Tuesday, April 9, 2013

8th Annual MinneBar “Unconference” a Hit

This Saturday I attended the 8th annual MinneBar conference held at the Best Buy Corporate Headquarters in Richfield. With over 80 panels, presentations, and sessions on technology and software scheduled in 50-minute intervals across the span of eight hours, and what was rumored to be over 900 attendees, there’s no doubt the organizers – and attendees – considered the conference an unqualified success. 

Actually, the event is touted as a “Bar Camp,” or an “unconference” – terms I was not familiar with before Saturday. I have to admit, the loose plans for the event (anyone and everyone can sign up to present, and we weren’t given the schedule of sessions until less than a day prior to the start time) was initially a bit off-putting. However, from the moment I walked in, I noticed an energy and excitement that are not typically present at a traditional conference. 

Apparently the idea for the “open space” format of unconferences was first developed in the mid-1980s by a man named Harrison Owen, though some compare the experience to science fiction conventions that have been held since the 1930s. The key characteristics dictate that an agenda is created by the attendees upon arrival rather than prior to the event, and anyone who wants to sponsor a discussion on a topic can set up a time and a space. The open discussion format works best when attendees are highly knowledgeable and experienced in the field around which the conference is centered. The term “unconference” wasn’t first officially used until almost 2000, and was popularized in the context of the BloggerCon convention first held in 2003. The phrase “Bar Camp” is a related term, referencing more specifically open-to-the-public forums centered around technology and the internet. 

I was ultimately convinced that there is no better format to use for an entrepreneurial, unconventional crowd (pun intended). MinneBar’s website promoted the feel for this event, stating on their website that no “spectators” were allowed – only participants. The event was free for anyone to attend or make a presentation. And while we were somewhat nervous about who would show up to our law firm presentations on technology agreements and intellectual property basics, the first session, at least, had over 50 attendees, including those sitting on the floor and standing in the doorway. They were even kind enough to laugh at our jokes relating to source code (“Why would we need that if we’re buying a new software system and the vendor will soon be going out of business?”) and Lotus 1-2-3

In fact, even the location for the event – the Best Buy corporate headquarters – catered to the entrepreneurial crowd and the unconference vibe. Despite obviously being a fortune 500 company with a 1.4-million-square-foot corporate headquarters, Best Buy is decidedly hip. Having worked there for two years in the mid-2000s, I was reminded upon returning that the company embraces its humble beginnings with a huge memorial wall, and its playful attitude with a large gaming area complete with multiple video game stations, pin ball, and a pool table. And as we’ve all seen in the news in recent weeks, Best Buy’s original founder is returning to the helm of the company, proving that no matter how big you get, an entrepreneurial spirit and founder attitude may be the best thing for a company, even one with annual revenue of close to $50 billion

Needless to say, I have no doubt that the “conference” I will be most looking forward to in 2014 won’t be a conference at all. I will definitely be a participant in next year’s MinneBar!

A Post by Karen Wenzel, Guest Blogger

No comments :

Post a Comment