How to Run a Great Barcamp or Unconference

My friend, client and former boss Joe Drumgoole is helping to organize BarCamp Ireland 3.0 (and here’s the blog). We’ve signed on to sponsor the event, and we’re planning on making it to Europe in time to attend and participate.
I helped to organize BarCamp Vancouver last August, and of course we’re organizers for Northern Voice, now in its third year and bigger than ever.

Joe asked me for some advice on organizing an unconference, and here’s what I wrote. They’re eleven slightly random points, but I figured I’d post them as they might prove useful to other organizers around the globe:

Despite it being an ‘unconference’, where everybody’s all groovy and doing their own thing, you still need a few people to be dogged organizers and keep things running smoothly. Specifically, you need to make sure sessions start and end on time. This is an unpopular but fairly essential job.
On a similar note, you should definitely do an email out to all attendees a few days before the event. Not everyone’s going to be watching the wiki or blog, and the email can cover everything they need to know. Here’s a copy of the email I wrote for Barcamp Vancouver. This is particularly handy if you’ve filled up and want to get people on and off the waitlist.
If more than two people are organizing the event, you’ll need some permanent, ideally public place to have online conversations about planning. For BarCamp Vancouver, we used a public Google Group.
You should be able to borrow projectors from participants. They’re expensive to rent.
We served pizza because it was fast, easy and delivered. Mind you, I can’t remember if pizza delivery exists as a service in Dublin.
Put something clever on the front of the t-shirts, and the sponsor logos on the back. Gathering sponsor logos can be a pain, but they appreciate it as a persistent, tangible benefit.
Let people vote on the t-shirt colour. It sounds trivial, but people care more than you think. If you run a survey where people can vote, you can blame the wisdom of crowds when people complain about the shirt.
This one is obvious (and, I think, a tenent of BarCamp), but do the scheduling first thing in the morning with everybody standing in front of the scheduling board. Use post-its and butcher’s paper for the board, so that it can be changed on the fly. Don’t try to maintain a parallel electronic version of the schedule. Here’s what our schedule looked like.
Leave some time for networking in the schedule.
It helps if the volunteers and organizers are wearing the t-shirts all day. That way other people know who to go to with questions.
If you’ve got an ‘open concept’ space for the conference (I don’t remember how open the Digital Hub is), take real care where you position the speakers, audiences and neutral (for food and chatting) spaces. This is more important than it sounds.
Tags: barcamp, unconference, Vancouver, Dublin


How to Run an Unconference | 20 Bedford Way


[…] paper and pens, however, this gets in the way of scheduling.  As Darren Barefoot points out in his article for Capulet – “Don’t try to maintain a parallel electronic version of the […]

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