We had the first-ever WordCamp in OKC on July 30th. You can read the nice write-up by Sarah Gooding over at WPTavern. Now that life is pretty much back to normal for me (I was the lead organizer), I thought I’d write up my take on How to plan a WordPress WordCamp.
- Gauge the interest in your city
- Meetup Group strength – what’s your attendance? Are there lots of regulars? You’ll need them to volunteer the day of the WordCamp.
- If you are new to WordCamp, take some time to go through the Organizer Handbook. You will be required to follow a huge number of Automattic rules and regulations. You’ll be referring to this document A LOT!
- If this is your first meetup, think about doing a 1-day instead of 2. Starting with a 1-day, 1-track WordCamp means gathering and sifting through fewer speaker applications, fewer volunteers and fewer logistics to wrangle.
- Have an adequate lead time to get everything accomplished. For your first one, six months is good.
- Get the right number of organizers. To do this, the Organizer Handbook details the major areas and has some helpful suggestions. Everyone will have these:
- Sponsors (fund raising)
- Budget management
- Video (each WordCamp is recorded)
- Food (morning coffee-required-good rule here!), snacks, lunch
- After Party
- Marketing (Twitter, posting to the official website, etc.)
- Compliance & Security
- Your Organizing group should be chosen to fit the skills needed to fill all the above positions. For example, it’s helpful to have a developer in your group to get the website up and running and figure those things out. They can set up the ticket system and other back-end tasks.
- Size of the organizing team – of course this depends on who will step forward. It would be a luxury to have each person in charge of only one or two areas, depending on time required for each. For example, the same person could be on the venue committee and on the volunteer committee because the time requirements are spread out. Realistically, each team member will need to head up more than one area.
- Realize the time commitment necessary. There’s no way to put a time on each of the above tasks – it’ll be different for each WordCamp. One WordCamp may have a venue lined up even before the committee is formed, others may have difficulties finding one or one they may have secured could fall through. Most of the items above just have to be worked on until finished. Since each organizer is an unpaid volunteer, you’ll need to recognize that up front. Many WordPress folks are in business for themselves and they will have to balance clients/workload and WordCamp chores. The lead organizer should stress this when assembling the organizing team.
- Set up your group’s preferred communication system. You may want to use a project management software system, set up a private Slack channel, or a WordPress P2 blog. Our group went the P2 blog route. It was great, but it wasn’t until near the end of our planning process that we recognized some limitations. For example, we didn’t realize that adding comments on a thread that was a bit dated would not be seen by everyone if they didn’t have notifications enabled. A key here would be to check the ‘get notified’ box on each and every post. Make sure the team is comfortable with whatever you choose.
- Get a timeline. There is a great resource for this that we used and then we entered in tasks and due dates in our budget sheet. Unfortunately, I can’t find the link right now – if I do, I’ll update this post.
- Use your budget sheet as the go-to document center for your team. For WordCamp OKC, we used our budget document assigned to us by WordCamp Central and then simply added tabs to it for Sponsors, Speakers, Volunteers, Timeline/date due and any other notes. This was a one-stop for us to see where we were with each area. Having all the notes in one document made things simple and it was faster than searching through our P2 Blog.
- In-person meetings. It’s nice for everyone to sit around a table to get things accomplished. The reality for our little group was that it didn’t happen very often – people have children and work schedules! So we used Zoom, but it had a time limit (30-40″). It wasn’t until our very last debrief meeting that we did a private Google Hangout. That was preferable to Zoom (at least for me). I’m more comfortable with Skype – just find something and use it. We did get together maybe four times during our 6-month planning process. Some of our meetings were either before or after our regular monthly meetups.
- Communicate often and frequently. Since each of us had different areas of focus, we used the P2 blog probably every day to post what was going on and to ask questions. We would handle many of the smaller details this way – asking for people to comment and then make a decision from there. It’s important to have one topic per thread so you don’t get confused or something gets lost.
WordPress WordCamp Tip Summary
I hope these tips will be helpful to people planning a WordCamp. It’s a start, but certainly not a comprehensive list. Each organizing team will be different anyway and you’ll have to make your group work for you.
Another vital distinction in planning WordCamp vs. a Business Conference is that WordCamps are totally volunteer-powered and if you have a business and are planning an event, most likely everyone is working for the same company and everyone is getting paid. WordCamp volunteers, although dedicated and passionate about planning a WordCamp, have priorities and other commitments that need to be met. However, the system seems to work, evidenced by hundreds of WordCamps held yearly around the globe.
WordCamps are defined as, “WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users like you. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.”.
Speaking from my recent experience, the above is true for those who come to a WordCamp. But for those of us who plan the WordCamp, get ready to become immersed and well-versed in a multitude of rules and regs from Automattic. They have the oversight and final say on what is allowed and not allowed. For me, someone who was not well-versed in the organizer handbook or what is required when planning a WordCamp, this took an inordinate amount of time.
Our WordCamp went very well and it was heartening the number of people who came up to me to thank us for putting one on in Oklahoma. It was an experience I’ll always remember!