Unconference.zip: Speed Mentoring

At NewBCamp I gave a presentation called Speed Mentoring. This was a 45 minute session divided up into smaller 6 minute segments during which geeks answered the specific questions of newbies on a one-on-one or a one-on-three basis. Basically your robust version of the high school “study hall” but without the bespectacled school marm telling you to tone it down.

My expectation was that all the newbies would float from geek to geek learning a little here and a little there, having a few questions about this and that, moving when the gong was sounded. Far from it. The newbies had questions about particular processes on the internet – how do I upload photos, how do I create a blog, how do I install a Paypal button. Yet more surprising, it was the intermediate users who were most in demand. I had asked that several ‘super-geeks’ – really advanced users – be available for questions. I sat around with them trading NewBCamp observations while the rest of the newbies and intermediate users went at it. The gong was hardly heard as the people who had partnered up stuck together as they exchanged information and at the end, contact e-mails.

Based on my observations, I would say that this session is conceptually analogous to the unconference packed into a single zip file: spontaneous self-organization, collaborative conversational model, participant driven. One word of caution – I organized this session with 20-30 people in mind. More than that and one might have to have an honorary bespectacled school marm to ensure that all the newbies can find those geeks best equipped to help answer their questions. Some form of personal tagging might be appropriate (a sticky label that says, “Ask me about social media!”).

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.