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pCampNYC: Kudos, controversy, and ideas for future pCamps

Well I have half recovered from PCampNYC. In a sentence: 8am start, an energizing day of meeting, interacting, presenting,facilitating, and ... yes, eating. I give huge kidos to the event organizers, especially for the following heroic accomplishments:

  • Keynote by Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO of Kodak. I personally found his talk inspiring. Some notes below. Congratulations to Debra Albert of Sequent Learning for scoring his speech.
  • Excellent Venue - the Down Town Association. Very old school club. For example, the mens' washroom was about the size of your average restaurant in NYC, while the womens' washroom (so I hear) was a single stall. I imagined I could still smell the pipe and cigar smoke.
  • Unconference done professionally: This team was very well organized. They had done their homework by talking to previous pCamp organizers.
  • 150 attendees: For an 8am on a Saturday in mid July, the turnout was great.
  • Great sessions. My personal favorite was Rich Mironov's session on how Agile impacts Product Management. However there were several great looking topics that I check out to, but simply couldn't because I was presenting or facilitating.
  • Lots of time and space for networking and digging into individual conversations
  • Drinks post conference.

Congratulations guys... well done. I give a lot of credit to Steven Haines and his team at Sequent Learning. As Hayzlett preached, they became "part of the story", which helps their company without directly advertising. And they provided real value to an engaged group of people.

Controversy?

I was glad to hear that not everyone agreed with me about the points above, and had some interesting discussion/debate about certain aspects of the conference:

  • Structure vs. UNstructure: I heard the desire from a few people to have even less presentation material and more facilitated discussion. One of my fellow panelists in a session on innovation mentioned this desire. So we adjusted mid-stream in that session and turned it into a full-blown discussion. We solicited questions and issues from the audience, and tackled the topics together. There wasn't really a defined "panel" or "audience" anymore, just a facilitated discussion among many smart people.
  • Keynote Content vs. Inspiration: IMO the keynote was awesome. Jeff Hayzlett was like a mix of Bill Clinton (ability to connect) and Lewis Black (dark humor and willing to say it). At dinner in the evening, we had a table-wide debate about the keynote. Several people said they found his talk to be "content-free". Too oriented to PR. Too much about him and his ego. I disagreed and will write up what I took away from his talk.

Take-aways for future:

  • Always UNremember the UNconference UNstructure: We product and marketing types are used to actual conferences. We have to continually work at "UN"conferencing the conference. I thought pCampNYC did well at that. I heard others pushing for even less structure.
  • Forget great presenters: get great Facilitators! If you remove structure, you need GREAT facilitators. Group discussions without facilitation can be frustrating and lead nowhere. Great facilitators know how to set up the discussion, when to shift the topic, how to limit dominators, and when to get out of the way.
  • Keynote speaker matters: For me, the keynote speaker got things fired up. He was irreverant and high-profile. The stuff he talked about was larger than most people have dealt with before, but perhaps because Kodak is so visible as a company, I could relate.
  • Wifi and Twitter Tags: I was surprised that the twitter traffic was fairly low at the event. The organizers could have leveraged twitter. For example, if you are bored in a session but not ready to walk yet, check in on what's going on in other rooms by checking the event feed ... if others are tweeting, go find a session that sounds more interesting.
  • Session pitches: Word was that pCampNYC organizers heard from other pCamp organizers to NOT have session pitches... they drag out and consume valuable time. On the other hand, I am sure I missed some great sessions and presenters/facilitators because their topic wasn't catchy enough. I also found myself in rooms with catchy title where the session leader was less than I expected. My advice: Have session pitches, but enforce a strict 30- or 60-second pitch policy. This would keep the time low but give people a sense of the session leader and the topic.
  • Food matters: Feed people and they will be happy.
  • Start time: This event started at 8am. Initially I found that to be rude. Some people were forced to come in from the suburbs on a 6:45am train. Ouch! However we had a lot of time for the event ... so the early start had some advantages. In retrospect I'm mixed about start time, but I will confess that I was cursing all night Friday, and then moreso when my alarm went off Saturday morning. Maybe that's why I liked Hayzlett so much ... he cheered me up. I didn't want content at that point ... I wanted to wake up.
  • Cash bar after the event. 'Nuff said.

OK Folks. I'm only in the city for about 6 more hours, so I'm going to get out and absorb some culture. I will write about some of the sessions in the next few days.

- Alan

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