I have been fortunate enough over the years to have had many different roles at various WordCamps.
I have been a speaker at WordCamps such as Victoria BC and Boston, a sponsor while in my role as a Product Manager for a major Canadian telco, and an organizer for several WordCamps in Toronto. So I think it’s fair to say that I have a unique perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to WordCamps. In this article, however, I’d like to talk about my experiences as an organizer.
Organizing a WordCamp
The most important person you will meet in your journey as an organizer is an Automattic employee named Andrea Middleton. She is the one who will approve your budget, help you solve problems, and be there to help you make the tough decisions.
I can honestly say now that I am out of the game that she is hands down one of the most fair people that I’ve ever worked with.
The first conversation I had with Andrea was about the differences in costs between Canada and the US, as I was trying to sell a budget that was considerably higher than she was used to seeing for WordCamps. She ended up approving most of it and came up with solutions to help reduce costs where possible.
Assemble a team
The team you assemble is possibly the most critical step to success for your event. The first time around we had a person who made decisions on their own, which left the rest of the group in a very difficult and uncomfortable position. This particular person even brought his wife into the organizing team. Needless to say, this made it very difficult to get things done, and eventually came to a head when they stepped down.
One thing I also found out very quickly was that people involved with the Meetup group were most likely to be willing to work closely with the organizers to learn the ins and outs.
Assess each organizer’s strength
After getting the team assembled, we were left scrambling to pull the event together in a very condensed timeframe, which is where I learned the second biggest lesson in organizing a WordCamp: Find each organizers strength and divide the duties.
At the time, my greatest strength was arranging the speakers, so vetting them was also part of my duty. Everyone who submitted an application to speak got a serious once over to ensure that they were who they said they were and that they weren’t there to sell something.
Once they got past the initial screening, it was time to build the schedule. My goal was to build each track like a course — starting with the 101 type courses early, and building from there.
Once I had that arranged, I had to have some (often times lively) chats about how things had shaped up and why some people didn’t make the cut.
Communication is key
This brings us to organizer communication. I can’t emphasize enough that there is no such thing as too much communication. As the event gets closer and closer we always upped the amount we, the organizers, talked and tried to make sure we covered all the loose ends. Ensuring things for the WordCamp like wifi and security may seem small, but I assure you they’re fundamental.
Even after arranging all of those details ahead of time, we still ran into snags along the way.
The first WordCamp I helped organize, I found myself having a heated discussion about internet security with a unionized college employee at 9pm on the Friday night before the event, simply because he refused to increase the number of incorrect logins. So first thing Saturday morning, myself and another organizer did the connections for each attendee (I did macs, he did Windows machines). It ended up okay, but required lots of last minute organizing.
Speakers and Volunteers
The true key to any WordCamp is comprised of two groups of people: the speakers and the volunteers. Without them your event falls flat. The speakers often travel great distance on their own dime for the chance to speak, and the volunteers spend all weekend running around doing all sorts of things to make the event run as smoothly as possible, with little to no recognition.
So once you have those things looked after, you stand a good chance of having a successful WordCamp. The key, of course, is getting them all to fall into place perfectly.
After my stint as a WordCamp organizer, I was asked if I would be interested in participating on a committee whose goal was to come up with a solution that allowed companies to sponsor multiple WordCamps.
In my role as sponsor, I wanted to sponsor every WordCamp in Canada but it was difficult to connect with a lot of organizer in time because I worked for a big telco company and that means the big wheels take longer to move.
And because every WordCamp is a different size in terms of attendees, not all WordCamps require the same amount of money. So the committee came up with a formula that allows sponsors to choose the WordCamps they want to sponsor ahead of time, based on things like region and size, which also benefits the organizers as they come out of the gate with some cash to get started with and it also leaves them room to have local businesses involved in the event.
I’ve learned a lot during my time as a WordCamp organizer. Similarly, I met a lot of great people who I am proud to call friends through my involvement in WordCamps. So if you get the chance to become involved with your local group, I’d highly recommend you jump at the opportunity!
Have you helped organize a WordCamp? Share your experiences in the comments below!
When not at his day job in the hosting industry, Al teaches WordPress at a Toronto, Ontario college and also does corporate WordPress training. As a freelance web developer, he is always busy building sites on the WordPress platform. All this leaves him very little time to ride his Harley and watch NFL football.