Have you ever attended a BarCamp? If you are like me, you may have no idea what I am referring to. As defined by Wikipedia, BarCamp “is an international network of user-generated conferences (or unconferences) – open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants.” It is my understanding BarCamps started in the technology industry and were designed as a way to meet creatively. The name was developed from creative thinking and originated with the slang term foobar. I am unaware of any meaning to the title as an acronym or being shortened for anything.
A BarCamp originated nearly exclusively online. It is a nonmeeting meeting. Normal meeting protocols suggest: beginning with an objective, formalizing those responsible for putting an event on, setting an agenda, inviting speakers or presenters, formally inviting guests, setting costs, and making arrangements for the site.
A BarCamp event is without formal meeting arrangements or preconceived ideas or goals. It is an open invitation to like-minded individuals who want to better themselves. Volunteers, who self-elect to assist the unconference, do nothing to set the agenda. They find a site, collect sponsors, and set the time; that’s it! Those who sign up online know only that they are spending the day with people with similar interests. There is absolutely no charge to participate.
The real estate industry has engaged in BarCamps, titling their unconferences as REBarCamp (real estate BarCamp). I attended one of these gatherings in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 9th. I was very excited to participate and see how these functions work. It was not only fascinating to join but very beneficial as well.
PHX RebarCamp had nearly 800 sign up online. Scottsdale Stadium, event headquarters, was paid for entirely by sponsors. They had additional sponsors for 400 free tee shirts and 400 free lunches to be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Giving away the freebees excited participants and encouraged those attending to get there early. When you arrive, you sign in, fill out your individual badge with your name and @ (used @ for microblogging), gather, socialize, and wait for the beginning.
To start the event, the volunteer organizers move the group (estimated at about 500 in the morning) to the home plate area of the stadium. There they welcome everyone and tell us what to anticipate, nothing formal or scripted. They announce there are two times they will draw out our business cards for nice gifts, one at lunch and the other at the end of the day. Organizers show us a large whiteboard and tell us where it will be placed. They ask us to do two things: one, write down on sticky notes what we are interested in, and two, offer to facilitate if our knowledge will assist those who have a need. The whiteboard has ten slots across and six down. We then gather around the whiteboard and review the different ideas or requests. People are taking pictures with handheld devices, sending messages, and picking up sticky notes, all reviewing to see how to help. When someone finds something they can help with, they write what they will discuss on the whiteboard. The spot they choose has a time slot (column of six) and a location (column of ten). The board fills up quite quickly. Then those of us who didn’t sign up to present review the board and find where we want to go.
The group is so informal they don’t care if you leave for another group if they are not covering what you are interested in. They call it voting with your feet. The group meets in each time slot for an hour. I was blown away by the comments about starting one of the group discussions and how well it turned out. In this example, the group leader started by saying, “When I got up, I wasn’t coming here today but decided it would be fun. So here I am, and now I am heading a discussion.” There are no outlines, scripts, or presentations. The information this individual shared in this group was invaluable; we could have gone much longer than an hour.
The system isn’t perfect; I attended one section where the facilitator didn’t show up. What was amazing is it didn’t negatively affect anyone. The meeting was so informal it didn’t matter; we just got up and picked a different venue.
The atmosphere using creativity to drive the event allowed for a couple of things (which are not always found in more formal gatherings): If you attend wanting to learn something specific and are willing to get your request in, you will gain a great understanding of that topic. And birds of a color flock together. If you want to hang out with similar-minded successful people, go where they are!
Personally, I am looking forward to being able to attend another REBarCamp soon. I will use the ideas I learned to better myself. If I ever want to brainstorm anything worthwhile, I will use this venue (on a smaller scale) to gain knowledge. The ideas learned of meeting on topics of current common interest are invaluable. Great minds move the masses to betterment for all.
I have names and contacts of people who can assist in setting a meeting in your area should you want. I am happy to answer whatever questions you may have.