VizThink Wrap-up: Building Visual Thinking Communities


Source: Brandy Agerbeck, Loosetooth.com

Just to close the loop on the VizThink wrap-up I wanted to take a quick look back at the session I facilitated on the Tuesday afternoon.

Free Beer
Needless to say, as the schedule emerged, I was nervous that no one would show up. The first draft of the schedule had me presenting in the same time slot as not just cartoonist Scott McCloud but also Dave Gray (Dave was thankfully moved to the morning session)… when I combined that with the fact their were 8 sessions running at a time I got very, very nervous. I jokingly asked Tom Crawford if he could add ***FREE BEER*** to my session title in hopes of drumming up some interest.

What I hadn’t factored on was the apparent desire that people have for community in the Visual Thinking space and was pleasantly surprised when roughly 30 people showed up.

The Presentation
The title, “Building Visual Thinking Communities”, is pretty self explanatory… Just to delve a little deeper what I specifically talked about were; some of my thoughts on community, my experience with VizThink Toronto and finally my recommendations & suggestions for people running their own event.

I’ve uploaded the deck to slideshare or you can view it embedded below:

Interactive
During the session I included three interactive components. The first two were related where I had everyone pair up, interview each other, and then make a mind map of the other person. In the second component I had the pairs group up (8-10 people) around tables and then introduce their partner to the group.


The third component I deliberately saved for the very end of the session. Selfishly – it could be easily stretched or condensed to fill the time left in the session but from a community point of view I wanted to get participants to start thinking about what they could teach the community at their own. The premise was simple. Take an index card, write your name on it, your city/region and finally a one-liner describing something you could teach at a VizThink session.

Truth be told I wasn’t sure how this exercise would play out. It couldn’t really go horribly wrong but it also wasn’t guaranteed to generate the results I hoped for.

In the end though, I shouldn’t have been concerned. Everyone had an idea and many had two, three and even four ideas! And they were all good.

Conclusion
All in all I think the session was a success. I had a great time facilitating it, and I got the impression the group was enjoying it as well.

Immediately afterwards a few people came up to me and indicated they were interested in getting VizThink evenings running in their community.

Emerging Community
As of today I’ve got the following cities where there are people organizing, or interested in organizing VizThink evenings:

Atlanta, GA
London, England
Netherlands
Seattle, WA
Mountain View, CA
Chicago, IL
New York, NY
Austin, TX

(Edit: Forgot New York! Edit2: Got some interest expressed from Austin too!)

Active VizThink communities are already underway in:

Toronto
St. Louis
Portland
Madrid

Yes, that’s 11 cities listed above! It’s crazy to think that it hasn’t even been a year since the first VizThink event here in Toronto and now it’s on the verge of truly going global.

If you’re in or near any of these cities please drop me a line and I’ll be happy to hook you up. I’m also in the process of setting up a Cities section on the VizThink wiki where I’ll create a page for each city and a space for people to express interest in organizing or attending.

If your city isn’t listed but you’re interested get in touch with me as well. I’m happy to create a page that will let people express interest in your community as well, and hopefully get something.

I’ll be posting any upcoming events I know about here on this blog so definitely subscribe if you’re interested. (Watch for a London announcement soon). If you’re new to this blog also be sure to check out my Photo Blog.

All the various means of getting in touch with me are in the last slide of the embedded slide deck above. You can also find me at the following sites: LinkedIN, Facebook, Plaxo, VizThink Wiki, Flickr.

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.

VizThink Conference: Not quite the Wrap-up post yet…

I’ve been bad this conference. Usually I try to make a point of blogging at the end of each day but a couple of things kept me from doing it. 1) Each morning was spent polishing and honing my session that I was to deliver on Tuesday – 2) Each evening was spent in great conversations with some of the best Visual Thinkers/Communicators on the planet. The days? Packed wall-to-wall with great content, people and again more conversation.

The truth is, I don’t think I’ve even begun to digest what I experienced in the past few days. As I said above, my waking hours were jammed full – and in the evening hours I haven’t been sleeping well thanks to a combination of a cold, jetlag and being completely unable to switch my brain off at night.

In the final general session, my new buddy Matt Homann from XPLANE, did a couple of exercises with the attendees. Part of it was a “Haiku” of sorts where he asked us to answer three questions – and it was at this point, right at the end that I realized something was shifting in my mindset…

The Questions:

Why am I here? (5 words)

What Have I learned? (7 words)

What am I going to do next? (5words)

My Answers:

Build a Visual Thinking Community

This is where I want to play

? ? ? ? ?

The first two answers came easy. I scribbled something down for the third but it was neither good nor correct, I can’t even remember what it was. It simply filled the space.

It’s interesting, I’ve been running events about this area of interest/expertise for a year now but it wasn’t until this week I really realized how I felt about it. Up until this week it was something I did, now I’m wracking my brain to figure how to make it something I live.

Answering that question isn’t going to be easy for me. In the short term I’ll be dragging as much of this world into what I do each day at work. But when considering future next steps, that’s a whole new question…

(I’m going to post my presentation deck and wrap, as well as a proper conference wrap-up in separate posts shortly.)

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

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.