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Have RE BarCamps lost their way?

I attended the recent Seattle version 2.0 of RE BarCamp earlier this week. Also attending was fellow BHB contributor Al Lorenz.  Held at the Armory on Lake Union, it would be hard to find a location that was more beautiful to hold an event. And yet, I did not come to the event looking for beauty. I came to the event to learn more about techniques that we discuss all the time about marketing and salesmanship. What I discovered was a trade show masquerading as a grass roots event. The main hall of the Armory was lined with various vendor booths fully stocked with the obligatory vendor salespeople. Guys wearing crisp white button-down shirts standing in front of a large tradeshow booth. Bored looking salespeople just hoping that someone with a pulse would stop by their table and inquire about what shiny silver bullet they were selling. To entice agents to stop by and visit, there were all manner of free pens, flashlights, discount coupons, and much, much more…. I don’t know how much business any vendor did. I did pick up one flyer which has already found the way into the recycling after I looked that the product in greater detail online.

The attendance of the event was outstanding. There were over 600 RSVP’s for the event. The Armory easily held the crowd. The challenge of noise was something that everyone struggled with throughout the event. The PA system was difficult to understand simply because the hall was a gymnasium in previous years. The Keynote was by Ian Watt from Vancouver BC. It would have been a very entertaining and enjoyable speech had we been able to see the slides that he brought. The sheet hanging from the balcony was not really the best way to show off all that is glorious about PowerPoint. Ian is a very entertaining person and his presentation was the highlight of the event for me (even with the technical challenges).

The number of real estate professionals that had glazed over looks was disconcerting to me. I overhead a number of people mention that they did not really know why they were there. It was someone else’s idea in the office to attend. It really seemed that the majority of the people attending were not interested in the sharing of ideas and of learning. They were there because someone told them that they “just had to be.” That SMM is the ticket to get their business back on track, get more leads, and to help them lose weight….The sessions were aimed at “entry level” and “not sure if this is for me” audiences. I really feel that the event has grown too big to be the vitally relevant event that it has been in the past. The people that worked so hard to pull the event together deserve to be praised for their organization and hard work. The event was smoothly run (except who forgot to bring a coffee vendor?  I mean, this is Seattle folks) but it lacked the rough around the edges grass roots appeal of version 1.0.  Many of the sessions seemed to be hour long sales pitches from vendors not people in the trenches who are using the product or technology on a daily basis.

What impressed me about the Seattle version 1.0 of RE BarCamp was the free sharing of ideas and processes from those that were actually using the ideas and processes successfully in their businesses. There was a sense from the people that attended that the topics were ones that they were passionate about. The ability to have small conversations about a very specific topic seem to be lacking from the current format of RE BarCamp. I hope that event organizers can make adjustments to the format and that the next event can be more sharing of ideas and information instead of sales pitches for products and services. It is time for real estate professionals to be more free thinking and less apart of the herd mentality that we have blindly been a part of for too long. RE BarCamps can help champion the free thinking agent instead of just helping milk them.

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    9 Comments so far

    1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jon Sterling. Jon Sterling said: Have RE BarCamps lost their way?: I attended the recent Seattle version 2.0 of RE BarCamp earlier this week. Als.. [...]

    2. Joe Spake September 11th, 2009 6:24 am

      The event you describe seems to be a natural evolutionary phenomenon. Of course, if realtors are present, there WILL be realtor vendors. And if you want really great attendance, offer some CE credit.
      RE Barcamp/San Diego in conjunction with the NAr convention in November should be quite interesting

    3. Top 5 real estate posts of the day for 9/11/2009 September 11th, 2009 7:30 am

      [...] Have RE BarCamps lost their way? – Has the free sharing of ideas that made RE BarCamps so great vanished with repeated [...]

    4. Al Lorenz September 11th, 2009 9:00 am

      It is a matter of scale. The camp back in February was in a smaller venue, with acoustically separate areas and lots of small rooms available for impromptu meetings. The venue and smaller size facilitated better interaction like a smaller class size in a school.

      Another missing piece was the expertise and enthusiasm that we had from the presenters in February that was not existent at the meeting this week. Take presenters like Greg Swan, Brian Brady, Glen Kelman and Ryan Hartman out of the picture and in a relative sense ReBar II was already at a disadvantage. There were some clever folks with Ian Watt being the highlight for me, but not the depth that was there in February.

      My $.02

    5. Rhonda Porter September 11th, 2009 10:37 am

      Scott, did you offer to lead a session at the Seattle event? I heard a lot of positive feedback–however since I was “teaching” I didn’t have time to wander the crowds or sit in other sessions to survey the crowds.

      The sound was an issue…the quirks (such as having to use Natalie’s bed sheet for a projector screen) are what make REBC’s unique. I was hoarse after the first session I was involved with; Twitter 101. With such a wide range of skill levels of “attendees” I would pull people out of the crowd and make them be “participants” if they were active Twitter users too.

      The Bellevue event which takes place next month will not have tables for sponsors (WAMP does have an expo that follows the Barcamp where those who want to have a booth can participate)…we’re doing our best to keep it organic at Bellevue.

      To me, a lot of RE Barcamps is what you make it. If you want to get involved with planning Bellevue, please let me know.

    6. David G from September 11th, 2009 3:36 pm

      Thanks Scott; good feedback. The Seattle volunteers will definitely consider this when planning the next one.

      My advice to you is inline with Rhonda’s: “Be the change that you want to see in RE BarCamp.” Next time, consider stepping up … either by volunteering to organize or by leading a session. We’d love to have your help.

    7. Greg Dallaire September 11th, 2009 7:29 pm

      What similiar type event have you had the best success with? Is there any conference that really stands out from the crowd?

      What i’m looking for in return for investing my hard earned dollars is surrounding myself around industry leaders who are actually sharing what is truly working in there business.

      Anyone have any recommendations?

    8. Scott Cowan September 11th, 2009 8:50 pm

      @Rhonda- We have exchanged messages earlier today and I will be happy to help with the Bellevue mini REBarCamp.I am hopeful that the smaller scope will keep the content and the spirit similar to the original camps.

      @David I would be happy to help with future events schedule willing. At the very least I would be willing to engage in conversations with others in attendance on topics of mutual interest that I feel I have value to share to a group.

      @Greg I enjoyed the 1st. Seattle REBarCamp. I thought that the 2009 BHB Unchained conference delivered amazing value and was well worth the cost of admission. I have the DVD’s of the 2008 session as I was not able to attend and even on DVD it was obvious the energy and information shared was off the charts. I think that you would be hard pressed to find an event that delivered more for your dollar that a BHB event.

    9. Linda Aaron September 12th, 2009 10:40 am

      Thanks for the feedback. I don’t think any of us on the organizing committee expected much more that 300 people to attend and as the numbers grew it became necessary to have additional $$ to pay for the event and to that end we needed additional sponsors.

      Most of the people in attendance were there to learn and had not had prior RE Barcamp experience. Did we ignite an enthusiasm for learning and understanding for a large group of people, I think we did. The agents from my office are excited about all they learned and are implementing new tools and ideas into their business models already.

      Many of the “experts” in social media, technology and marketing simply had other commitments and were not able to be there. We would have loved to see more people committed to sharing which is my understanding of what this experience is all about.

      I also would like to invite you to step up and participate next time Seattle has an RE Barcamp, we would love to have your expertise.