I’ve been writing for Torque for a year and have covered numerous WordCamps. I’ve written about venue changes, speaker deadlines, and ticket sales, but until last weekend, I had never actually attended a WordCamp.
WordCamp Phoenix was a hot, inspirational, educational, and crazy weekend. There is a lot to be learned at any WordCamp, and I certainly did my fair share. Here are some of the things I picked up.
I am not someone who is often underprepared. In fact, I tend to go overboard. So in the weeks leading up to WCPHX, I read about WordCamps, looked at photos, and asked anyone I could about their experiences. People’s advice coupled with the fact that I’ve been remotely part of the community for a year now made me naively confident about what to expect.
Jumping straight in to everything is the best way to learn, and that’s the attitude you have to have with a WordCamp. Of course, you should research the town, venue, and organizers a bit before going, if only to know what to wear. (In Phoenix that meant a sweater for the freezing cold conference center and shorts for the sizzling 90-degree streets.) Bring a water bottle and snacks if you think you’ll get hungry during sessions. Have something to write with and bring business cards to make introductions more streamlined. These are the things you can and should prepare for.
Not to say that things were wildly different from what I had in mind, but it is something that has to be learned in the moment. Even if you’ve attended other conferences, a WordCamp is different. You’ll find yourself meeting new people at every turn. I met lovely people waiting for talks to start, in the bathroom, and even standing in line for lunch. The thing that sets a WordCamp apart from other conferences is the sense of community, which brings me to my next, aptly titled section.
Community, Community, Community
Wether you’ve just dipped a toe in the water of WordPress or have been here for 10 years, you’ve heard about the community. It is what many believe sets the CMS apart from other kinds of tech. Not only can you start a successful business, you can meet your best friend along the way. As I said before, I thought I had a good understanding of what this meant, but I hadn’t even scratched the surface.
Of course, people are easy to reach and welcoming online, but it is a whole different animal at a WordCamp. I was lucky enough to have a coworker join me for the weekend who has been in and around the community for over four years. She introduced me to tons of people that can not only help forward what I do with WordPress but were fun to be around.
That said, not everyone can bring their own personal PR rep, but that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out to those around you. Standing in line for lunch I met a woman who had just come from WordCamp Calgary and gave me tips on where to eat there. After getting my food, I sat down and met a woman who works alone from home and was attending her first WordPress gathering of any kind. We now follow each other on Twitter.
It can seem overwhelming to be in a place where it feels like everyone knows each other and has more experience than you, but by just striking up conversations, you’ll expand your horizons and begin to feel more comfortable. When you walk up to the registration table, talk to the organizers and volunteers. They are the ones that will help you find your way around the venue and give you great restaurant advice.
The time between sessions, or “the hallway track” as it’s lovingly known, is just as valuable as the time inside. This is where you could meet a new friend or even business partner. Be bold.
Go to talks. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be easy to get caught up in the hallway conversations. Industry leaders from around the country came to impart their knowledge, and it’s invaluable.
There are a lot to choose from, so I recommend looking at the schedule ahead of time and planning your day. Some WordCamps have tracks based on interest, but WCPHX mixed everything together. This allowed for a more varied weekend. I didn’t have to miss all the developer talks just because I wanted to see the content talks.
I highly recommend taking notes and tweeting. I was live-tweeting the sessions I attended for Torque but I also sent questions and comments to speakers from my personal account. This was a great way to get in touch with them and further my understanding. I was also taking notes on the side. Ideas for this article as well as general ways further my career in WordPress.
There were so many amazing talks, but the ones I found most useful were:
- Stacey Harris– Content Matters, Sharing It Matters More
- Tanya Moushi– The Human Side Of The Web
- Adam Silver– How To Grow Your Business With WordPress And Podcasting
These three either gave me direct advice to reach my goals with WordPress or big ideas to think about moving forward.
I came back to San Francisco tired but happy. I was able to learn a great deal and make important connections all while having fun. If you are intimidated or nervous about heading to a WordCamp near you, don’t be. For me, it was an extremely valuable way to move forward with my work at Torque and in WordPress.
If you have any questions or want to share your first-time WordCamp experiences please write me in the comments below.