This year Joey Kudish, Flynn OConnor and I (Jill Binder), ran our first WordCamp together. (What is a WordCamp?)
It apparently went well. The kudos before and after the event has been a little overwhelming. Our quantifiable results reflect this: We sold out a couple of weeks early (with many more wanting tickets), we had so many sponsors that we have a surplus for next year and we capped it off early, we had so many quality speakers apply that we opened up a third track, and we had an overwhelming number of volunteer applications.
After chatting with other WordCamp organizers about the challenges that they’ve had, and after having received so much praise about how our day went, I felt inspired to write about what I think made our event pretty successful. These opinions are my own and not those of my co-organizers, WordPress, WordCamp Central, or Automattic.
In no particular order, here are many of the factors that I think contributed to our success:
- Standing on the shoulders of giants
Our WordCamps in Vancouver were run for the last few years by Morten Rand-Hendriksen and Vanessa Chu. They always did a fantastic job and thus made our work a lot easier. Thanks to them, we used many of their methods and ideas, including using the schedule in the pen concept that Morten’s partner, Angela Chih, came up with for their 2011 event. Plus, they had already created a momentum for attendees, speakers, and sponsors, so getting the word out was really easy.
- Our Giants Were Friendly
I’ve been asked by other WordCamp organizers how we handled the challenge of knowledge transfer from the previous organizing team. In our case, it was easy. We are still friends with them. It also doesn’t hurt that Joey was on last year’s team, so he already had much of the knowledge and all of the templates.
- We’re Not New to This (well, not completely)
Joey was on last year’s team, I was on the BuddyCamp team (a sister event), Flynn has experience running other kinds of tech conferences, and I think we all have experience running non-tech events. I have organized many arts shows, myself.Not to mention, Joey and Flynn are avid attendees at other WordCamps (often speaking or volunteering), and they always came back with inspiration for ours.
- We Worked With People We Adore
We already know each other from working on last year’s events and from our participation at WordCamps. We like each other a lot. Throughout our process, even during the stressful times, there was always a lot of laughter.
- We Kept the Team Small and Diverse(ish)
We intentionally kept our core team to three so that we could all approve every major decision and so that we wouldn’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. (That being said, we were overworked and so we are mulling over the idea of expanding the team a little next year.)When Joey picked the team, I believe he picked people he knew he could work with, who are dependable, who have strong opinions, and a few different viewpoints. We each come from a different slice of the work world (Automattic employee, web agency tech manager, freelancer, respectively) and we are at varying levels of WordPress knowledge and needs. I’m also glad that he brought a woman on board (me) as that provided some different perspective.
- Way Ahead Of Schedule
I realize from talking with other WordCamp organizers that this is not always possible, but because Joey got us together back in March and our event was in August, we had plenty of time. Plus, we are people who are generally on the ball, so details were handled early, such as signage and t-shirt printing. I’m sure that this was a factor to our early fill up of sponsors, attendees, and volunteers, as well.
Speaking of early fill up on sponsors, attendees and volunteers, I think this was also due to setting and communicating clear deadlines. We said exactly when early bird and regular tickets would be on sale, when the start and close of speaker applications would be, etc.(Of course, we had our own internal team deadlines as well, when needed.)
- Un-Division / Division of Work
We had two modes of operating. One is we made all of the major decisions together: the date, the venue, which speakers to select, all the look-and-feels, the blog posts going out, etc.The other is that we were each responsible for certain items. For example, one of my primary jobs was volunteer coordination.That being said, we learned early that we have different talents to contribute, so we often helped each other on our tasks. For example, some public and private communications became a group effort. Joey would dictate the main talking points, Flynn would add items we shouldn’t forget, I would flesh it out into full paragraphs, and Joey would re-read for accuracy.When one of us had too much on their plate, the other two were happy to pick up the slack.
- We had Joey
Do you know Joey Kudish? He is a young, early 20s, firecracker with very strong opinions. I say most of why our day went so smoothly is thanks to him.That being said, discussion was always encouraged, and although we normally all agreed, we did have some friendly debates. 🙂
- Good Tools, Good Communication
We kept in constant contact through P2, a WordPress group blog theme, a Skype group chat, and meetings in person.When we started to get swamped, we began using the P2’s to do list feature. We were always able to add to and see each other’s lists, and see when they were completed. Things generally didn’t get lost through the cracks.We shared a lot of information through Google Drive and Dropbox.
- We Are The Nicest
We always said thanks for each other’s contributions. When one of us messed up, we simply said it was a learning experience for next time.
From my previous experience with volunteer coordination and from the stories that we’d heard from other camps about low volunteer turn-out, I did several things to ensure that we had a good turn-out:
- I got everyone’s buy-in on what role they would be doing. I told them explicitly that if they were not happy, I would rather fix it now than have them not show up. A few took me up on this.
- I got them to commit to me twice by email that they would be there. The first time, I said, “Once you confirm that you are still available and are able to commit to that day, …” The second time was the buy-in.
- I scheduled more “Floaters” than we needed to fill in any unexpected gaps in case of cancelations.
- Because we had more volunteers apply than we needed, I was able to create a wait list. We wound up pulling in a few of them to fill in the last-minute cancelations before the event.
As a result, everyone who had not canceled in advance showed up. Only one did not show up for their shift on time, but we had more than enough Floaters for that.
Also, our volunteers were all go-getters who were on the ball and who did their jobs really well. A huge thanks to them!
- We got lucky
There are a few items that were outside of our control in which we got really lucky. The venue representatives were great at working with us closely, the lunch food was unusually good, and our after party venue surprised us with their excellent quality of food and service.
- WordCamp Central
I would be remiss if I did not mention WordCamp Central. This body has been around for a while, but this year they really stepped up their game and made it an even better experience for us as WordCamp organizers to have access to everything that we needed as seamlessly as possible. A huge thanks goes out to Andrea Middleton, Cami Kaos, and the team.
I’m sure that there are other items or people I have forgotten to mention. There is so much that goes into a day like this, and I thank every person who contributed in the big and the little ways.
Behind the scenes, all was not entirely perfect, of course, but it never is. We have many lessons that we learned for next time (which we are keeping in a list in our P2 🙂 ). However, as far as how WordCamps go, it is our understanding that we did a bang-on job. We are proud of it and people are still commending us a month later. We are already starting to plan next year’s, as that’s just the kind of
crazy organized people we are.