Start a WordCamp in Your City

According to my notes from the past 3 years I’ve seen many WordCamp organizers getting nervous and exhausted from organizing a WordCamp. Often the next WordCamp is organized by other community people and the main reason is actually the bad taste in mouth from organizing the previous event.

I tend to disagree with this and I’m writing a counter-post to what my friend Kovshenin wrote for WordCamp Russia 🙂 I’m in the organizer committee for WordCamp Sofia for a second year and I’ll explain why I love to be in the WordCamp organization group.

WordCamps are fun

The most important idea to imprint in your head. The first and most important one. Why? Because you meet speakers, volunteers and attendees from your country and around the world, you deal with WordPress branding, session planning, many talks about the WordPress ecosystem, taking care of swag and pretty much everything is related to WordPress and the community folks.

Small mistakes could happen – yes, that’s true. It won’t be great, but as long as you have a venue and speakers, the rest is ‘nice to have’. It’s not one of those conferences for thousands of people and tickets for thousands of dollars. It’s an Open Source community, people are open themselves, speakers are usually nice folks to chat with (even if they built WordPress or some large plugin/theme themselves) so it’s not a snobbish celebrity event or an enterprise business etiquette-driven show for showing off businesses and employees.

There are a few things to prepare

The most important things to have at a WordCamp are venue, speakers and sponsors. Certainly, people to attend as well to enjoy the organization 🙂

The rest of organization is related to few other details:

  • site – the WordPress Foundation has a platform for building sites so the rest is data and some styling. There are plugins for tickets, speakers list, session list, sponsor list and so forth so it’s easy to set up
  • projector, remote controls – for the speakers
  • coffee – really a must, but whatever you can get (whether it’s Starbucks, some local coffee shop, or several coffee machines at the venue)
  • camera – it’s nice to have as to be able to share videos later at WordCamp.tv or consider videos for live stream if possible (and affordable)
  • badges – to serve as business cards to attendees, and eventually print the tracks on the back (I like that approach as it’s easy to see what’s next and where to go)
  • swag – T-shirts, stamps, posters, brochures – whatever you’ve seen at other WordCamps and could provide and prepare. Tees could be a bit tricky, but it’s doable
  • water, cakes, lunch – lunch is important, sandwiches would do or some decent lunch if possible (not really mandatory though). It’s an open conversation and it depends on where you are and what could be provided. As an attendee I won’t mind home made sandwiches from some volunteer if they’re delicious 🙂
  • events – hack day or speaker’s dinner, after party – this is some planned event, depending on the attendees could be a bar, a restaurant, an office of a sponsor or something

Jokers

The best thing to do is to start as early as possible. At WordCamp San Francisco I discussed some WordCamp events with organizers who start the planning right after a previous WordCamp is over. This includes venue, companies for printing swag, vetting speakers and volunteers. It’s totally not 100% set in stone, but it helps planning and it doesn’t turn the last 6-8 weeks into a full-time job with pressure and surprises.

The other good thing to do is adding a small form to the ticketing system at the WordCamp site. Add questions such as: T-shirt size, lunch preferences, are people about to attend any extra event (party, contributors day). This is quite helpful for the planning and setting things properly 1-3 weeks before the event to leave a small slot for small surprises.

Check other similar events in your area – Drupal, Joomla events or some other web/Open Source conferences, startup weekends. See what people are interested in, how do they plan and work, get ideas and improve yours.

Try to plan for a date that is not too close to another huge WordCamp or a local event. People would find it easier to plan it when they have more time, and it’s more likely for speakers to attend if it’s not too close to other top events.

Top issues

Everyone should figure this out for themselves from the start. I would consider the venue and sponsors thing first. If there are regular companies in your country willing to help with cash or venue, that’s great. We have several companies from the hosting/finance/marketing work willing to help, as well as media partners – website announcing and posting about that. Bloggers are also powerful for reaching out to attendees.

Venue should be suitable to the number of people you expect. Again, getting ideas from other events would help you planning the volume, more or less.

My personal issues are with the swag preparation and finances. Andrea is the WordCamp program manager who is the fairy of the smooth WordCamp work. There are various options and workaround she could help with when it comes to organization or finances, also able to help finding regular sponsors who subscribed for many WordCamp sponsorships a year (i.e. could help you too).

Start with the hardest

Find your weak spots from the issues and tackle them first. Vet sponsors, find a venue and talk with various speakers and WordPress people. Don’t limit yourself to only developers or designers, consider other aspects such as business, content writing, SEO, site administration, top plugins etc. Find out what sort of attendees are about to come – users, developers, designers, business owners. Take care of the serious issues and use all the information to take care of everything. Start at least 6 months earlier – you’ll need some time to get approved by the Foundation, to set your site up, to announce everything, to have some time for blog posts and social media sharing. You’ll have enough time then to take a holiday, take a rest, complete a tough project and still keep everything running as expected.

Don’t be afraid to start. If you don’t expect many people to come at first, start small, plan for smaller, and grow next year. If there is a meetup group in your area, use it to get opinion and find people to speak and attend. If not, consider organizing one and then to the former.

 

Your thoughts?