Need Icebreakers? Try Conversation Flint

I have been working on icebreaker questions for NewBCamp, and if I stick with what I’ve come up with, I will inadvertently bog down the beginning of the event.  I’m realizing that it’s not the questions that are the problem, it’s my concept of what people need at the beginning of an event that needs revision.

When I think of “breaking the ice”, I get this picture of two people trying to avoid eye contact in an elevator, and one says to the other “Nice weather we’re having.”  The term “icebreaker” implies there is an awkward silence – “ice” – and that people need help in getting to talk to one another – “breaker.”  I would like to update this concept and propose the term “conversation flint.”  For all you non-Boy Scouts out there, flint is the stone you strike against steel in order to generate the spark that starts your campfire. 

Characteristics of Conversation Flint:

  • facilitates an introduction
  • avoids monopolizing the conversation
  • makes it easy to segue into other topics
  • brief
  • assumes you want to talk to the other person
  • allows for both in-the-box and out-of-the-box thinking – you don’t have to think too hard to answer, but you can be innovative if you want
  • brings up features of your personality

Applied to a conversation, flint is different from an ice breaker in that it doesn’t try to give two people something to talk about, but instead simply acquaints two people who already have something they can talk about.  The analogy of the spark works especially well for an unconference where the participants come to the event motivated and ready to meet people.

It’s the Content, Silly!

So what if you are such a newbie that you confuse an apple store where you can buy Golden Delicious and an Apple store where you can get a Mac?  Whether or not you know the specs or even the name for that particular brand of computers, it is my theory that you understand more about what a Mac is for than you realize.  As a newbie, you are highly aware of your real-world needs – like the need to buy an actual apple to eat.  The computer is a tool that may get you the apple more efficiently than you could on your own.  It could suggest places nearby that have them, tell you what’s in season, or even provide you with a place online to trade the money necessary to have someone send you an apple.  However, you as a newbie know that the point was always the apple for eating, not the Apple computer.

As someone actively pursuing geekdom, I have found it refreshing to speak with people who consider themselves newbies because of this very reason.  The newbie isn’t wowed with how many widgets the software has, whether a device can crunch so many gigs of data, or, dare I say it, how nicely does it fit inside a manila envelope.  While usability is important, relevance is key.  Newbies want it to SOLVE THE PROBLEM.  The technology has to answer the question how do I get my Golden Delicious apple.

Creating Buzz through Social Media

Bzzzz … bzzzzz …. oh no kidding, YOUR_EVENT_HERE is happening?
The above represents the cherished goal of the PR/Marketing type person.
So, how am I doing it?

Maintain Your Sources of Buzz
Who goes to events unless someone they know tells them about it with enthusiasm. As for me, organizer of NewBCamp that I am, this is a crucial concern, especially since the networks in which I am active place a high value on the source of the information. For example, do they have a reputation to maintain? Are they connected to a larger professional network? Do they personally know the organizers of the event? A big turn-off for people receiving information from a source may be if that source receives compensation for funneling participants to the event. It’s important that hearing the news about an event doesn’t feel like an advertisement. Working closely with a variety of people linked into the social network spreads the enthusiasm for the event. They take ownership and create exposure by integrating it into their own personal blogs and online presence. Hopefully they are a diverse enough group that they can reach their own friends in different venues, reducing the overlap and sharing with a wider community.

Learn from the Best
I met a lot of great people at Podcamp not to mention seeing how it’s done. My event is based on Podcamp, so the more experience and the more contact I have with the model for my event the better. Nik Butler (loudmouthman) had this to say about how I benefited from the “five rules of social networking”:

  • Arrived at Podcamp
  • she Listened to the Sessions and individuals
  • she Asked questions and then Advised others
  • Provided further information and ideas to the group for the benefit of fulfilling her own visions
  • I am working on the fifth one, which is to Deliver the goods

Nov 4 Post – Loudmouthman Blog

Keep it Current
Whatever you do, update people on it. I use Twitter to keep myself in communication with those people interested in what’s going on with NewBCamp. Microblogging is great because it lets you do a few sentences on what is going on that day, and over time it becomes a record of your progress. A weekly “jam session” type activity has helped as well to keep people’s interest. I do a weekly show on Operator 11 that is interactive and discusses the themes I’m promoting in my blog and for NewBCamp in general.

Centralize the Data
This tows the line where the last blog left off – to avoid overwhelming people with all the stuff I’ve posted all over the place, I’m maintaining a centralized site sync’d up through RSS feeds from the various sources that are updating on the event. As I add to the collage of social network sites, I’m updating the main site to keep people in the loop. Keeping the event organized and making sure there’s communication among everybody involved will preserve the organizer’s sanity and eliminate confusion among those who are just getting the idea of the event.

A good event benefits from buzz – but an awesome event will make its own buzz. I hope anyone interested in promotion of any type of event or product through social media can learn from my experiences, come to NewBCamp, and then invite me to their event 🙂

Scaling The Tower of Babble – Managing Information Overload

Lots of stuff, too little time.  I find that when I am looking for something in particular, either I find it right away – it’s at the top of Google’s list – or I wade through pages and pages of irrelevant material scanning for what I want.  Then there’s reading through feeds in Google Reader – one RSS feed after another that I should have skipped.  Then there are all the e-mail accounts I need to check, one for work, one for school, one for personal/junk, one for personal/private, etc.  Don’t forget the social networks I’m on – need to skim through those and see if anything interesting has happened.  When Robert Scoble was recently banned from Facebook (his account was reinstated after a slap on the wrist), I wonder if he didn’t secretly think to himself “good, one less social network to keep track of”…

Another interesting aspect to this question is how I manage my output of information.  I generate photos, posts, all sorts of login/password/identification info, and somewhere out there that’s all taking up space on various servers.  I know I’m a drop in the bucket as an individual, but every little bit helps.  What can I do to consolidate and “defragment” my online presence?

I recommend applying the 80/20 rule – inspired by Pareto’s Principle.  The idea is 80% of your resources – like your time and attention – are consumed by 20% of your activities – like reading e-mail or RSS feeds.  If you identify the 20% that’s sucking up all these resources, you can narrow down your activities to the ones that give you most bang for your buck – and free up some of that 80%. 

Applying that to my case, I notice that I spend way more time looking at my iGoogle home page than I do checking any of my social networks.  I haven’t looked at my LinkedIn profile, MySpace, or YouTube accounts for probably a month.  Who knows what interesting things are going on there.  Rather than making a special trip here and there to those various social networks, I can funnel them all into Google Gadgets and stick them on the front page.  Ahh, Google.

As for managing my output, it’s all about streamlining.  Consistently using the same user name is good thinking, since it makes me recognizable.  I have a blog, a social network profile, and a personal web page, but I need to merge them and give people a better experience trying to find me.  Taking the time now to do all this will generate time and increase productivity, especially as my online presence grows to be a more fundamental part of everyone’s experience of me.

Call for Predictions for 2058

In 1938 they took a shot at predicting what it would be like in 2008 – and here we are, so now it’s our turn.  What will the world be like in 2058?  Since that’s so wide open, I’m going to put out a few seed questions:

Will we have figured out how to positively affect the global environment, like patch up the hole in the ozone and moderate, if not reverse, global warming?

Will we have started opting for computer implants by then (I know people are always talking about this jokingly, but might it happen)?

Will telephone poles still be around?

Will we have ID numbers instead of last names? Hi my name’s Sara 902-85396.

What will be the dominant language on the planet, and will there still be lots of different languages?

2007 Little People Awards

Who am I to judge?  Exactly!!!

Here are people who make the cut when it comes to sheer awesomeness – I’ll put down first names only along with a description of why they’re so cool.  By the way, everyone I know deserves an award for awesomeness, so I’m excluding people I speak to on a regular basis, just to be fair.

Phil – self-employed real estate agent, recommends the Hillsdale Imprimis ( – check it out), with his own money gave out plaques to local businesses that were making the papers just to recognize effort, he is overcoming a physical handicap that at one point threatened his ability to walk

Steve – professor of medieval studies, has overcome a sight handicap to become an expert on Hildegard of Bingen

Lyn – author of children’s books, started a program to encourage fourth graders  in literacy and writing

Roberta – director of a local horseback riding program for the handicapped

Ken – professor of biology, has defended the study of evolution in schools and written a book about preserving faith while still believing in the scientific method, also volunteers as umpire for middle school softball games

People make a difference one kind act at a time.  Their example inspires me to actively pursue goals that will enrich my own life and the lives of those in the community.