in to the idea.
Jack of all events and master of none?
A disengagement from the audience through the subjects chosen is never a desirable situation for a conference, but what is worse is a conference lacking the basic hygiene factors that are the basis of good physical events. And in this the event was lacking. And it’s my first main general concern with this type of Hybrid event. Events are hard to organise: are we adding unnecessarily to the difficulty with a hybrid element, and shifting our focus from the basics? After this experiment I would certainly say it is a risk. The event was in danger of falling between two stools: neither a great live physical experience or a great on-line experience?
Green presenters struggled to engage with the virtual audience; delegates struck various posses as they tried to slide under the range of the camera; delay moving a mic around for the virtual feed impacted the flow of the event.
With so much going on it’s easy for the eye to lose focus
During the event we were constantly told that this day was all about ‘learning’ and ‘making mistakes’ but no one told me that before I booked and paid my money: I wanted to learn and network. I thought that an event run by four industry professionals would be run much better.
If I managed the event organiser at this event they would be in my office on Monday and would be given a conferencing 101 session. And here’s what it would cover:
-          If you rely on one particular thing at a venue make sure, make 100% sure it works. If we had turned up for a golf day and the course was only half open I would be very annoyed. If it was a team building kayaking event and the river had run dry I would have been miffed. So is it acceptable that this wifi based event was at a venue that didn’t have a decent wifi connection?
-          Should the organisers know the basics, like the location of the toilets? I’d say yes.
-          Is signage now a thing of the past?
-          Should we just expect people to know where to go when other things are taking place (no one was escorted to the pods for example) don’t we escort people nowadays?
-          Should we try a wifi game 4 hours into a programme when we know that we do not have wifi? 
-          There was very little balance in the programme content: there is always a pro and a con, and we should hear and discuss both sides of it
-          In a decent sized room with this set up, is one microphone for 50 delegates enough? There was actually two, but it took a delegate to point out the problem for them to locate it and use it
-          Without any real structured discussion time in the programme we were unable to be involved with the other delegates: I don’t want to ask the speaker a question, I’ve just heard from him: I want to speak with the other delegates! Especially those in the other Pods!
Were the objectives achieved?
Objectives are really important and I wonder what the objectives of the organisers were for this event, and if they matched mine? Maybe they were even contradictory?
I think I’ve noted my objectives in the content above but I will make them clear:
1.       To find out why I should consider running a hybrid event. What exactly it is, who’s doing it? What revenue it has generated, lost etc. the difficulties?
2.       To meet with organisers, both pro and undecided and discuss the issues with them
3.       To have a real take home, maybe ‘a when to and when not to’ understanding or maybe even a document
4.       To see a virtual event and experience it live
We had one very good presentation from Barcamp (which I missed a chunk of because no one told me that I was actually missing anything by the time I arrived) and I took a couple of good tips from but apart from that I didn’t learn anything. Well apart from the thing that I doubt I was supposed to: Hybrid conferences like this are more trouble and create more problems than they are likely to be worth.
Lastly, I have to say, and make this very clear, that I am exceptionally impressed by the vision of the four main individuals involved in Event Camp Europe. Just trying this and somehow pulling it all together is an exceptional achievement. Bravery should always be commended but it is OK to question it too. It was so important a point you might have noticed I started the blog with it.
Never organise an event for event organisers
We are a difficult bunch to please that’s for sure. And with our years of experience we are likely to spot every single thing that could have been done better at an event. I think that having an event like this for event organisers, and accepting and encouraging some root and branch analysis is the only way we can ensure that we can expand the formats we offer to our clients. So running an event for the industry is brave, but I hope that others will be brave too and add their views and opinions to this experiment. 

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