WordCamp season is kicking off, and chances are you will attend at least one before the summer is over.
If you’ve never been to a WordCamp, it can seem intimidating. There are a lot of people, a lot of things to see and learn, and all in just two or three days. We talked to a couple WordCamp veterans who will make sure you get the most out of any WordPress conference.
John James Jacoby has been a fixture of WordCamps and estimates he has attended almost 100 of them. It is safe to say he has a fair amount of WordPress conference wisdom.
Sara Cannon is another active WordCamper who can’t even count the number she’s attended. Even though she’s spoken at 25, she can remember back to the days of her first appearance at a WordCamp.
Both have come together to offer advice and wisdom to anyone headed to their first conference or 60th.
Why Go To A WordCamp?
Though working in WordPress is extremely rewarding, it can feel a bit isolated at times. WordCamps are the perfect way to meet the people you’ve been talking to online. Of course, you also have the chance to learn from interesting speakers and share your ideas on WordPress, but the social aspect is what keeps bringing people back.
“[WordCamps] are the spirit of open source come alive,” Cannon said. “It’s incredible to meet and learn from others in the community with the mindset of sharing knowledge and learning from each other. My favorite part is always the people that I get to meet.”
The conversations aren’t limited to just the sessions or the after party. A great way to catch time with people is in the hallway between sessions.
“A lot of people see WordCamps as a marketing opportunity (and it certainly can be that) but the most personally rewarding interactions for me happen organically and naturally, in a time and place where everyone feels comfortable and happy; usually that’s after learning something new during a WordCamp session, and everyone’s gears are turning with the excitement of new possibilities,” Jacoby said.
Advice For First-Timers
A WordCamp isn’t the easiest thing to step into unprepared. People are welcoming and the schedule is easy to follow and plan around, but it can seem like a lot if you’ve never been. Jacoby and Cannon had the same piece of advice, sign up to speak.
Sure, it does sound like a terrifying suggestion. You’re nervous enough just attending, so why speak?
“Don’t be scared to apply to speak. No matter who you are or what level you are at, you have something of value to share,” Cannon said. “There will always be someone more beginner than you. I was able to speak at my first WordCamp and it was a great introduction into the spirit of sharing in the community.”
Jacoby echoed Cannon’s thoughts.
“Don’t attend your first year to check the landscape and see if your idea for a talk might provide some value — it will, without a doubt,” he said. “Everyone has something valuable to share at a WordCamp, and if you’re considering giving a talk and are the type of person that prefers to make a calculated risk, use this comment to help shift your assessment for the better.”
Obviously, speaking at your very first WordCamp isn’t for everyone, and neither said it was a must, but it’s a great way to dive right in to the feel of the conference and connect with the community.
Cannon also advised leaving your laptop at home or at least tucking it away during sessions. “Some of the best value you can get out of a WordCamp is done through listening, taking a few notes, and meeting people,” she said. “If you’re stuck behind a screen, you might miss out.”
Find A WordCamp Near You
The hardest part is choosing which WordCamp to attend. You can start with one in your hometown or pack your bags and head halfway around the world. As long as you are open to meeting new people and learning a lot, you are ready.
Like WordPress in general, WordCamps are open and encourage sharing. Everyone finds a place to fit in a WordCamp.
“WordCamps are, by design, safe places for everyone, but they’re also usually huge events with lots of agendas and expectations to meet from all angles,” Jacoby said. “It’s easy to feel lost, or to feel like you need to find the most valuable session or talk to the one person you’re hoping to meet, so don’t lose the forest for the trees. WordCamps offer something for everyone, and if you can’t find a place to fit, that’s an opportunity for you to own that space next year.”
Ready for WordCamp? Head over to the WordCamp site and find one!