Remember your first day at summer camp? (For me, it was a looooong time ago.) I’ll never forget the awkward chaos of meeting all those strangers on Day #1 of camp life. Perhaps a reflection of my feeling of my childhood camp days, I expected a disorganized arrival for the ProductCamp South Florida event last week. As a newbie, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Even though it could be compared to a TEDx for product marketers, there are a number of things that make ProductCamp uniquely different from other venues. In fact, here are five reasons why it even beats summer camp:
- EMPOWERMENT. Except for maybe a vote for “Best Tie-Dye T-shirt,” camp didn’t allow much democracy. It was fairly dictatorial. In contrast, at the beginning of every ProductCamp, the group is asked to vote on the topics they want to hear – leaving out those speakers whose topics missed the mark. A simple sticker system quickly showed which titles/topics grabbed people’s fancy.
- FUNNY & FUN. From the get-go, the speakers were amusing. Maybe it’s partly a function of being marketers, but without fail each of the speakers I heard made me laugh out loud. For example, Steve Johnson’s session told us why even-numbered Star Treks are best; tied to a product-marketing message, of course. His personal stories were incredibly witty. I got ‘voted off the island’ after spoiling the storyline for the newly released Star Trek – oops. Another session, PowerPoint Karaoke, was a hoot, with attendees getting randomly selected to come up to speak, off-the-cuff, to a series of extremely random and unrelated slides.
- DIVERSE. My summer camp in Wisconsin was very homogeneous. Conversely, ProductCampers came from all over the country, from varied backgrounds and levels of experience. I met people that were right out of school, to highly seasoned product marketing executives. Unlike summer camp, there was an immediate feeling of camaraderie, and at no time did I feel I was being overlooked by the ‘cool’ kids.
- AUTONOMY. At summer camp, when it was time to swim, we swam. When it was time to row, we rowed. ProductCamp participants were encouraged to interact, collaborate, and even ask questions DURING the sessions. We were given the freedom to leave one session in the middle, without it being considered rude. If we felt we could get more out of another sessions, we were encouraged to go for it.
- FREE. Have you seen the cost of summer camp these days? Unlike most venues, everything at ProductCamp—(from goodie bags to food)—is paid for by local sponsors at zero cost to the attendees. Even the meeting space was donated, Citrix Headquarters. After the event, there were door prizes, snacks, candy, beach balls and other free stuff. (I even won a book, “Agile Excellence” by Greg Cohen).
Though I’m not a Product Manager, I am a long-time marketer and learning junkie and I really enjoyed this experience. ProductCamp provides a truly unique, open, collaborative environment. I really hope that it returns to South Florida in February 2014 (that’s the rumor.) If no one starts another one, I am volunteering! …But this time, I’m bringing the Smores.