I very much enjoyed attending Local Gov Camp North West last weekend. Although it was attended by fewer people than other unconferences I’ve been to (due to people crying off for fear the impending snowpocalypse would leave them stranded in northern wastelands; I mean Preston), this meant it was a more intimate event, the smaller groups allowing everyone a chance to speak more. I curated lots of links tweeted during the event, using Pinboard.
With some attendees also leaving early as news of snowbound roads and delayed trains filtered through to us, it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to fill the final hour’s worth of breakout sessions. This gave me the chance to propose trying something I’ve wanted to do at a GovCamp since experiencing them at GLAMCamp Amsterdam last December: lightning talks.
The three-day GLAMCamp event had one hour of such talks scheduled, but they proved so popular that it was agreed to set aside another two. Anyone who had an idea to pitch, a story to share or a problem they wanted help to solve, could speak for a maximum of five minutes (less if that was all they needed), but unlike most unconference sessions, they could speak to most of the attendees at once.
Because the lightning talks were only a few minutes long, there wasn’t really time for people to grow bored if a particular talk wasn’t relevant to them, and they could always check their mail or social media, grab a drink or take a comfort break if they did. I gave a quick, inpromptu talk on my deployment of microformats on Wikipedia. Many people, who wouldn’t have elected to come to a full session on the topic, told me they found it useful.
I’m glad to say people at #LocalGovCampNW (as we hash-tagged it) readily accepted my proposal and am grateful for that, and their participation. We restricted the talks to just three minutes (I was ruthless with my stopwatch app), and despite people having had little time to prepare (which I think was a disadvantage), and no use of Powerpoint (unlike at GLAMcamp), we managed to cover several topics in about 20 minutes, ranging from SMS alerts to data visualisation and from promoting an upcoming event, the Eureka Festival of Resources, to my talk on BrewCamp. While some talks were curtailed after the allotted time, conversations could be and were continued afterwards, and online; the interested participants having had the opportunity to identify one another.
Daniel Goodwin, Chief Executive of St Albans City & District Council, said they “provided an interesting insight into people’s concerns“.
Why not try a session of lightning talks at your next unconference?