VizThink Wrapup: The Conference in General

So here it is, almost a week later now – the VizThink conference is wrapped up and everyone has headed home. I’m surprised with how much enthusiasm has stuck with me. Conferences tend to be a happy, friendly place in general but VizThink just had that extra *spark*.

When people have asked how it was I’ve described it as feeling like a three-day long BarCamp where everyone is engaged & interacting. It’s even more impressive when you consider the make up of the conference.

Throughout the event Tom Crawford, CEO of VizThink and the event’s emcee of sorts, was surveying the crowd (“Hands up if you…”). Surprisingly, less than half the people there would actually say they could draw (Dave Gray fixed that right off the bat with his “How to Draw” general session). In terms of typical jobs etc. there just weren’t any – the mix ran from independent contractors, entrepreneurs, graphic facilitators, consultants right on up to VPs with long titles from huge corporations.

For me personally the conference met and exceeded every expectation I had for it – though I think the truth is no one really knew what to expect.

What worked…

Long Sessions – The format was great – when I first saw the 90 minute session lengths I was a bit concerned (especially as I had to fill one of those blocks personally) – would presenters have a hard time filling the time? Would attendees zone out?

The reality was 90 minutes was just long enough. I got the general impression from most facilitators that we all could have easily filled two hours if we’d had too (I had my group hustling at each step and I just barely finished six seconds over).

General Sessions – I was also worried about the number of big general sessions. The conference format was basically:

AM
90min General Session
30min Break
90min Breakout Sessions (8 tracks)

60min Lunch

PM
90min Breakout Sessions
30min Break
90-120min General Session

At most conferences I’ve been to in the past the general sessions were usually affairs where about halfway through you were looking around the tables for tools you might be able to use to subtly off yourself with. Not so at VizThink – Tom did a great job getting people or panels together that were entertaining and informative.

Paper on the Tables – Every flat surface in the place was covered with paper tablecloths. It took people a little while to revert back to their five-year old self and start drawing on the tables but once they did it became a great work surface during the conference. On Monday night as I was leaving the ballroom I saw two guys deep in conversation with their ideas scrawled out over 90% of the table. I suspect next time around we’ll see more facilitators working the tables into their sessions.

Atmosphere – What any of us who attended will have the hardest time conveying to you is the energy in the room for those two days. I don’t think I saw a single wallflower the whole time – as I said before people were engaged & interacting from the first moment. It just worked. A lot of people were stepping out of their day-to-day shells and really getting into the flow and it was great to see.

What didn’t work…
None of these are really complaints – if Tom & co. ran exactly the same format in exactly the same way next year I’d be back again in a heartbeat. This is just your average ordinary feedback:

Tables – One or two fewer chairs at every table. The conference had ten seat round tables in every room. The size of the tables was perfect but they also had ten chairs around them. The reality was they were too crowded. By the time you got everyone at the table and trying to draw etc. there was just no way 10 people would ever actually fit at the table. As a result, everywhere you looked the tenth chair (and occasionally even the ninth) was almost always pushed away from the table into whatever free space people could find. Ten-top tables with eight chairs would be ideal.

Break Lengths – The break lengths were tough. More and more people are finding much more value in the hallway conversations. There were a lot of great hallway conversation opportunities but I always felt rushed as sessions were typically running a little over and there was enough demand for upcoming sessions that the pull really was to get in early & stay late. As a result the 30min interludes often flew by – giving you enough time to pick up your stuff, move rooms, find a spot, hit the washroom and, if you were lucky, give a friendly nod to a couple of people as you passed them in the hall.

I don’t know how you stretch them without losing valuable session time – maybe start at 8:30 instead of 9:00 and add 15 minutes to each of the breaks in the middle of the day.

Computers – This isn’t even something that didn’t work in a negative sense it’s really just an observation. Before the conference I helped Tom with setting up a VizThink twitter account (http://twitter.com/VizThink) and a public VizThink Skype chat to hopefully act as a bit of a backchannel for the event. The reality though is there just wasn’t time, or the desire, to crack open a laptop during the conference. During some of the general sessions I’d open mine for a few minutes but not for long. Laptops were out a lot during the breaks but most people put them away as soon as the session started. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues – I think both the Twitter & Skype solutions will be useful for the between conference times but at the conference? Not sure.

In Conclusion
All in all, a great, great conference. Huge kudos to Tom and his team for pulling it off. Registrations were just shy of 400 for this go round and I suspect we’ll see a lot of growth next year for the second North American conference.

At the end of the conference Tom also “announced” that a VizThink Europe is in the works. Right now it’s looking like a September/October time frame and it will likely be held in Geneva. Watch the VizThink blog for more details, and of course I’ll post info here once Tom announces some firm dates/details.

This was also a huge event for the local communities. I’ll have more detail in my session follow-up post but it looks like we’ll have more than a few VizThink regional events running in the coming months. I’ve had people from Seattle, Mountain View & London (they already registered the domain!) express serious interest in running events locally – if you’re interested in getting one going in your area please drop me a line!

As for VizThink Toronto – I’m working out some of the details but expect to hear an announcement around VizThink Toronto #6 in the coming week or so.

Off to VizThink (San Francisco)

In just a few hours I’m hopping on the plane to head down to San Francisco for the VizThink conference (blog)- starting tomorrow night and running through until Tuesday afternoon.

At last check over 350 people are registered including some of the best and brightest in the Visual Thinking space.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be facilitating a session on building visual thinking communities based on what I’ve learned in my involvement with both BarCamp/TorCamp and running five VizThink events last year. I’m looking forward to a few hours of solitude on the plane to finish off my presentation deck. The framework and content is all there, now I just need to pretty it up a bit (a daunting task considering the context of the conference).

From everything I’ve seen Tom Crawford and his team at VizThink HQ have done a great job getting ready for the event – I expect the actual event will be more of the same.

Connecting in SF / at VizThink
If you’re attending the event and are on twitter defenitely follow the VT08 account at http://twitter.com/VT08 – it’ll help you connect with other VizThinkers at the event. If you’re just interested in VizThink in general follow http://twitter.com/VizThink. Follow either account and I’ll be sure it follows you back.

There’s also a VizThink Public Skype chat that can be accessed through the link. If your version of Skype diesn’t support the link just add me “ryancoleman” and I’ll be happy to invite you in.

Last but not least – I expect to have some time in the evenings, my schedule is pretty fluid but if you want to grab a drink drop me a line.

– Ryan

VizThink Conference: Just Two Weeks Today

It’s hard to believe that it’s crept up so quickly but the VizThink Conference is just two short weeks away.

At his last update Tom Crawford (CEO of VizThink) indicated that 325+ people had registered for the conference. Registration is still open – this page has all the details details. He also indicated that the hotel has stretched the discount rate by a few more days.

For the value conscious (or those, like me, doing this on their own dime) I got a good deal at the Chancellor Hotel just up the street (on Union Square) for less than $100/night and it includes free wi-fi.

VizThink on Twitter
Also – I was talking with Tom and offered to setup a twitter account for VizThink as well as the conference itself. The general VizThink twitter can be found at http://twitter.com/VizThink. Right now this account simply reposts any blog entries and news coming from VizThink but I’m hoping to work with Tom to figure out how to improve it’s output.

There’s also the conference address primarily for those attending this VizThink Conference – http://twitter.com/VT08 . My hope is this account can be used as a bit of an aggregation point for anyone at the conference who twitters to find each others accounts. The premise is simple – If you follow this account I’ll ensure “it” follows you back – you can then use the list of who the account is following as a way to find others who are at the conference. Depending on adoption it could also be used as a way to broadcast any changes or announcements related to the conference. At the very least it’ll be a fun experiment.

Come Say Hi
If you read this blog & are attending the conference please do come up and say hi. I’ll be in town from the evening of the 26th to the 30th. Tuesday night is a bit free fall right now so I’d be up for a drink if anyone is around. You can reach me via email rcoleman (at) clay-tablet (dot) com or through Twitter at http://twitter.com/ryancoleman.

Looking forward to it – hope to see you there!

Ryan

Why Attend the VizThink Conference?

Just a reminder that the VizThink Global Conference is coming up at the end of this month (Jan 27-29). I’ll be there speaking (probably to myself considering the a-list group of visual thinkers attendees have to choose from).

Tom Crawford, with a little help from the guys at XPLANE have put together an infographic slideshow that outlines just some of the reasons to register and come down to San Francisco:

I’ll be in San Francisco from the evening of the 26th to lunchtime on the 30th – if you want to grab a bite or a drink feel free to drop me a line or add me on Dopplr.

VizThink Global Conference – January 27-29, 2008

Well things have certainly changed since the first VizThink Toronto back in February of this year. Around the same time the first VizThink’s were happening here Dave Gray and some other associates were noodling on the idea of a global conference.

Over the course of the summer that “noodling” has progressed to a full-blown conference next January in San Francisco – and I’m pleased to say I’ll be facilitating a conversation on community, what’s worked in Toronto and how we can take the community model forward and help create additional VizThink communities across North America and hopefully, around the world.

Full VizThink conference details can be found on their site and I highly recommend you follow the VizThink blog as well.