WordCamp season is upon us, and it seems like there’s another one every week. While many of us have attended a number of WordCamps throughout the years, not as many have had a hand at being a WordCamp organizer. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes long before even a venue is chosen. This article takes a look at some of the challenges faced by WordCamp organizers and advises how to grapple with them.
Michelle Schulp is no stranger to WordCamps. She was an organizing committee member of WordCamp Chicago in 2012, co-lead in 2013, and lead in 2014. Schlup then moved to Minneapolis and was lead organizer for 2016. All of this on top of the countless WordCamps where she has presented, volunteered, or attended. It all started in 2011.
“The first WordCamp I ever attended was WordCamp Chicago 2011, before I even knew about the WordPress community in general, but I knew after attending that I really wanted to be involved with the next one in a more active role,” Schulp said. “When I saw the open call for volunteers for WordCamp Chicago 2012, I decided to reach out and become involved. They welcomed me with open arms, as I learned is pretty common in the community, and the rest is history.”
David Bisset is also no stranger to organizing WordCamps. In fact, he has been helping organize WordCamp Miami since it began in 2009 before there was an organized group helping put on the conference. Outside of that, Bisset has volunteered at WordCamps held in Tampa and Orlando and is a mentor with the WordCamp Mentor Program.
We asked these experts what it’s like to organize a WordCamp, and they offered some amazing insight.
Look For A Strong Community
Bisset helped create a WordCamp from scratch, and something that allowed that to happen was seeing Miami’s already strong WordPress community. When your area already has the infrastructure for a big meetup, a WordCamp isn’t too far off.
“If you have a meetup, then asking attendees (and potential local sponsors) for their support for a WordCamp would be the next move. It doesn’t take many organizers at this point – a solid three or four people,” he said.
Once you’ve gathered some support, you can go to the WordCamp Foundation and start the application process. Then you’re on your way to organizing a WordCamp.
Schulp has never started a WordCamp from the ground up but she said the thing that made her work much easier was having a dedicated group of people working with her.
“…the most important thing is to have a team you can count on to shoulder some of the work and delegate tasks,” Schulp said. “Each community has its own unique dynamic, but if you can secure a core team that won’t flake on you, it will be much easier.”
Once you have your group together, find where their talents are the most useful then start delegating tasks.
Challenges Of Organizing A WordCamp
Undeniably, organizing a conference is very difficult, but maybe not in the way you may think. Sure, a ton of time goes to finding the venue, talking to sponsors, and locking down speakers. But it’s all the little day-to-day tasks that can be wearing.
“It’s the small parts that aren’t talked about as much: 1-2 hours per day, every day, for months, that you have to spend on emails, content writing for the site, monitoring and replying on social media, responding to contact form submissions, answering repetitive questions, following up, picking things up, etc. that are the most taxing to your time and patience,” Schulp said.
For Bisset, it is the things that you don’t expect that are the most challenging, such as projectors failing or scheduling conflicts.
“Most problems we can keep in the background or laugh at them after the event, but it’s those problems that affect your attendees and speakers are the ones that hurt the most,” he said.
This is all done for free on top of a job and a social life. Especially for first-timers, it can seem very hectic. Then once the work is done, and the conference is over, you will continue to hear from people with questions and even criticisms.
It’s Worth It
Though it can get very stressful, helping plan any kind of WordCamp meetup or conference is worth it. You have the ability to work with a team of people you respect and bring a fun and educational time to the WordPress community around you.
“At times I am literally speechless as to how much time and energy they put into an event. And it shows, because our attendees have been always vocal on the organization level of the conference,” Bisset said.
Don’t hesitate to try your hand at organizing. If you feel intimidated contact a successful WordCamp like Miami or Chicago and see if there is a way you can help. Just make sure you start working early.
“The biggest key I think is to start as early as you can and don’t let things sneak up on you at the last minute if you can help it. For the first time I think I got a decent night’s sleep the day before WordCamp Miami this past February because I finally learned from my past mistakes,” Bisset said.
Contact your local organizer or meetup team and see what you can offer. At the very least, you’ll meet some awesome WordPress people and learn something.
What advice do you have for a first-time WordCamp organizer? Let us know in the comments below!
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