Paul M Furley

Bar Camp for Beginners

A few weekends ago I went to Bar Camp Manchester - my first one. I had no expectations and, to be honest, I only skimmed the FAQs before I left and not a lot else. This post is for Bar Camp Beginners - like me - to guide you on how to get the most out of a BarCamp.

The first surprise was the evening before when I read that everyone was encouraged to prepare a 25 minute talk. It was a bit late so unfortunately I fell at the first hurdle. During the introductions on Saturday morning I learned that Bar Camp is completely participatory - there are no keynotes, no superstars, and everyone has equal rights to run a session. How this works is that there’s a board with a timetable along the bottom and the different rooms along the side. Each room has a different capacity so you can choose to do a big session or a more intimate discussion-type session. You choose what to attend and there’s a cultural understanding that it’s OK to leave a session.

I quickly realised that sessions didn’t have to be polished or flashy - in fact some of the best ones were completely unprepared and were more of a discussion group than a speech. Although I enjoy giving talks, this approach seems great to me as it lowers the barrier and stress for people who might not have spoken before.

Ultimately I gave two talks on two things I find interesting - Information Hiding and Building with Straw Bales. These two talks couldn’t have been more different but they were warmly received with excellent questions and the atmosphere was open-minded and supportive.

Inside a beautiful straw bale house

Inside a Beautiful Straw Bale House

My recommendation for Bar Camp beginners, then, is to identify something you’re interested in and sketch out a rough talk. If you aren’t confident to do a talk, think of some discussion points and let others contribute.

Further, the whole concept of Bar Camp is about participation. If you know a good evening game or activity, suggest it! Get involved, take the lead, and see what happens. Bar Camp is all about the democratic community - and the official organisers will appreciate the help too.

Most of all: bring an open mind, get involved, ask lots of questions and enjoy yourself.