Truth be told, I’m a Junkie.
No, not heroin or meth. My drug of choice is the REBarCamp movement. And like any long time user, I have a love/hate relationship with my juice (mostly love). To be perfectly honest I admit there are a few issues I’ve noticed and like the Junkie I am, I’ve rationalized them away.
There comes a time in every Junkie’s life when they have a brief moment of truth before returning back down to the world their habit has them believe. This is mine.
Recently there have been a few posts on the blog-o-sphere that have thrown stones at REBarCamps. Posts that have questioned the “why”. The writers and commenters are some of the brightest people I know.
Flash back 2 years ago (hey it’s a drug themed post) when I had a great conversation with “1000Watt Marc” at San Francisco’s Inman Connect. His contention at that time was that there was no vetting process for speakers and how did he know that the person up at the front actually knew what they were talking about. My response was well practiced and well rehearsed. “REBarCamp doesn’t have speakers or presentations – we have discussions!”. You may have heard that same line before, right?
Sessions. More and more, when the schedule board is put together, I’ve seen people who I know are extremely qualified to lead a discussion on a particular topic passed up and replaced with others. Instead of their knowledge of the topic, the discussion leader was chosen for political, sponsorship, or some other reason(s) only the schedule organizer knows.
Speaking of discussions… Hardly. We’ve all attended discussions that were anything but. They were thinly veiled as “educational” but were really “Hey, I’m an expert. Listen to me go on for an hour about how much I know and what you should do” Presentations.
The Facts. I’ve attended discussions where incorrect, outdated or flat out wrong data, facts and information was dished out to the masses on a particular topic. I’ve watched in horror as the attendees frantically scribbled down the lie of the hour. But it’s a discussion you say, right? Where was the real expert? Why didn’t you speak up? There is no answer. Often times I’ve watched the real expert leave the room, head down and shrugging. Other time’s I’ve seen them try to correct the speaker, but unable to get a word in. As for me, I’m only a student. I know some things but I’m also there to learn. Besides, I’m under the REBarCamp influence.
The Rule of 2 Feet. The Rule of 2 Feet states that if you don’t like the topic, the conversation, the discourse – use your 2 feet and go somewhere else. Great in principal but for most it’s not going to happen. Most often these rooms are standing room only. If you are lucky enough to have a seat chances are it’s at the opposite end from the door. I’ll argue that for most people, proper up bringing and manners will win and your butt will stay in that seat till the sessions over.
The Attendees. I firmly believe the REBarCamp should be local. Local attendees and local knowledge. Should you travel cross county or cross country to attend one? I say no (yet I am guilty as sin) but it comes with an asterisk. Is there no REBarCamp near you? Is there a large conference the following day that you would have been at anyway? That makes sense, right? But what about the attendees themselves? Who should be there – the new beginner or the seasoned sage? I say both, and everyone in the middle but I would like to point out one other group that should be there – “The Oblivious”. Who is that? It’s the agent’s in your office who are not going to hear about it because they’re not on twitter, facebook, blogs and barely the internet. I joke, but I’d like to see the price of admission to a REBC in the future be that you had to bring someone (oblivious preferred).
Price of Admission. Free is great right? I say it sucks. It sucks because I watch organizers working their butts off to make the event happen only to have 1/2 the people actually show. think of the decisions they have to make based on your registering. How big of a location? Providing coffee or drinks? Bagels? Name Badges? Lunch? T-shirts? After party? The list goes on and on. Yet you signed up for the event, you said you would be there and then you didn’t show? Did something really big come up? I know it does and I know it can but for 1/2 the people who registered? Really? Instead I say charge $20, $50 or even $100. Have the surplus money go to a good charity. You can bet people are going to attend to get their $100 worth.
Sponsors. Sponsors are key to putting on a REBarCamp. They provide the dollars and/or stuff to make it all happen. Without sponsors there would be no REBarCamp – or would there? I’ve seen REBarCamp’s with elaborate sponsorship and large (really large) budgets. I’ve also seen REBarCamps with little sponsorships and no budget. Was the quality of the conversation better in the high budget events? Someday I’d like to see a REBarCamp pulled off with NO sponsorships. I think it was Lori Bee who wanted to throw a REBarnCamp. I’d go to that!
Back to those evil sponsors… With their sponsorship dollars or supplied schwag, can also come strings (not always but sometimes)
“We want to hold a presentation on our product” – seen it.
“We want our guy to lead this presentation” – seen it.
“We’ll dictate who else can sponsor and who else can present” – seen it.
But then again…
I’ve attended expensive “high value” conferences where the Speaker up on the stage is really there not because they were properly vetted but more likely that they are part of the “in crowd” or that they filled out the Request to Speak form first.
It also doesn’t mean all sponsors are evil. Quite the opposite. There are plenty of national and local sponsors that get what the movement is all about and are happy to help make it happen.
I continue to believe in the purity of what REBarCamp is, and what it could be. Some of the greatest sessions I’ve seen were not actual sessions. They were impromptu discussions with groups of like minded people around a topic that we wanted to talk about. Think mini REBarCamp within a REBarCamp. Not happy with what was covered these break out sessions somewhat happened all by themselves. Isn’t that the purest form of REBarCamp juice you can get?
So in the end, there will be no 12 step program for me. Even if there was I’d make Brittany Spears and Lindsay Lohan look like amateurs. Instead, I’ll continue going from one REBarCamp to another, hoping to experience that perfect REBarCamp high.
Did You Know? I offer to anyone organizing a REBarCamp, a free facebook landing tab and a custom REBC themed wordpress blog. All you have to do is ask.
NOTE: This rant of clarity reflects my own opinion (as wrong as I may be) and speaks of presenters and REBarCamps in the most general sense. It does not reflect any single REBarCamp or any single person in particular. If swelling persists over 4 hours, see your Doctor.