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It’s been more than a day since Gnomedex 8.0—the brainchild of Chris Pirillo which has served as a meetup for "the world’s leading bloggers, podcasters, and tech-savvy enthusiasts" for eight years—has come to a close. And I’m still struggling for an analogy to convey what I just experienced.
I really don’t know.
Whatever the analogy, there are very few words in the English language that can describe it. So I’m just going to settle for "amazing."
From the effort Chris and Ponzi Pirillo put into the event, to the help of family and friends, to the depth of content, to the variety of speakers, to the emotional rollercoaster. Amazing.
And it dawned on me that—while I may utterly fail at describing exactly what the event was like—there was something I took away. Something I learned. And that something was "how to successfully craft an event."
So I thought I would share some of these tips for creating an amazing conference that you can use should you have the opportunity to put one of these things together.
Like Gnomedex 8.0, every conference should:
- Start with photography tips. I am convinced that Kris Krug spending 15 minutes with the crowd at the outset of the conference resulted in one of the most well photographed conferences I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend.
- Have someone from NASA speak. I mean, sure, not everyone is going to have access to the guy who drives the Mars Rover, but still. Having someone from NASA puts an interesting perspective on the applications of technology and your place in the world. (What’s more, he received only the second standing ovation in Gnomedex history.)
- Makes sure you has plenty of teh LOLcats. Even if you can’t get Ben Huh to speak, make sure the speakers are aware of LOLcats for a surefire presentation chuckle. I mean, even the NASA guy used one.
- Do something for the social good. One of the most touching moments of the entire conference was Beth Kanter’s challenge to the crowd to help her raise money for a Cambodian woman’s education before the conference ended. She reached her goal in less than two hours. Every conference should try to accomplish something similar.
- Flirt with controversy. Without question, one of the most anticipated talks of the conference was Sarah Lacy‘s. And even though it was dismissed as "something we’ve talked to death," we still kept discussing it—rather heatedly—for an hour. And then we kept talking about it throughout the rest of the conference.
- Throw some Ignite-format presentations into the mix. Long-format presentations are great, but nothing breaks up a series of presentations more than having some folks giving rapid presentations in the Ignite format—20 slides at 15 seconds a slide. The Ignite Seattle and Ignite Portland talks proved that you can convey a great deal of information in 5 minutes.
- Hope that some attendees have a well-publicized road trip. One of the most interesting "road to Gnomedex" stories was the Iterasi school bus that hauled a bunch of Portland and Vancouver people up to the event. If every other Portland person was like me, "did you come up on the bus?" was a common ice-breaker.
- Always make time for attendees to talk. This seems obvious, but it’s overlooked far too often. One of the things that makes Gnomedex so interesting is the conversation that follows the presentations (see "controversy" above). And those conversations always lead to other conversations. And other conversations. And more content, like the podcast that Sarah Lacy and Amber Case planned the very first night of the event.
- Bonus tip: Talk about Cyborgs. If you’ve got a geek conference, any chance to reference SkyNet will definitely drive home a point. And from cyborg inspired art to cyborg anthropology, the undercurrent of cyborg concepts was alive and well at this conference—and sparked some interesting conversations.
So that’s my "what I learned in summer camp" review of Gnomedex, its format, and maybe a glimpse into why it was such a resounding success. If you attended and took something else away, I’d love to hear it. If you didn’t get the chance to attend, I hope to see you there, next year.
Rick Turoczy is one of the CenterNetworks Experts and he writes for the Silicon Florist, a blog covering under-the-RADAR start-ups, blogs, and events in Portland, Oregon, and the Silicon Forest. He can be reached, most readily, via Twitter.