Minnebar is the Twin Cities annual Tech Industry BarCamp. It was, and continues to be, a great event but has started to lose some of the elements that made it so great in the first place. In this post I’ll explain ideas that can help Minnebar keep its edge.

What should a BarCamp be like

My first experience at Minnebar was a few years ago. I remember speakers inviting their audience for input, great discussion developing from the crowd and conversations with other participants spilling into the halls between sessions. What I loved about Minnebar is it exploits some of the universal truisms I’ve found with great tech conferences. These are:

  • The brainpower in the seats is greater than the brainpower on stage.
  • The conversations in the hallway between sessions are more valuable than the sessions themselves.

Minnebar gets smart people conversing about things they’re passionate about. This is the best environment to learn from.

So what’s the problem, exactly?

Minnebar has gotten big. The organizers do a tremendous job putting it all together. The problem is we’re fighting human psychology. The grass roots effort needed to bring out the best in group sessions have a harder time scaling to this many people. It’s easy to generate discussion with 10 people in the room. But many of the session at Minnebar last year had over 50 participants. This makes it much easier to fall into the standard “presenter talks and the audience listens” paradigm. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it goes against the goal of BarCamps.

So what can we do to help?

  • Invite other experts to your session. Encourage them to share their approaches to problems you’re facing (or think you have a solution to).
  • Ask your audience questions. This encourage the kind of discussions that carry out into the halls. You don’t need to have the answer for everything you talk about, or solve everything right there.
  • Leave room for, and encourage, questions from the crowd. Few things facilitate discussion like a good question, but big crowds discourage them. The only thing worse than feeling dumb, is feeling dumb in front of 50 people. If the speaker doesn’t make it OK to ask a question, they won’t get asked.

So are you taking your own advice?

I’ll be talking about Unit Testing on iOS. I didn’t choose the subject because I wanted to dazzle a crowd with my brilliance for 40 minutes. I chose it because I’ve been doing some cool stuff and want to compare notes with others who’ve been doing similar things. One of those people is Adam May – who I haven’t actually met yet. If you come, please ask questions and be willing share your own experience. I hope we’ll be talking in the halls far into the next session.

Also published on Medium.