SpinWeb is an Indianapolis-based digital agency, specializing in enterprise website design & digital marketing

Encourage Innovation With a BarCamp

Michael Reynolds

Posted by Michael Reynolds on 11/13/12 2:13 PM

PresenterInnovation is something that a lot of organizations try to create. The inspiration for innovation can often come in the form of workshops, conferences, books, and other exercises and can be a great way to "shake things up" a little.

At SpinWeb, we shook things up a little by doing a BarCamp. Last week we set up shop at the Speak Easy and did a series of informal presentations that helped the team collaborate and learn new things.

It was the first of hopefully many BarCamps at SpinWeb and it was a good time for all and was a nice laid-back way to get to know each other better and bring some innovative ideas to our team.

So what's a BarCamp? It's basically an unstructured conference. In a typical conference, there is a set agenda, a list of speakers (keynote, breakout, etc.) and a very structured schedule that is planned far in advance. A BarCamp, however, is designed to be much more free-form. The date and time is set but there is no formal agenda and no pre-set speakers. Attendees arrive with topics they would like to present on and the schedule is set up on the fly by writing presentation titles on a whiteboard. The crowd then votes on topics and the schedule is set by the moderator based on most popular topics.

At a BarCamp, attendee participation is encouraged and the result is typically short, informal presentations followed by facilitated group discussion.

While we were only conducting an internal event just for our team, we followed the BarCamp mindset and ended up with some interesting topics:

  • "How to Customize Facebook Calls to Action" - Stephanie Fisher
  • "Responsive Website Design" - Sam McKinney
  • "Get to Know Your Personality" - Josh Brammer
  • "The Wonderful World of Essential Oils" - Allison Gibbs
  • "10 Things You (Probably) Don't Know About Your New Co-worker" - Serena Acker
  • "Stress Management with Getting Things Done" - Josh Brammer
  • "Google AuthorRank and Why It's a Big Deal for Your SEO Efforts" - Michael Reynolds
  • "5 Tips for Planning Better" - Josh Brammer

As you can see, our topics ranged from marketing to technology to wellness to productivity and more. Our team members were encouraged to present on literally anything they wanted to.

I can't speak for everyone but I came way with some great ideas and inspiration in quite a few different areas. Josh gave me a much-needed kick in the butt that made me realize that I had been letting my productivity system flounder for a while and therefore was not getting much done. I promptly fixed it and my stress level is already much lower. Sam helped us all see the value in responsive design and we have a plan for making it more of a standard on future projects. Allison gave me some very cool tips on using essential oils for common health issues. Preparing my own presentation helped me get an even deeper understanding of Google AuthorRank which will help us get ahead as this new SEO factor rolls out.

So can your organization benefit from a BarCamp? Perhaps! Here are the guidelines:

  1. Set up a one-day event for the BarCamp (we like Fridays)
  2. Choose an off-site location (preferably someplace fun and not-stuffy) so you're not tempted to slip back into "work mode"
  3. Don't force anyone to present but encourage everyone to come to the meeting with at least one presentation prepared
  4. Keep it free-form — presenters can use slide decks, handouts, live demos, or no props at all
  5. Encourage team members to present on literally anything at all
  6. Presentation length should be about 20 minutes
  7. The moderator writes topics on a whiteboard and the team decides what order to go in
  8. Keep timing and agenda loose and flexible
  9. Be supportive and attentive to whoever is presenting
  10. Have fun!

Let us know if you have done something like this in your organization or if you plan to. It's a nice way to shake things up a bit and help everyone not only learn more about each other, but pick some up new tips and skills.

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