I felt a bit like Steve Carell in the 40 year old virgin today. If you haven’t noticed from my profile or some of my blog posts, I’m an older spirit and with age most would expect that there would be a certain level of wisdom and knowledge. After travelling the world for 20 years participating in conferences and witnessing lectures on everything from igneous rocks through to sexual harassment guidelines, you’d think I’d have lost my conference virginity by now. The adrenaline rush of the first time should be long gone or it least that’s what I had thought. But today I found the new conference Viagra, Pod Camp Halifax brought back that loving feeling that I hadn’t felt since my first conference in 1983.
It was a serene moment as I walked down the long hallway leading from the Dartmouth ferry terminal to the annex of the Alderney Gate library entrance. My eyes wandering from pole to pole looking for the arrows pointing to the registration desk. The anticipation built as I walked towards the library doors, I could feel my heart racing. Would anyone be there? Was it going to good or waste of my time? When I originally reviewed the list of speakers there certainly wasn’t anyone on it that made me want to jump out of bed on a Sunday morning and race to the event. Curiosity of the unknown was more of a driving force behind my attendance. The whole concept of an Unconference was intriguing and sexy. So like a typical member of the male species I was lured into the spider’s web.
Unconferencing or unstructured conferencing seemed bizarre to me much like Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction – odd but captivating. It had a schedule, it had a registration list, speakers –I couldn’t figure out the difference between it and a regular conference. Following registration I picked up my list of presenters, scanned it and quickly shuffled off to a small board room to see a fellow social marketer, Joel Kelly speak on “unfriending” people you don’t really know on Facebook. Joel’s presentation was short and sweet focusing on why we invited people who are not really our friends into our social networks. He showed 10 slides and had more questions than answers. At first I was thinking okay, 15 minute presentations, this is pretty weak. But right when I thought Joel had finished and we were all going to get up and leave something really cool happen. The audience started a conversation.
I’m not sure if Joel had intended it or not, but the room shifted from a one-way presentation to a full on conversation about the benefits and drawbacks of social networking. For the next 45 minutes the crowd did the presenting. We covered ethics, legality, employer stalking, Facebook interviewing and the social impact of journaling your life online. It was at that point that I realized the true meaning of the Unconference. Much like the online social media applications we use everyday, Pod Camp presentations are decentralized. They’re not about one-way conversations where the presenter delivers their point of view. They’re about conversations and sharing information using an open platform.
For the Pod Camp veterans in the room my realization was probably old news, but for me it was a moment of true, unadulterated insight. Pod Camps are social events where the people who converse online get together and do it face to face. Presenters post their opinions and look for conversations and much like online social networks, the audience drives the bus. The host is a passenger who only pipes in to stimulate the conversation. Pod Camp Halifax was by far one of the most unique conferencing experiences I have ever had in my extended conference history. I think Pod Camp TO is next on my list.