Ever since that summer time Third Wednesday meeting with Jon McGinley, Craig Moore and Ben Boudreau I’ve been calling Podcamp Halifax “my baby.” This is only true in the sense that I care a lot about the event and the many people who put the effort into making it great. In reality, Podcamp Halifax belongs to a large number of organizers, presenters, sponsors, and participants and they will continue to make it great long after I start to forget about it.
Nonetheless, I thought I’d share eleven things that I noticed about Podcamp Halifax that made it so great this year. Here is the list.
- Podcamp Halifax is not just click-bait. Yes, my headline title is total baloney. Click-bait is a term used to describe a media story that has a catchy or controversial headline, forcing fans, trolls, and raging mad flamers to click on the article only to find that the story itself is a poorly researched and purposely antagonistic piece of glurge surrounded by ads for building your abs in 20 easy steps. By contrast, Podcamp Halifax has always been a sincere attempt at helping people understand the world of social media just that little bit better. The speakers are volunteers and you get out of it pretty much what you give, which is often quite a bit.
- It has been a sell-out every time it happens. Sell-out is not really the right term for it, but every time Podcamp Halifax issues free tickets, those tickets get snatched up right away. It’s always been a challenge because for free events not everyone is bound to show up (the rule of thumb is about 60% attend), but we always overbook knowing this.
- The Speakers Rock. While there’s definitely room for improvement on the diversity front (more on this later), the speakers who sign up to present at Podcamp Halifax very generously take time away from their busy schedules (including quite successful businesses at times) to share what they’ve learned and the truth is that people walk away loving it. While sometimes you do have presentations that are little more about sales than sharing, the spirit really revolves around sharing first, and I appreciate people’s work for that.
- My Audience Rocked. Sometimes I try to put out a presentation with slidedeck. Other times I just crowdsource. Two years ago it was slide deck – that’s because I was a PhD student doing all kinds of theory I was excited about. This year, I crowd-sourced. I spent about about 5 minutes describing people like Pierre Bourdieu, Elinor Ostrom and Robert Putnam and then just asked “so – how does Twitter make you want to change your behavior?” The answers were multifaceted, brilliant and at times conflicting. I tried to offer a few things here and there from my research, but overall the audience drove my presentation and I was all the more proud for it. Bonus: my personal goal was not to finish my slides and that happened — IN SPADES. 🙂
- The Organizers Rocked. Tracy, Joanne, Kelli, Carmen, Ian, Ben, Kendra, Kula Partners, Verb, Michelle Doucette, The Halifax Hub, Mindsea, Halifax Public Libraries and a whole whack of other sponsors (if you are not in here now, wait for it – I’ll add you soon enough!). Organizing Podcamp in a new space probably came with new unique challenges and everything continued to go off without so much as a (noticeable to me) hitch.
- A Conversation Happened. One of the great things for me is that @AtomBombshell raised the issue of privilege and inclusion at podcamp. I’ve thought about this a lot, ever since the first Podcamp. The reality is that Podcamp has behaved in a laissez-faire way for a long time now. The intention has always been to be as inclusive as possible, and perhaps we just assumed that an open forum would be at least more inclusive than a closed one. The reality is not so much. We’ve tried a bunch of things before, including a presentation in Arabic that included precisely zero attendees. This cost me a colleague and friend, as, for whatever reason, I failed to convince the people I invited to show up in Dartmouth on a cold winter’s day in January. It was horrendously embarrassing for the presenter in particular and for me as an extension. If you follow the #podcamphfx twitter tag, you can see a lot more in the discussion. I do have a few thoughts on this though.
- Inclusion is a tricky and complex thing, and takes more than theory to make it happen in the real world. For reasons I cannot always understand, communities develop a shape and colour of their own and not everyone is going to feel comfortable even when they are invited. This is the story of libraries for pretty much forever, which tend to attract middle-class white women more than men. ≈
- Another story I have is of a man telling us that a library was his worst nightmare because he had dyslexia. Podcamp for him meant that he could belong to a library again. While it’s not really the same thing as inclusion, there is really a great element that connects people that otherwise would not be connected. Not all diversity is visible and we shouldn’t always assume that white means homogenous.
- In terms of attendees, Podcamp Halifax has always had a strong contingent of women compared to other technology conferences I’ve been involved in. I am not sure why this is the case, although perhaps the library has a little bit to do with it.
- None of these things excuse in the least bit our lack of success in bringing new voices into the Podcamp speaking circuit. Things that tend to work imho are 1) inviting people to co-present, especially citing that as individuals they bring value to Podcamp and should share what they know, 2) starting with the people who attend – something about Podcamp attracted them to the space, it is great to ask people what else they can bring into it so other people can benefit, 3) emphasizing the “un” in unconference. I’ve seen entire presentations based on crowd-sourcing ideas from the audience. If you get people opening up about their experiences with social media, they become more aware that they know much more than they think they do.
- Humility is a good thing, and the team at Podcamp right now understands that very well. I asked a person of colour to present once, and even though it wasn’t my intention, he did give me a little jab about being a token for our Podcamp. He proved conclusively that this was not the case, if it was ever the case. The presentation was amazing – one of the highlights of that day. Nonetheless, inclusion sometimes means you will take jabs, not always deserved (not always not deserved either), but at the end of the day, those jabs will mean a better event. Accept them and don’t always try and make excuses.
- All things said, Podcamp Halifax is a community, not an organization. If you see a gap, expect to be asked to come with ideas on how to fill it. Frankly, the people at the heart of organizing Podcamp are already putting plenty of work into just getting peoples names on the tags, forget trying to solve Global inequality. There are no end of problems to notice. What is in low supply are solutions to those problems. There is also a privilege inherent in knowing that you can complain about something and leave it to someone else to try and fix it. Except you won’t always get away with that at Podcamp. 🙂
- The Library is Fabulous. This was the dream realized. Part of the pitch for Podcamp Halifax was that it was the sort of thing that could show how a library can play a community building role and that a Central Library would only knock that out of the park even further. It was a fabulous space.
- There is a Future for Podcamp. It’s hard to say how this will transpire, but there are many directions that Podcamp can go in the future. For instance, perhaps there is a way to reach out to other communities like music, theatre, dance and so on. Maybe something like South by Southwest? Other options have included adding another day, bringing back Battle decks and having a keynote speaker again.
- Podcamp is More than Just One Day. The most rewarding thing I’ve seen over the years is how much community building podcampers usually end up providing in the long run. Businesses have grown, social groups have started and thrived, blogs and podcasts have launched, friends have become partners and so on. The real value of Podcamp is what happens afterwards. I look forward to seeing what else comes up. That’s why I try to remind presenters that “whoever comes are the right people.” If you only get one or two people to come to your presentation, then you present to those people and they may have the exact ideas to get you going further.
- What the heck is a podcamp? I used to spend a lot of time trying to explain this to people. I’m not sure I should bother that much any more. It’s just a thing about social media that a lot of people love. The reason people love it (I think) is because they are invested in it. So they care about what you need and want to try and give it to you whatever that is. It’s about sharing and learning and eating and playing and friending and following and a bunch of other things. Godspeed to all of you!
- More video! We could use more people dedicated to recording and streaming podcamp presentations. This takes a large amount of work, but would be more than worth it. Unfortunately, I think we need to reach out again to the podcasting community to help make this happen!