Most WordCamps are beautiful examples of how disparate members of a citywide user group (usually a WordPress Meetup) can come together and create an energizing, unique, and valuable experience for the greater user community.
In the past four years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to travel to more than 100 industry conferences, 3/4 of which were domestic and international WordPress events. I’ve seen great events and not-so-great events, and wanted to drop some of the observations that may be helpful for future WordCamp planners. While not exhaustive, these two lists represent concepts that come up often.
How to plan a WordCamp
- Have only one lead organizer.
Two or more organizers can make things complicated. Lack of leadership from a split in opinion can lead the planning process down a much less efficient road. Keep things simple with one organizer who is the final word on all decisions.
- Have a planning committee that gets along well.
Believe it or not, a grumpy planning crew radiates grumpiness into the nooks and crannies of the event. Personality fit and grit go a much longer way than expertise from previous planning cycles.
- Make a concerted effort to bring new people into the planning process.
It’s important for helping people feel included, and, who knows, you might just find your next strong community leader or business partner. People are generally excited to step up and contribute back to the community that has helped them earn a living.
- Survey your local community to get unbiased interests, needs, and wants for the event.
Often leaders believe they know what the community needs because they’ve been there before. Technology, communities, and needs can change quickly. Remember, WordCamps are events designed for the local community.
- Plan the WordCamp around local expertise.
When there aren’t local leaders on a particular topic, dip into national leaders and experts. The year I went to WordCamp Asheville, it seemed like almost every single speaker was local. It was awesome to see such a big focus on local expertise.
- Plan a WordCamp after Meetups are going strong, or to generate more interest in Meetups.
Push attendees back to sign up and get involved in attending and leading Meetups.
- Use your WordCamp event as a lead gen tool. When else do you get so many WordPressers in your area in one room?
Try this: Tell people they get the event swag ONLY when their profile is verified on Meetup.
- Focus on function first (great sessions, comfortable seating, good lighting).
If you have extra budget, you can focus on fun (food trucks, after parties, etc). People are really there for the knowledge and networking.
- Have a speaker appreciation dinner and/or after party networking event only if it’s comfortable in the budget.
Your speakers and attendees are likely to appreciate a great facility for the WordCamp more than they’ll appreciate dinner and drinks.
- Consider your venue acoustics and make adjustments, and test if you’re able.
I’ve attended multiple camps where events were held in one large room with only sound walls or fabric to stop the sound. It never works well. Instead, focus on having separate rooms are purpose-built sounds isolating partitions and test them prior to the event.
How not to plan a WordCamp
- Don’t plan a WordCamp for a national audience.
Plan to get more locals involved. The more involved the local community is, the more the WordCamp itself will thrive.
- Don’t plan a WordCamp just to plan a WordCamp.
In a vacuum, and with a little encouragement and empowerment, someone will almost always step up to plan the next one. It’s not essential to have a WordCamp to have a vibrant local WordPress community.
- Don’t give sponsor gifts.
Sponsors pay for you to have the funds to put on an awesome event. Instead, honor your sponsors by giving them great opportunities to interact with attendees.
- Don’t make an after party that’s primarily focused on drinking.
It’s nice to have beverages for drinkers and non-drinkers alike, but the real focus should be on networking. What better opportunity does your community have throughout the year to network with follow creators?
- Don’t evaluate speaker applications with names / identity included.
Instead, ask one person to be an application ‘normalizer’ to remove all identifying information before making speaker selections. This process helps to align speaker selection with topical relevance not celebrity.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Events are hard to put together, and people will understand if little things go wrong.
- Don’t forget to market the WordCamp in places where creators hang out.
Advertise in local coffee shops, coworking spaces, agencies, organizations, meetups, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to get the word out, and hopefully plenty of volunteers to put in some legwork.
- Don’t spend a lot of time marketing the event nationally.
Did you know that WordCamps are all listed on an international website? Those that attend WordCamps a lot know where to find yours.
- Don’t send too many emails, speaker announcements, or logistics pieces at one time.
Aggregate and pace communications evenly so people don’t tune out. For more on sending frequency, check out this article on Entrepreneur.
Of course, if you’re looking to plan a WordCamp, hop on over and check out the official WordCamp Organizer Handbook. And, if you’ve got observations of your own you’d like to share, let me know @ifyouwillit on Twitter!
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