I really love Barcamps. First Play Sheffield was born out of a talk I did with Liam about games at Sheffield Barcamp a few years ago, I've been to the last 3 Gamecamps and this year I've been to Manchester Geek Girls Bracamp (Misspelling intentional) and Barcamp Manchester.
One of the things I like about them is how good they are for first time speakers. The schedule is community-driven, you just put a post-it note on the wall with the topic on it and people show up. You don't even really have to have something formal prepared, I've spoken at least 8 times at barcamps and I've never had slides, or even taken my laptop. It doesn't even really need to be a presentation, it can be a 'Hey, anyone want to talk about this?'. If you have a talk you want to practice, or a discussion that you think might become a talk later, barcamp is a great way to test them out. There's a 'vote with your feet' idea; you can leave any talk that doesn't interest you and join another halfway through. It can be disheartening to see people get up and leave you mid-sentence, but on the other hand you can be pretty much sure that anyone who is in the room is really interested. I've had some great sessions with just the speaker and 4/5 other people, as well as the more traditional 20/30 strong audience. My favourite talk at Gamecamp a few years ago was when the speaker didn't show up and about 10 of us just sat and swapped DayZ stories.
The other great thing about barcamps is the breadth of topics on offer. All the barcamps I've attended have been geeky, but you don't have to talk about anything technical. I've been to talks about feminism, activism, gaming, kids coding, tech community building, recruitment, the ethics of asset reuse, self-employment, roleplaying and project management. There will always been something of your level and interest, and if not there will be a talk about something new to discover.
At Barcamp Manchester last weekend, I did two talks. Once was a watered-down version of my Nerd Nite talk about non-binary gender and the other was about videogames as a force for social good, a talk I also did at the Girl Geeks Bracamp. Both talks were really well attended and I got great responses and discussions from the audience. I think, especially with the gender talk, that I exposed people to ideas they had never or only briefly encountered and I got some good feedback.
Now that I'm a bit of a barcamp veteran, I think I'd like to organise one come the new year. Sheffield has been barcampless for a few years now which is a great shame and I'd also like to do something similar to Gamecamp because more northern game events is a thing that needs to happen. I recommend barcamps to anyone; at the least you learn some cool new things and at most you can kickstart your awesome public speaking career!