pCampNYC: Kudos, controversy, and ideas for future pCamps


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Well I have half recovered from PCampNYC. In a sentence: 8am start, an energizing day of meeting, interacting, presenting,facilitating, and … yes, eating. I give huge kidos to the event organizers, especially for the following heroic accomplishments:

  • Keynote by Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO of Kodak. I personally found his talk inspiring. Some notes below. Congratulations to Debra Albert of Sequent Learning for scoring his speech.
  • Excellent Venue – the Down Town Association. Very old school club. For example, the mens’ washroom was about the size of your average restaurant in NYC, while the womens’ washroom (so I hear) was a single stall. I imagined I could still smell the pipe and cigar smoke.
  • Unconference done professionally: This team was very well organized. They had done their homework by talking to previous pCamp organizers.
  • 150 attendees: For an 8am on a Saturday in mid July, the turnout was great.
  • Great sessions. My personal favorite was Rich Mironov’s session on how Agile impacts Product Management. However there were several great looking topics that I check out to, but simply couldn’t because I was presenting or facilitating.
  • Lots of time and space for networking and digging into individual conversations
  • Drinks post conference.

Congratulations guys… well done. I give a lot of credit to Steven Haines and his team at Sequent Learning. As Hayzlett preached, they became “part of the story”, which helps their company without directly advertising. And they provided real value to an engaged group of people.

Controversy?

I was glad to hear that not everyone agreed with me about the points above, and had some interesting discussion/debate about certain aspects of the conference:

  • Structure vs. UNstructure: I heard the desire from a few people to have even less presentation material and more facilitated discussion. One of my fellow panelists in a session on innovation mentioned this desire. So we adjusted mid-stream in that session and turned it into a full-blown discussion. We solicited questions and issues from the audience, and tackled the topics together. There wasn’t really a defined “panel” or “audience” anymore, just a facilitated discussion among many smart people.
  • Keynote Content vs. Inspiration: IMO the keynote was awesome. Jeff Hayzlett was like a mix of Bill Clinton (ability to connect) and Lewis Black (dark humor and willing to say it). At dinner in the evening, we had a table-wide debate about the keynote. Several people said they found his talk to be “content-free”. Too oriented to PR. Too much about him and his ego. I disagreed and will write up what I took away from his talk.

Take-aways for future:

  • Always UNremember the UNconference UNstructure: We product and marketing types are used to actual conferences. We have to continually work at “UN”conferencing the conference. I thought pCampNYC did well at that. I heard others pushing for even less structure.
  • Forget great presenters: get great Facilitators! If you remove structure, you need GREAT facilitators. Group discussions without facilitation can be frustrating and lead nowhere. Great facilitators know how to set up the discussion, when to shift the topic, how to limit dominators, and when to get out of the way.
  • Keynote speaker matters: For me, the keynote speaker got things fired up. He was irreverant and high-profile. The stuff he talked about was larger than most people have dealt with before, but perhaps because Kodak is so visible as a company, I could relate.
  • Wifi and Twitter Tags: I was surprised that the twitter traffic was fairly low at the event. The organizers could have leveraged twitter. For example, if you are bored in a session but not ready to walk yet, check in on what’s going on in other rooms by checking the event feed … if others are tweeting, go find a session that sounds more interesting.
  • Session pitches: Word was that pCampNYC organizers heard from other pCamp organizers to NOT have session pitches… they drag out and consume valuable time. On the other hand, I am sure I missed some great sessions and presenters/facilitators because their topic wasn’t catchy enough. I also found myself in rooms with catchy title where the session leader was less than I expected. My advice: Have session pitches, but enforce a strict 30- or 60-second pitch policy. This would keep the time low but give people a sense of the session leader and the topic.
  • Food matters: Feed people and they will be happy.
  • Start time: This event started at 8am. Initially I found that to be rude. Some people were forced to come in from the suburbs on a 6:45am train. Ouch! However we had a lot of time for the event … so the early start had some advantages. In retrospect I’m mixed about start time, but I will confess that I was cursing all night Friday, and then moreso when my alarm went off Saturday morning. Maybe that’s why I liked Hayzlett so much … he cheered me up. I didn’t want content at that point … I wanted to wake up.
  • Cash bar after the event. ‘Nuff said.

OK Folks. I’m only in the city for about 6 more hours, so I’m going to get out and absorb some culture. I will write about some of the sessions in the next few days.

– Alan

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9 responses to “pCampNYC: Kudos, controversy, and ideas for future pCamps

  1. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I didn’t mind a cash bar given the price of admission. 🙂

    Another option might be to let people post online pitches before the event so you can come prepared to vote for what you want to see.

    • Hi Jason: just to be clear, I thought it was smart to do a cash bar too. No way did I expect free drinks! My point was simply that it is a good idea if possible to have a cash bar at an event like this. It encourages socializing, which is a huge part of the expeience.

      Re: posting pitches online and voting ahead of time. I should have mentioned that they had a brainshark site where presenters could do that. No online voting but that’s a good idea. My only caution would be that pre-voting would preclude spontaneous submissions. Also some speakers didn’t show up. There were not a lot of brainshark pitches which may mean the presenters (myself included!) need some prodding. If the pre-vote were definitive, maybe more pitches would show up!

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. Hi Alan! Thanks for taking the time to do this detailed review so instantly after ProductCampNYC. Boy, do I feel your pain about Friday night/Saturday morning, I got back from vacation late Friday night, so went into pcamp with about 4 hours sleep! But we powered through, and I also agree about Jeff, he was terrific. I think this is an excellent assessment of the event, and as a one of the organizers, thank you for terrific feedback that we will certainly incorporate into planning the next one.

  3. Jim Holland

    Alan – While I was not at the ProductCampNYC, I am experienced in ProductCamps and see an evolutionary process at each one. It’s great to hear, and read (thanks for the Tweets all) the content and insight.

    Not everyone will agree, and that’s okay. Personally, I enjoy the “less structured” approach as we all tend to be bombarded with sales and marketing in visible and not so visible ways each day.

    Keep up the good work all you NYC volunteers! I hope to make the next event. In the interim, there’s Austin and Seattle.

  4. Sounds like a great day. The cool thing about ProductCamp is that it has a different flavor each time, and in each city. I like that each camp learns from the last, and evolves its format slightly. For example, we’re starting the next Austin ProductCamp (our 3rd) at 9AM, based on this and feedback we had from our participants.

  5. Excellent summary. Thanks.

    I have to say first that I liked the keynote speech, and the speaker very much. I think Jeff Hayzlett makes for a great opener and really got our spirits going at 8:00 am (5:00 am for us west coasters!). I also agree it was somewhat rather “contentless,” or maybe there were no “aha” type insights in there that we’d be hoping to gather. Though there were some great catchy slogans, like “the worst thing your customers can say about your brand is, nothing.” Furthermore, the initiatives he did highlight left us questioning if Kodak is really investing its marketing resources for meaningful return. The website redesign is a good case in point, and so is the emphasis of product placements and celebrity endorsements. He did not highlight how these initiatives actually lead to greater sales of Kodak products. Instead, he talked about how much publicity Kodak gets.

    I’m glad he’s unapologetic for the actions he’s taken, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy what he does. Still, I don’t believe Kodak is the success story Mr. Hayzlett says it is. The stock is near its all time low, and it is among the bottom rung of companies that Moody’s ranks likely to file for bankruptcy this year. That aside, Kodak isn’t going out of business tomorrow, but the brand still has a lot of work to become vibrant again. It’ll take more than just a charismatic CMO, who has had a surprisingly lengthy tenure, given that the average CMO tenure is somewhat below 22 months.

    Just my two-cents.

    Jess

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