ONLINE: Why I couldn’t be happier #commsscampstayshome is happening

Commscamp is back and I’m taken aback at the response of people to it.

Yesterday, 160 tickets were snapped up in nine minutes for the online version of the event we’re calling #commscampstayshome.

To say me and the organising team are taken aback is an understatement.

Thank you for your support if you grabbed a ticket. Bear with us if you missed out. There will be other ticket releases.

I’m writing this as a brain dump about where it is.

What I think the role of an unconference is

Everything now is uncertain.

Jobs that looked set for life in March have gone forever. The high street is a ghost town but online shopping is booming. Change always hurts but brings with it excitement and fear.

In this new landscape, I think people who have a lightbulb over their head and will think of new ways of doing things will float and those that don’t won’t.

I’ve said many times that an unconference in 2009 made me think differently. It fired the starting pistol on the career I’ve had.

An unconference is a place where the agenda is a blank piece of paper. It gets shaped on the day by attendees themselves. The people in the room decide what they will talk about.

Here’s what an unconference does for me.

It tries to work out how to crack the problem that’s right here and right now.

A traditional conference gives a sanitised take on something that happened six months ago. That’s absolutely fine. There’s a place for that. But with the world changing so rapidly what worked last month is already dated. I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting six months to be told what to do. We just need to work out what to do.

An unconference unlocks things. It gives people permission to walk into a new room where its okay to think, have an opinion, disagree or agree, share and to unlock. Job titles are left at the door.

Trust the process

Several years ago I heard a podcast where one of the great internet experimenters Lloyd Davis was talking about the open space principles that underpin unconferences.

They are simply:

  • Whoever comes are the right people.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • Whenever it’s over, it’s over.
  • Wherever it happens is the right place.

Lloyd made the observation that if 100 people come to an open space event the majority love it but will often suggest a minor tweak. If you have 100 minor tweaks you get a very different thing. It’s far better to just trust the process and I absolutely agree with him.

Lloyd, incidentally, has been generous with his time and thinking in shaping #commscampstayshome. I absolutely recommend you look him up.

There’s been a temptation as we work out how to make commscamp work online to stray away from basic open space principles. I’m glad we’ve always veered back.

Huge thanks to sponsors Touch Design who were so quick to back the fledgling idea weeks ago.

Yes, we will encourage you to think of session ideas

I always find the pitching process at the start of an unconference is always uncertain.

We always encourage people to debate ideas if they want to to see if there’s any interest in the session idea. For commscampstayshome this will be in the commscamp Facebook group.

But the first few seconds until people come forward with ideas is tricky. But people always do come up with ideas because we trust the process.

What #commscampstayshome will look like

The event will have a large room online to start, a pitching process where people can bring ideas they want to talk about and then lots of break-out rooms.

We’re also looking at creating break-out space where you’d find it at an unconference. The corridor. The spot by the catering table. The benches by the canal.

I genuinely don’t know how this will play out. Is recreating an offline space online the answer? Are there other things we can do? Sure, but I have to tell you this my fear of failure is precisely zero and I can’t stress this enough. If it works, then brilliant. If we do something and it doesn’t work, that’s fine.

Making it diverse

At the first ever commscamp in 2013, Lorna Prescott pointed out that everyone who was suggesting session ideas were white males. I’m glad she made that intervention because it encouraged more women to come forward.

In 2020, how do we keep encouraging women, people of colour or people from working class backgrounds where public speaking isn’t part of the curriculum to come forward?

Share the success

The good thing working as a team is that you can road test ideas and what you build tends to be better for it.

So, for this I doff my hat to fellow organisers Bridget Aherne, Kate Bentham, David Grindlay, Sweyn Hunter, Arlene McKay, Emma Rodgers and Kate Vogelsang. They’ve each brought different skills along.

We each know that on the day we will be one of 250 or so people that will make the event work. If it is a success then we each have a one two hundred and fiftieth share in that success.

Events shouldn’t be carols in August

I’ve long thought that an event should exist for a time then go away. Christmas in August is boring. It’s a house guest that’s outstayed its welcome. We should herald its arrival, get people excited and then go away again. I really hope that commscamp does that. We’ve tried to avoid that.

The easy part is done but the hard part is ahead of us

Getting 160 people onboard in nine minutes is tremendous but the hard part is ahead. How do we make the technology work? How do we explain the technology? How do we encourage people not to sit back and be spoon-fed? How do we encourage introverts? How do we encourage people to use the law of two feet and get up and go to another room?

I’m absolutely loving the idea of working it out.

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