This is a short post, but the topic sparked a ton of ideas for future research and experimentation at upcoming events.
Today, in “The Year Without Pants,” a book about Automattic, WordPress.com and the future of work, I read the following indictment of events wranglers by Scott Berkun, the book’s author.
“…Event planners crush curiosity under the weight of agendas, topics, lists, working groups and exercises…The nonmakers [i.e. event planners] are in charge of the makers and insist on spending the off-site [meetup] not making anything…”
A few pages later Scott says:
“…Working together online had been fine so far, but being in the same room together gave us a new energy. This was exactly what these [Automattic team] meetups were meant to achieve: for us to learn things about working together we could reuse the rest of the year when working apart…”
Those two perspectives about event planners and about meetups caused me to re-examine what my role and goals as an events wrangler should be at an unconference, at a civic hackathon, at an Automattic event, and at other future events. I’d like to think we’ve done a decent job of not “crushing curiousity” at the unconferences and hackathons I’ve been involved with. But maybe I just didn’t “see” or “hear” what the other participants did…
What this says to me is that the role of an Events Wrangler at Automattic Grand Meetups is to ensure developers and designers have a meetup environment that will best help them build what their team decides to make during that week. Reliable and fast internet access would be a big need for most of them. Good food and sleeping accommodations at any time of day or night might be another one. Good meeting areas for teams to work together in — not necessarily just at the hotel or resort that everyone is staying at, but maybe a few scattered locations within walking distance. It might also be helpful to have information about fun or strange local points of interest, for those times when teams take breaks from working. Lots of other ways to help makers make, depending on what kind of makers and what they’re making…
I guess the key to having a meetup or event that is worthwhile for the participants is to figure out who the “makers” are, and what they’d like to accomplish / build / create during the event. Then you need to determine how to best help them achieve their goals so they feel their time at the event wasn’t wasted.
The other take-away from reading that portion of “The Year Without Pants” is that I need to identify a group of facilitators and events wranglers who excel in participant-focused meetups. I’ve read about and exchanged emails with a few people who seem to fit that description, but I’ve never worked with them. My goal for future events I help organize is to somehow get people involved with the events who are highly effective at creating personal engagement for participants.
Thanks, Scott! Lots to think about right now.
On a side note, when I mentioned to my sister what Scott said about event planners, she wholeheartedly agreed. She said she very seldom enjoys what the event planners have arranged, and thought there should be a better way to run things so people’s time isn’t mostly wasted at events! 🙂