Sometimes you throw an idea into the world, and it takes on a life of its own.
BenConf took me by surprise. I made a silly joke by pretending to announce a technical conference for people called Ben. But I also said that I’d make it happen if 12 people wanted to come. One hour later, I had a dozen Bens on my list. So, I booked a pub and set up an Eventbrite page to sell tickets.
Then it went viral. I had tens of thousands of hits on the blog page. My jokes were retweeted all over the place (some were even funny). I’m pretty sure that every Ben on Twitter had been told about BenConf by at least one of their friends.
And then Ben Chestnut of MailChimp decided it would be amusing to sponsor BenConf, and having a sizeable budget for the evening took it to a whole new level.
I’m amazed that you can go from a silly idea to a room packed full of Bens in about four weeks.
BenConf attendees attempting to simultaneously tweet a photo of BenConf
We all had a lovely time, and enjoyed BenConf T-shirts, BenConf badges, dinner, pudding, lightning talks about technology and everything to do with technology, and lots and lots of conversation.
— Ben Nunney (@BenNunney) November 20, 2012
If you’re going to get forty interesting people in a room, you might as well make the most of it. I’ve often thought it would be wonderful to have a tech event where we all sat down for dinner and talked about lots of random technical things. So, I borrowed some of the format and all of the organisational infrastructure from my co-conspirator Jennifer’s long running networking event, LIKE, and put on a show!
I go to some really good tech events. But I had a theory that there were two things missing:
- Randomness (everyone there had too much in common to spread new ideas)
- Dinner (I get hungry, and there’s something special about sitting down to dinner with new friends)
I used BenConf to test this theory. I am happy to report that I am absolutely correct. The world needs more randomness and dinners.
That #BenConf is largely a completely arbitrary set of people is awesome. More conferences need to focus on that.
— Ben Gillies (@bengillies) November 20, 2012
The randomness meant that our eleven lightning talks covered everything from databases to augmented reality, via iPhone apps, social media, marketing, learning, teaching, and community.
Eleven totally different talks, relevant to anyone in technology, and I’m pretty sure everyone at BenConf heard something new.
Plus, we worked really hard to get everyone talking to everyone else. We had Ben Bingo, to help you keep track of all the Bens you’ve met, and by seating our Bens by their meal choices (for efficiency of delivery) we forced everyone to change seats for their pudding.
The Future of BenConf
I think there’s something to this, and I’d like to go to another BenConf. Let’s make it happen again!
I’m a little concerned about the diversity of an event for technical people called Ben, for all the obvious reasons. But also because the charm of BenConf was the utter randomness of it all.
It worked because we got a lovely cross-section of people who work in technology. By selecting on a rather unusual criteria, we got people together who’d normally never go to the same event. There’s a danger we’ll just get the same Bens all the time, and while that would be great and highly amusing, we’ll lose the random.
We do, however, need to maintain a high proportion of Bens at BenConf. Here’s an idea: we’ll use “Ben Degrees of Separation” — you can come if you’re invited by a Ben — and I’ll expect every Ben to help me bring an interesting group of people together.
But let me know what you think in the comments below, both of yesterdays event, and how we can take BenConf forward.
And please join my MailChimp mailing list, so I can let you know about future BenConf events. Remember, you don’t have to be a Ben to kept informed about BenConf!
I’ve already added everyone who bought a ticket from Eventbrite or was on the wait list, let me know if you want to be removed.
BenConf goes international
And you should watch out for international BenConfs:
— Benjamin Ellis (@benjaminellis) November 20, 2012
— Ben Hammersley (@benhammersley) November 20, 2012
BenConf only worked because so many wonderful people worked together to pull it off. I’d like to thank:
Our speakers: Ben Dodson, Ben Nunney, Benjamin Ellis, Ben Barnett, Ben Smith, Ben Summers, Ben Wynn, Benjamin Dyer, Ben Evans, and Benjamin Nortier — thank you for putting all that effort into telling us such interesting things.
Our Bens: For turning up, appreciating the joke, and making it a fantastic evening.
Ben Marsh for designing the stunning BenConf logo which beamed over us for the entire evening as a beacon of Ben-ness.
… a word from our sponsor.
My twitter feed’s all Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben. Pudding. Awesome. #BenConf
— Ben Chestnut (@benchestnut) November 20, 2012
Yes. Yes, that about sums it up.
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