There are several perks when participating as a TechCamp trainer; not only do you get to meet other expert trainers and participants who are key influencers in their communities, it could also lead to several other opportunities with the Department of State, U.S. Embassies, and other organizations and companies all over the world. Tony Cohn, who has served as a trainer at two TechCamps (Warsaw 2017 and Taipei 2019) says “getting to expand my network is awesome, and getting to learn myself about not only different tools within the concept that I’m going to teach in, but also … the nuances of challenges being faced by participants in that region.”
Former Brand Strategist for the Smithsonian museums and current Director of Strategy at the Morgridge Family Foundation, Cohn teaches interest-based marketing, a cutting-edge approach to reaching diverse audiences. Most marketers take a demographic approach to audience segmentation, which involves analyzing how a person’s age, gender, location, and lifestyle relate to their consumption habits. However, Cohn sees things differently. “What I brought to TechCamp was turning that on its head a little bit,” he says. “Instead, I’m looking at motivations, interests, and behaviors of audiences.”
Of his experience at TechCamp Cohn explains: “I learn just as much from the participants as I hope they do from me.” “We’re all thinking about the media space and how to reach people. That space, and audience segmentation, is changing so fast and we’re all trying to keep up.” The process of holding a session itself is also an enjoyable challenge for Cohn. “[Participants] often push back, because an idea might not work [for them].” Instead, participants and trainers must work to “get to the root of the problem and creatively think together.”
Cohn’s first impressions of the 2017 TechCamp Warsaw were extremely positive. “Everyone was super bright and had a lot of energy and a big idea that they were going to be sharing,” he says. Cohn particularly enjoys “Speed Geeking,” a fixture in every TechCamp program. Speed Geeking gives trainers the opportunity to meet participants and hear their stories, and allows participants to learn more about each trainer and decide which workshops best fit their project. As Cohn explains it, “You have 5 minutes to pitch yourself, then you do that same 5 minute pitch 10-15 times… It’s super fast paced, really high energy, and so much fun.”
The next day, participants choose which workshops to attend based on what they learned about each trainer and their session from the Speed Geeking. Cohn’s sessions focused on understanding and growing one’s audience. “There are these big challenges in innovative journalism and we worked to identify what they are,” he says. Then for the duration of the event, participants break off to work with trainers and create solutions to their own challenges.
In August 2019, Cohn returned to TechCamp to lead another audience segmentation workshop in Taipei. There, he met with attendee Namnandorj Bayaraa, who is researching media consumption habits in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Bayaraa’s focus is the city’s open-air market vendors, who tend to distrust mainstream news.
In Taipei, Cohn worked with Bayaraa to create a plan to understand vendors’ pre-existing media consumption habits. By interviewing vendors and observing their existing habits, Bayaraa aims to understand how they do — or don’t — consume news. “Then,” says Cohn, “he can make some really informed decisions about how he would be able to reach them, convene them, or have a common language to talk about [media awareness].”
Thanks to the strong connection they built in Taipei, Cohn plans to continue working with Bayaraa and build upon the plan they created together at the TechCamp. The next step is for Bayaraa to apply for a TechCamp small grant so that Cohn can assist him with further developing the project.
Opportunities Don’t Stop with TechCamp
Aside from the launch of individual projects and relationships formed during TechCamp, the experience can often lead to other opportunities for trainers who wish to stay engaged. For Tony, he received several offers from the Embassy and other organizations to return to Poland after training at TechCamp Warsaw. Following TechCamp Warsaw, there was a Rockit Warsaw conference organized in partnership with the Digital Communications Network. Cohn was asked to stay for an extra day to speak at Rockit Warsaw about the Smithsonian podcast he created. While there, he met even more people who wanted to bring him back and collaborate with him. “It was the most celebrity I’ve ever felt in my life,” he says.
Committed to continuing the relationship, Cohn has since returned to Poland multiple times, including to speak at the week-long Digital Warsaw Conference, a week of digital creation that builds upon the city’s energy with speakers and participants from around the world.
Cohn also was invited to work with the American program at the Polish Ministry of Culture’s Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which aims to spread Polish culture across the world. He spent a week meeting with the Institute in Warsaw, helping them reimagine how to reach Americans and devise a strategic plan. “I had a blast learning more about Polish culture, the ideas they were looking, the conflicts they were facing, and how they could better reach American audiences,” Cohn says.
Widening networks and continued engagement makes it possible for TechCamp’s impact and collaboration to extend past the 2.5 day workshop into tangible benefits for trainers and participants alike. Many trainers (like Cohn) leave TechCamp already wanting to come back for more. “I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of the TechCamp program and how they create ways for sharing big ideas around the world with really innovative, out of the box thinkers, and fostering collaboration,” says Cohn. “I had a great experience and I’ve become a big cheerleader for the program.”