Managing People the Un-Way

Organizing an UnConference may seem like a simple thing. Open Source. Group Participation. Everyone working towards a common goal. But in reality, it’s just as complicated as organizing a “real” conference- only it’s done by volunteers who also have real jobs to do, and have decided this is important enough to do “on the side”.

I have helped organize Podcamp NYC 1.0 & 2.0; Podcamp Philly as lead organizer, and Podcamp Boston 2.0.  Hopefully, I am building up some expertise in this area, along with experience.  I need to say a few things about working with people to put on an event like this, so here it goes.

1. Just because it is an unconference does not mean it doesn’t take time and dedication to organize.  Real people still have to arrange every detail from registration, to badges, to logistics, to trying to make sure all speakers and attendees have all the information they need, from hotels to transportation options.  The bigger the conference gets, the more of this is required.  And this doesn’t count making sure there are sponsors, tables, wi-fi, press releases, and eating options for everyone, even if the event is not catered.  It’s like planning a wedding, only you don’t get any presents.

2. Your procrastination should not become the organizer’s problem.  I appreciate that in the free flow of the unconference world, last minute is usually par for the course.  But as unconferences become oversized, last minute no longer works in the same way.   Sessions are being assigned to rooms.  Schedules are being put out so people can plan their day.  It’s no longer a backyard bbq that you “forgot” to RSVP to, it’s a huge event requiring advanced planning, with each additional person costing money in terms of swag and other amenities.

This means that if you come at the last minute, you might not get swag.  This means if you “forgot” to put your session on the wiki, well, you don’t get a chance to speak.  We can’t bump people who were polite and thought ahead in favor of those who wait until the last possible second to commit, no matter who you are or how special you are.  There was plenty of time.  Your procrastination is not our problem – it’s yours.

3. If you do commit to help, speak, or do something, then do it.  Other people are relying on you being good to your word.  This is a life law, as far as I am concerned- if you say you are going to do something, follow through.  Simple.  Easy.  Direct. Now there are always times when you have to change plans, or can’t follow through- in such a case, let someone else on the team know about it ASAP so they can adjust accordingly.  I have tried my hardest to develop a reputation for follwing through and doing what I say I am going to- you could bank on that.  Should problems develop, I try to be open and honest about that, too.  I expect the same from others.

4. If you don’t pull your weight, it makes more work for others.  Organizers should not have to chase down  speakers, attendees, or the like to confirm attendance.  If you get an email asking you for information, be kind and responsible and answer it, even if the answer is “Can I get back to you about this in a few days?”  Some answer is better than none at all.  Likewise, solve as many of your problems on your own first; I suggest the rule my kid’s 3rd grade teacher used- Ask Three Before Me.  If you can’t get the answer from the crowd, then take it up with an organizer, but not before.

Thanks for listening.

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