Community Organized Events, Unconferences and BarCamps

Photo by Selena Marie

Photo by Selena Marie

In previous posts, I’ve talked about attending local events and meetups or scheduling new ones if you can’t find any that meet your needs. In this post, I wanted to talk about something bigger than the typical meetup: community-organized events. BarCamps, unconferences, and similar events have been popping up all over the world in increasing frequency. I’m an organizer for the local BarCamp in Portland, and I have attended many of these types of events. I’m planning to attend BarCampAustin this weekend, which is running in parallel with SXSW.

The organization of these events is very different from typical commercial events. While commercial events tend to be organized by professional organizers who are being paid to produce the conference, community organized events are often organized by unpaid volunteers from the community who are passionate about the topic. Both types of events have their strengths and weaknesses and their place in the industry, but both are also very different in both organization and attendance.

Attendance

I have noticed that many organizers and a high percentage of attendees of BarCamps tend to be web workers. Maybe web workers tend to enjoy the self-organizing format and are passionate enough about their work to attend these events, many of which are held on weekends. Since many of us are self-employed, the free or very low cost nature of unconferences may appeal to those of us who don’t have a big company’s training budget to pay for the more expensive events.

Organization

Community organized events come with a special set of challenges for organizers, including:

  • Putting together a really solid team of people who can meet deliverables and commit the time to organize the event without getting paid.
  • Dealing with sponsorships and other monetary contributions by partnering with or forming a legal entity to handle the money.
  • Finding sponsors or other contributions to fund event expenses.
  • Budgeting for the event and dealing with unexpected costs.
  • Estimating attendance and finding an affordable venue with a space that works well for your needs (unconferences have different needs than traditional conferences).
  • Promoting the event to make sure that the right people know about it.

I frequently attend both “traditional” commercial conferences and community events, and my preference is starting to drift toward community events. I feel like I get a broader perspective, and I seem to learn more at community events. I would love to hear more about your experiences with community events, including advantages and disadvantages, and challenges and opportunities.

What is your experience with attending or organizing community organized events?

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