Week 83

Both last and this coming week are all about events. Why and how we organize conferences, as well as notes on some events we’ve visited and that we’re currently working on.

This week it’s all about events: The why, the how, as well as some things we’ve attended and that we’re planning. Let’s start at the beginning.

Cognitive Cities Photo: Cognitive Cities by Tam

Why we organize events

Running events is, on many levels, exhausting. There’s an inherent chaos, time pressure, financial restraints, strong communication needs and demands.

Running events is also, on just as many levels, rewarding. The dynamics, the joy of putting something together that matters to people, that helps build connections and fosters collaboration and inspiration, is tremendous. Maybe even a bit addictive.

As you might know, we tend to go with the latter of these two ways to look at things. But why do we put the effort in? Usually, our events are not for profit. We might break even or even turn a small profit, but usually and across events we usually just about even out, and that’s not counting our own time. So these events are a bit of an investment of sorts, and one we’re happy to make.

First, you get to know a whole lot of smart, interesting people. Speakers, participants and fellow organizers, there are many good folks to meet, and organizing events is a pretty smooth way to do it. Giving someone a chance to speak at a big stage can also really be a bit of a leg up for those who are relatively new to the game, and if they’re good at what they’re doing then everyone will be happy for them to get some stage time.

Second, it’s a fantastic way to get inside a topic you knew little about. Doing the research, finding the right speakers and having plenty of conversations along the way, putting together the program for a conference is like a fast track to become a (meta-level) expert for something. Being in the business of helping people understand emerging technologies and behavior changes, running events has turned out to be a perfect vehicle for us. At these events, we explore new topics and help spread ideas from innovators in one field to the early adopter crowd. Then, one step later, we help larger organizations to understand the changes these emerging topics trigger, and identify new business opportunities for them and ourselves.

Also, if somewhat more fluffy, it has the side effect of being invited to other great conferences and parties, and who are we to complain?

How we organize events

Over the last few years, all of us individually and collectively have been involved in all kinds of events, from Barcamps, TEDx and Ignite to larger stuff like our own Cognitive Cities Conference or Next. We did this either as lead organizers, as part of larger collectives, as curators or advisors. We also speak a lot at conferences, and attend even more. In other words, we breathe these kind of events. And so over the years, we’ve learned a few lessons.

These notes go particularly for small to mid-sized events and those with a low or very low budget. If you actually have a fundraiser and a full-time team to throw at organizing something, this might not be the right list for you. That said, what are the tricks, the nitty gritty of how to put together something memorable while working full-time on something else?

  • Keep it simple.
    Experimenting with formats is ok, but the easier the better. Simple food and drinks are the best solution as full-on catering tends to use up a fair bit of both budget and time to organize (after all, you’d want to pick the best caterer, sample the food, sort out logistics etc). Make sure to have plenty of vegetarian food, too, as chicken sandwiches aren’t the most exciting lunch. Use simple, self-service buffets if possible, or even just book lots of tables in nearby restaurants. Don’t try to be too artsy about the sign-up process. Simple rules, simple tools.
  • Curation is key.
    Selecting the very best speakers, as opposed to the biggest names, makes all the difference. Numbers don’t matter much: Five top notch talks beat ten big names any day. And always consider younger, less experienced but eager speakers too. While it can be a bit of a gamble, the chances of them delivering some unexpected, kick ass talk are good. We always try to go for a healthy mix of more experienced and less well-known, emerging speakers, and our experience so far has been great.
  • Treat your speakers like the rockstars they are.
    Particularly if someone agrees to speak for free at your not-for-profit event, they deserve the best, most personal and warm treatment you can possibly give them. Just alright isn’t good enough.
  • Not-for-profit is OK!
    If faced with the decision if you should go fully non-profit or try to make a few bucks along the way, opt for the free way. As the saying goes, either charge fully or work for free, never work for cheap. The same goes for conferences.
  • Form follows function.
    Things don’t have to be fancy to be great. Get your priorities straight: Do you want people to connect? Provide areas with comfortable chairs or sofas and snacks. Want the speaker presentations to get the full attention? Put up a bigger stage and a big screen. Want to reach as many people as you can? Make sure you have the best documentation you can afford.
  • Involve the sponsors.
    If you take on sponsors, make sure not to pick the one that would just throw some money into the pot. While that might sounds tempting, it’s a bad idea. You need partners who want to contribute, and who commit. If you pay attention, you’ll notice early on if a sponsor really wants to help build something great or if they just want their logo up on the screen. If need be, help coach their speakers.
  • Communicate clearly.
    I can’t stress this enough: Let everyone know at any time whatever relevant information they need. For speakers, this means clear travel arrangements early on. Participants need to know the logistics and confirmation they’re in, and what to expect. Your team members and volunteers need to know things, too: When to be where, who to call, how much time to set aside at which stage.

What we attended this week

Look back at the week, it’s conference week craze. Under the umbrella of Berlin Web Week, Republica (rp12) and Next joined forces and now basically serve as anchors to a whole slew of smaller web-related events all over town in the past and current week.

We all spent some time at Republica, one of Germany’s first “blogger conferences”, as it used to be called. It’s grown up to be one of the biggest web conferences in the country with some 3-4K participants. If there is one place and time to meet up with half the internet scene in Germany, this is probably it. Timed around Republica there were a bunch of parties, meetups and soirées one or two of us joined for a bit, which leaves us in dire need of a break. (Kidding, keep it coming.)

At Betapitch, as a member of the jury I got to enjoy a fantastic set of startup pitches at Betahaus. The overall level of pitches, the energy, vision and ambition of the presenting teams was great and contagious. It was a particular pleasure to see two teams I know and respect tie at the top, and share the price. Congratulations, Knowable and Somewhere.

So which events are we currently involved with?

Tuesday & Wednesday (8/9 May), Next12 is on. Having put together three tracks as curators, we’re all looking forward to meeting face to face with the speakers and to learn how the audience enjoys our pick.

Friday & Saturday (11/12 May), the Quantified Self-inspired (free and in German) event Digitale Selbstvermessung (sign up here) should be good. With a maximum of 100 participants it’s much more intimate than Republica and Next, so that should be a nice change of pace.

A week later (23 May) Ignite Berlin will bring us an evening of quickfire talks, and I’m really looking forward to this one. We’ll have a speaker list up on the site soon.

Meet you soon, at an event near you.

Week 82

We got two exciting weeks full of conferences and events ahead of us.

Berlin Web Week

We don’t exist in a vacuum. People all around us are doing amazing things and provide progressive thinking. We couldn’t do any of our work without a growing network of collaborators. That’s why we’re getting pretty excited about the upcoming two weeks when a big crowd of geeks and tinkerers will descend upon Berlin for a large number of conferences and events. The city buzzing with passionate people is how we like it best.

As we mentioned here before, we’ve been heavily involved in the curation of this years’ edition of the NEXT conference. Peter and Igor have been putting the finishing touches on the programs for their stages. It’s looking mighty good with a lot of people we’re really looking forward to hear speak.
Also, check out the video profiles, our friends at Freunde von Freunden did for NEXT speakers Caroline Drucker and Jeremy Tai Abbott

We’ve also got our own event in collaboration with Hybrid Plattform, coming up right after NEXT called Digitale Selbstvermessung. As we did with CoCities, we love to introduce a fresh topic (like Quantified Self with this one), that we think is going to get really big, to a wider audience. Sign up now for one of the last free seats available (conference language is German).

You can also meet us at republica12 this week and many other events. Please, feel always welcome to say hi.

If you’re visiting Berlin and looking for a good bite, check out Peter’s list of restaurants.

Peter about startups

Peter spoke about the startup culture in Berlin on dradio Wissen last Saturday. Listen in (the show is in German).

Week 76

Last week we spent some time thinking about when the time is right for hiring someone. Also, we have some updates for you on three events we’re involved in: Next12, Digitale Selbstvermessung and Ignite Berlin.

Thoughts on hiring

We’re not currently hiring. We might be at some point. In fact it’s crossed our mind more than once, but currently we’re three people plus X, X being maybe an intern or someone like the fantastic Maddie, who’s a trainee at VCCP and spends part of her time working with us.

That said, we regularly get job applications. We get applications from recent graduates, and experienced designers or strategists. Applications for internships, strategist jobs and partners. By email, contact form and twitter. And we feel truly humbled by the amount and quality of them all.

When I read through them, I can’t help but think how skilled and able, sometimes even over-qualified some of these folks seem to be, and wonder: What are the main driving forces at work here? Is it Berlin’s appeal, or working in a small shop, or a function of the struggling US economy? A tiny voice inside my head says it’s because the stuff of what we’ve done; rationally I know that’s only one small part of the overall story. I know that not just because it’d be over-estimating our appeal as an employer — which by definition we cannot even have yet, having never employed anyone — but also by just thinking back to the applications I sent out myself over the years. A good deal was for things I really, really wanted to do, often sent at a whim in the middle of the night. Some of these gigs I applied for because I wanted to spend time at one place or another, or because the topic interested me, or to learn stuff. It stands to reason that at least a part of the applications we get fall into one or more of these categories.

So I read them, and we talk about them, and sometimes it’s perfectly clear that one of the candidates would be a great addition to the team. This is the hardest moment: To realize there’s someone great, yet you cannot hire them at that point. And it would be just as unfair to tell them that maybe at some point in the future you want to hire them: If I was the applicant and received that kind of signal it might just throw me off balance instead of staying my course.

Am I complaining about getting applications? Absolutely not. Hearing that someone would like to work side by side with you is the nicest compliment. Yet, before we’re even near to hiring anyone, there are plenty of questions to consider beyond just economics. What type of personality & experience level would fit? How would another person on the team affect team dynamics? Should an extra person add new skills or increase the punching power in our current skill sets?

So no, we’re not currently hiring. But we might, at some point. Figuring out the who/what/when is exciting, as are the prospects for the coming years – but the timing is key.

Events

More details are coming together regarding the events we’re involved in. Over at Next12, the planning of our three stages is getting a final polish. Our joint event with Hybrid Plattform, Digitale Selbstvermessung is getting more concrete as we already did a location check. Hint: this is the view:

Location check

And last but not least, we found a location for Ignite Berlin. And not just any location, but one that has some truly excellent coffee – the baristas work with Portland’s finest beans, straight from Stumptown. Check out the site for more details & let us know there if you’d like to give a lightning talk.

What else is happening?

Our glimpse into the near future is still getting quite a bit of attention, as both stats and conversations tell us. We have some travel coming up and some interesting, but as-of-yet confidential projects in the proverbial pipeline. Johannes will be finishing up a series of in-house presentations at a client agency. Keep an eye on the blog and on Twitter for some blog posts and slides about the topics covered there. Igor will do a workshop with a favorite startup around here, and I’ll try to tick off a bunch of items on my todo list before leaving on a vacation next week.

In other words, exciting times all ’round. And we couldn’t be happier.

Week 74

Last week we released a forecast report, a glimpse into the near future. Also, we traveled a fair bit: Igor went to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Johannes spent some days in London, Igor and Peter did a presentation in Münster.

A glimpse into the future

Last Tuesday, we released the results of a little side-project of ours, an exercise in forecasting: A glimpse into the near future, subtitled “Insights, Expectations & Hopes for the next 3-5 years”. The idea was simple. We’d ask a few of our smartest friends what they a) expect and b) hope to happen over the next few years. The result is maybe the longest blog post we’ve ever written, and certainly the most fun one I had to write in a long time.

If you’re into embedding image-rich presentations, we have something for you too. We put more or less the whole blogpost as slides on Slideshare.

Again, thanks to the participants, I hope you all feel well represented!

Travel & workshops

Igor briefly swung by Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While the fair itself isn’t all that exciting, more and more companies use this conference for their big mobile announcements. Well worth the trip. The day after, Igor and I went to Münster to deliver a final presentation for a client. I’ve really come to relish those wrap-ups: It just feels good to come full circle on a project, and to see the progress between start and finish.

Meanwhile, Johannes was in London for a speech at Ogilvy where he talked about the strategy process we work with most of the time. It has to a big part been informed by our experiences working with and for larger agencies, and shows what we think can be done better. We’ve been reflecting about this quite a bit recently and Johannes will cover some of that in his week note next week. And of course, while he was in London, he scooped up some nice freshly roasted beans by Has Bean, one of our favorite roasters.

Event updates

Preparations for Next12, Ignite Berlin and our as-of-yet unnamed Quantified Self event with Hybrid Plattform are coming along well. For the latter two, feel free to signal your interest on the respective websites. More updates on all three soon.

Week 57

An apprenticeship with VCCP Berlin, more work for NEXT12, an update on our work for Postbank and more in this week note.

Hello there. Thanks for tuning in. In case you don’t follow our blog on a regular basis, we had two bigger announcements last week.

Apprenticeship with VCCP Berlin

First off, we have teamed up with our friends at VCCP Berlin to create a new form of apprenticeship for young strategists. The demand for talent is enormous, especially in digital communications. Strategists with the perfect mix of well-trained skills and in-depth experience are almost impossible to find. The hope is with the younger talents that are well-educated but still lack the hands-on experience. That’s where we come in. In our joint project with VCCP, we help them find and hire a rookie strategist. For 50% of her time in the first months, the person will work with us while we show her the ropes and get her up to speed. The other 50% the person will spend at VCCP, getting into the clients and projects, she will be working on full-time later. Instead of sending someone to some evening seminars or master programs, we think that our approach is more effective for real-world experience and practical skills. We’ll soon find out if it will stand our own expectations. The details including the job description are here.

NEXT12

After hosting the social media track at NEXT11 this year, we’re stepping it up a notch for NEXT12. We will be hosting two tracks and none of them will be the social media one. We’re going for the more experimental stuff this time and will, again, bring some fresh faces and ideas to Berlin that will – you know it – distribute the future more evenly.

Gidsy is live

Our good friends and office neighbors Gidsy have been designing and coding the nights away for the last few months. Last week, they finally draw back the curtain for the world to see their ‘market place of experiences’. And they’re getting some well deserved attention for it.

Postbank

We’re in the middle of our initial research phase with our most recent client. Like Peter mentioned last week, we’re having a great time diving deeper into this company and the internal setup. It not only gives us a much better starting point for developing a strategy but also all the interviews with the stakeholders help to create a closer relationship right form the start. The interviews are not only a good way for us to learn about the company, they are also a good opportunity for the stakeholders to get to know us better and build some trust in our work.

Social Media Keynote

A keynote I gave a couple of weeks ago at the Social Media Convention in Zurich has gotten some attention for our approach to social media. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the video here (in German).

Traveling

Igor just landed in New York to spend a couple of days with meetings and coffee dates before he flies on to San Francisco for Science Hack Day. Peter is in London for the Mozilla Festival and Internet Week Europe until Tuesday. I will be at Barcamp Hamburg on Saturday.

If you know anyone who might be interested in what we’re doing or thinking about, always feel free to forward this newsletter or pass on a link to our website.

Have a great week, enjoy this beautiful autumn and remember to let the water cool down a bit before brewing your coffee.

Next Conference 2012: Post-Digital

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to work with SinnerSchrader on their Next Conference, where I curated and hosted the track The Social Layer. Today, the team announced Next12 with the overall theme “Post-Digital”, and we are glad that we can – again – contribute.

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to work with SinnerSchrader on their Next Conference, where I curated and hosted the track “The Social Layer”. Today, the team announced Next12 with the overall theme “Post-Digital”, and we are glad that we can – again – contribute.

Experiments

This year we will be hosting not one, but two tracks. Without going into too much detail yet: We’ll come up with some fun & interesting things, some of which will be more on the experimental side. I’m glad to say the Next team trusts us on this one – we’ll make the best of it.

Berlin Web Week

In 2012, Next and republica will move closer together. Under the label Berlin Web Week, both events (and many more) will take place from 2-9 May 2012 and in the same location. Make sure to plan on some extra time in Berlin next year. We’ll definitively be around.

The official Twitter account of Next is @nextconf. We’ll keep you updated here and on Twitter about our ideas.

Disclosure: SinnerSchrader is a client of Third Wave, and we were hired as curators and moderators.