An Insider’s View from the Podcamp “Unconference”

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So what’s a “PodCamp?” Where Apple employees or cheesy sci-fi horror extras take their summer vacation?

Nope. Originating from the BarCamp movement, PodCamp is an informal, “Unconference” conference where people who are passionate about podcasting/videocasting/social and new media gather to share ideas, network, and eat lots of snacks.

How does it work?

• If you want to go, you register for free and show up.
• If you want to talk, you list your session and get your room location when you show up.
• Show up.

So far this may sound relatively disorganized in nature, but in my experience the opposite is true. I first discovered Podcamp through Chris Brogan, the charismatic (yet poignantly humble) co-organizer of Podcamp Boston that took place September 9th-10th at Bunker Hill Community College. Through my work as the About.com Guide to Podcasting, I continued to read about Podcamp on multiple podcaster/videocaster’s blogs that directed me to a wiki page where I realized I could sign up to speak without having to be asked.

Who’s there?

You see, at Podcamp you’re a “participant” rather than an “attendee.” And this isn’t an issue of semantics—it’s a central philosophy. Rather than receive a packet of materials, find your seat, and zone while a speaker regales you with their powerpoint presentation or witty business quips, (not a bad thing if you’re in the mood, to be fair) at Podcamp sessions are discussions rather than monologues. At Podcamp this feeling was facilitated by the fact that many sessions were held in classrooms where fifty people were standing-room-only to hear new media luminaries like Mitch Joel or C.C. Chapman discuss how to brand yourself as a podcaster or Matthew Snodgrass and David Kawalec from Porter Novelli instruct a rapt audience on “How to make cents out of podcasting.”

Plus the crew from Rocketboom was on hand doing interviews even Jeff Pulver, co-founder of Vonage, showed up to buy drinks for fellow pod-ticipants the night before the VON conference. The next day he came to podcamp and signed up to give a session.

If it seems like I’m name-dropping to build credibility, great. And I’ll continue to do so but not in the way that you think. Also at Podcamp was Whitney S. Hoffman whose LD Podcast features parents of kids with learning disabilities counseling other parents of kids with disabilities. Plus there was Bill Baue, an aggressive hand-raiser and passionate advocate of socially responsible living whose Corporate Watchdog Radio keeps corporate on their toes. And a gaggle (if 350 people constitutes said gaggle) of other podcasters/videocasters, new and social media experts/advocates plus hardware and software gurus that presented a who’s who of leading tech/new media bloggers today.

No food chain to climb

And we were all on the same playing field. Skip the top-down approach; there wasn’t even a top at all. You were a keynote speaker if you had an audience of one. Your session was “worthy” to attend if your title put butts in seats and your message kept people from exercising the “law of two feet” (which states you’re ‘allowed’ to leave if a topic loses your interest).

In other words, Podcamp broke the constraints of business niceties where they didn’t serve the purpose of bringing value to each and every participant in an active and engaging fashion. I was enthralled. And challenged. And at times, intimidated. Although people were utterly kind, polite, and essentially giddy with brainstorm bonhomie, I was still poignantly aware that the combined I.Q. and mindshare swirling about could seriously kick my cerebral cortex.

But I was invited to come. Everyone’s invited to come. And it’s free. The price you pay for admission is simply the willingness to participate.

Meritocracy versus money mentality

Intrigued yet? If not, remember an important fact if you work in the tech or business world in general. The people at Podcamp (both the one in Boston plus the one I’m organizing in New York for the first weekend in April ’07) constitute the nucleus of the thriving web 2.0 world bubbling beneath the surface of modern media. Do you create hardware/software? I guarantee people at Podcamp have tried or are using it and I hope for your sake you’re listening to their feedback. Because the one thing Podcampers won’t brook is BS (business speak; seriously).

“Corporatese” from press releases or hyperbolic glossies mean nothing in a world where transparency denotes truthfulness and value is something you provide before relationships are made. The fire at this Podcamp comes from the passion to create, collaborate, and mobilize around shared passions that can change the world one blog, business, or body at a time.

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