Registration.  Name tags.  Sign-in sheets. Driving directions.  Hotels. Free stuff.  Business cards.  Does this remind you of anything?  If you attended PodCamp Philly 2011 this past weekend at Temple University, then this is all still fresh in your mind.

PodCamp is a BarCamp-style unconference where people come together to share and learn about new media such as blogging, social media, podcasting, social networking, and videocasting.  The first PodCamp was held in Boston, Massachusetts in 2006 and today enthusiasts can catch it in cities around the world such as New York, Montreal, London, Toronto and Barcelona.  PodCamp is open to everyone – experts and novice alike.

At the event this past weekend, I spoke at one session entitled Bootstrapping 101 – Using Social Media To Innovatively Optimize Your Bottom Line.  You can see a little more about the session here.  The audience was great – interactive, curious and very willing to share information with each other.  So I left my own session with a number of takeaways, thanks to them!

With so much energy and the free-flow of knowledge, unconferences such as PodCamp are packed with advantages. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits, whether you’re attending for yourself or your business.

1. Networking – This is not a day that attendees want to forget their business cards; but with laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices welcome, it is easy to keep up with the professionals, small businesses owners, bloggers, and other content creators you’ll make connections with.

2. Best practices – As you learn from speakers and participate in discussions, you’ll get insight on how your company can better improve processes and workflow.

3. Teambuilding – These events are a lot of fun if you go with a big group because you can decide which sessions members of your group will attend and debrief to share the main ideas after.  With familiar faces around, you’re bound to have a good time.

4. Increase awareness – Nothing is worse than being out of the loop.  Sitting through the various sessions broadens your knowledge and gets you up to speed with the latest and greatest.  You’ll learn what else is out there, what others are doing, and how they’re doing it.

5. Leveraging technology and tools – Because you have the latest gadget or you’re using the newest social media tool doesn’t make you an expert.  You can get tips and tricks to better use your time and become more efficient with these tools.

6. Take the pulse of the market – Do you have a great product or service idea?  What better place to find out if it will have traction than a weekend full of energetic and opinionated people?  Maximize their feedback.

7. Branding – With the opportunity to speak and share your insight during interactive sessions, you can promote your business and position yourself as an expert and thought leader.

8. Training – Some sessions will be very specific with step-by-step guides.   This is a great way to get a crash course for yourself or your team.

9. Big picture analysis – With so many passionate people and ideas floating around, you will leave revitalized and inspired.  It is a great opportunity to take some time to reflect and rethink your overall personal or business strategy.

10. Give back and share – This isn’t all about your takeaways and what you learn.  Add value to someone else’s experience by sharing what you know.

11. Take online relationships offline.  Social media is great because of its reach and the fact that geographic location doesn’t limit who you interact with.  But nothing beats a face-to-face connection which is possible if you plan to meet up with others ahead of time.

12. Take a break, get energized and have fun!  Yes, this is what it is all about.  A community of movers and shakers who want to make a difference is bound to be magnetic!

What is your experience with unconferences?  How have they benefited you?


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