The first ReBarCamp was held in San Francisco last summer, the day before the Inman News Real Estate Connect conference.

The idea is the brainchild of Andy Kaufman, a Realtor in Berkeley, Calif., who has become the go-to person for ReBarCamp organizers nationwide. There is an official ReBarCamp blog with a list of upcoming events and a place to sign up.

The ReBarCamp is a kind of "un-conference," and on the surface it looks chaotic. There are no speakers per se, or planned schedule, and admission is free. Event organizers find sponsors who will pay the bills. Lunch is almost always included, along with a T-shirt and name badge.

At the beginning of the event there is a wall in the hallway and a stack of Post-it notes. Usually there are several rooms for each time slot so that more than one session can take place at the same time.

People wishing to lead a session write the name of the session on the Post-it note and put it on the wall under a time slot and room number. People will either attend or they won’t. Session sizes can end up being as small as four or five, and some sessions grow so large that there isn’t enough space.

Attendees look at the wall when it is all organized and decide where they want to go. Sessions tend to be highly specialized and led by people who are experts or at the very least have a lot of experience.

The sessions themselves often have little in the way of formal presentation. The leader talks about an idea or something he or she is doing to generate business. Sometimes new products and business models are discussed.

I have led some sessions and I find that the people who attend are very interested in the subject matter, they are engaged, and they ask challenging questions. There isn’t anyone in the room who isn’t interested in the subject matter. …CONTINUED

The focus of the conferences in general is on technology, Web 2.0 and social media. I have attended sessions that were more like debates and some how-to sessions where people discuss the best practices and explore ways to make them even better. Sometimes there are arguments as two opposing ideas collide — these sessions are the best.

There is never a shortage of people who want to lead a session or who have a new idea, and there is no shortage of people who want to attend sessions. It is sometimes hard to decide which one to go to. The atmosphere is very informal, and it is acceptable to leave one session and join another while they are in progress.

Sharing ideas with peers, learning from them and teaching them is very powerful. The conferences create a kind of energy and synergy as participants freely share ideas. Even though the event is informal, true learning takes place.

Sponsors sometimes lead sessions, but selling or advertising products is not allowed. They teach and share ideas, not their products, and some are excellent session leaders. The sponsors I have talked to have learned from the sessions they have attended and have built strong relationships with real estate practitioners.

It isn’t hard to thank the sponsors when it is all over because what we get out of these events is invaluable and we get to know the sponsors as peers. Inman News was one of the sponsors of the first ReBarCamp and has continued to support the events.

The ReBarCamp movement is growing. If there is one in your area, go to it. You will leave tired but energized and ready to go back to work and implement some new ideas. It doesn’t cost a dime, and you will get a T-shirt and a nifty plastic badge, too.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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