At BarCampCork2 I gave a session about how to get the most out of barcamp as a participant, especially aimed at first time attendees. I came up with a 10 step guide, gave each step a title and wrote a few notes about them. You can see the original presentation on slideshare, but I’ve also turned my own thoughts into some notes which actually make much more sense than the presentation.
Let me know what you think, and if you have any other suggestions I might do a follow up!
Step 1 - Prepare your session in advance
Once you have your attendance at a barcamp confirmed, you should start thinking about your session. Some signups even ask you to suggest what you might be interested in talking about when you signup, so that other’s can gauge interest. You can expect the sessions to be between 20 and 30 minutes long, though that might vary from camp to to camp. This might seem like quite along time, but it really flies when you are talking, and goes even faster when you have a well prepared presentation. By preparing not only will your talk flow more easily (because you will have time to iron out the ‘bugs’), but you will also be free to relax and listen during other people’s session instead of fretting over your own. Remember, you don’t have to do a technical talk, feel free to do a presentation on lead a group discussion about whatever subject you’re interested in, be it shoes, technology, health, or anything else.
Step 2 - Go in small groups / alone
This one is a tricky one, especially if your going to a barcamp in your home town, but if you are traveling to a barcamp, don’t be afraid to go alone, or in a small group. Your opportunity to meet people is massively increased, whereas if you go as a group you tend to all stick together. If you are going specifically to network, then go in a group of 2 or 3, split up and introduce the people you meet to your friends later on, that way you can meet 2 or 3 times as many people as otherwise.
Step 3 - Arrive early
It’s always tempting to stay in bed that extra five minutes, but you can do that everyday (or every weekend), barcamps don’t happen everyday. If you miss the opening of the session board, or ‘grid’ then you may well miss your chance to hold the session your prepared. When you get there early you also have a chance to meet people before the sessions board is open, find out who is interested in similar topics to you, and if you’re lucky you might even get some breakfast!
Step 4 - Be prepared to change your session on the day
Barcamp is all about challenging convention. Don’t be afraid to change your session during the day if someone challenges what you think. Or maybe take a discussion you have with some people and turn that into a session you co run. Some of the best sessions are those that form out of discussions at barcamp because they guarantee to be topical. Group discussion session are particularly relevant to this concept because they need far less preparation than a talk (though it’s always good to have some notes and an idea of how you want to lead the conversation).
Step 5 - Don’t be afraid to leave or hijack session
Not every session at barcamp is for everyone, and it may well be the case that a session you are at isn’t quite what your after. If it’s a group discussion feel free to hijack the topic. OK maybe you shouldn’t hijack the topic, but certainly bring up relevant points even if they are a bit left field, you never know, other people might want to discuss those points to. If it really isn’t working for you you should feel free to leave. Just remember to be polite. If it’s a discussion, let people know why you are leaving, they might even convince you to stay. If it’s a talk, try not to disturb other people.
Step 6 - Don’t make many plans
Anything can happen at barcamp. no, really! You might be offered a lift home, invited to an underground house party, meet the guy or girl of your dreams, or even be invited to another barcamp! You’ll meet people you want to hang out with, and opportunities will present themselves. If you make too many plans then you often miss out on these opportunities. Although it can be hard, try to prearrange the minimum possible. If you’re stuck for accommodation there will almost always be people able to help. Arriving in a foreign city for a barcamp with no specific plans (such as a hotel or return ticket) can be really exhilarating!
Step 7 - Bring business and personal cards
It’s all well and good meeting people, but if they forget who you are you might miss out. Bring cards with your contact details so that people can link your name to your screen name. If they have something unique to you, even better - my moo cards have my picture on. It can also be good to have your own personal cards to give to people who aren’t relevant to your business, that way you don’t have to clog up your already full work inbox. When making cards you can probably skip the usual concept of putting your mobile number down. Seriously, almost no one you ever give your card to will ever call you. If you need to give them your number, write it on the card, or drop them a twitter dm with your number.
Step 8 - Keep in contact
Hopefully you also collect a whole load of cards and contacts while you are at barcamp. When you get home, or even on the way home if you have a fancy internet dongle, add these people to the various social networks you use. I normally add people to my gmail account by email address, and then use the importers on various sites to link up. Send an @reply to those who you had a real connection with within a couple of days (I’m really guilty of not doing this, so please don’t be mad if I haven’t sent your one!) to start that connection going in the post barcamp world.
Step 9 - Have fun
Really! Barcamp is great for learning and networking, but it’s also about having fun with like minded people. Play games, werewolf, uncricket, buzzword bingo, etc. are all great ways to meet new people. Play some games that get your heart pumping. They are great for your health when you might other wise be staring at screen all day and they take you away from that laptop for some much needed eye rest.
Step 10 - Organise your own barcamp
This is probably the most important one of all. Take all of the great experiences you have at each barcamp and use them to run your own barcamps or help others with ones they have already planned. Run specialist camps like HeroCamp or CupcakeCamp, and run local camps, even if you only think you’ll get 5 people, it’s still worth it. Just remember to let the world know at http://barcamp.org.