How to organize a WordCamp

First of all, WordCamps are great! They’re fun and educational, and a great way to fall in love with WordPress even more. Second of all, organizing a WordCamp can be a pain in the butt. But in the end, it’s all worth it! Trust me – I’ve been an organizer for one.

It was the early spring of 2016 when the work on first ever WordCamp Riga began. I didn’t know where I’m putting myself into but knew that I wouldn’t be alone. Though at the time it seemed that the WordPress community in Latvia is relatively small, I was proven wrong. It’s medium. And I mean it in the best way possible. We still have a long way to go, but the flame is lit, and there’s no turning back.

Though I’ve started this post quite poetically, it’s going to be more practical and hopefully useful to others interested in organizing a WordCamp for the first time.

So, first things first – make sure you have a local community of WordPress enthusiasts. That is actually a must from the people at the central – one must not organize a WordCamp if the one’s community doesn’t have a meetup. How to know if there’s a meetup around you? The easiest way is to go to meetup.com and do a little search. It’s not that hard. More about prepping for the event can be read in WordCamp Organizer Handbook. It’s like a bible to anyone who’s doing this. Go ahead and read the first chapter and then come back to this post.

WordPress WordCamp swag set
WordCamp Riga swags

Welcome back! So where were we? Oh, right, the insights.

The team of your WordCamp

When putting together the team, make sure to divide responsibilities and agree on how you will make decisions. What are the topics that can be decided by the project lead and will you even have one particular project lead? Decide also where you will work and communicate, what tools will you use. For example, we used Google Drive for storing files and writing things down, and Slack for communication or making decisions when we weren’t meeting in person.

Also, at the very first team meeting, we agreed on a regular meeting place, day and time. First, it was every two weeks on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM at a local co-working space, that allowed us to be there for free. In the last month, we met every week. Some meetings were shorter, some were longer. Some were more fun, some not so much. We didn’t have a team bonding event, but maybe that’s a thing that could be useful.

Also, make sure to agree on how you perceive your WordCamp – as a project or an event. And trust me, there’s a difference. People who run projects not always can organize events. And the other way around.

Speakers, location, sponsors

These three things should happen at the same time. The Speaker team have to start their job immediately to have names that will attract attendees and sell more tickets. Though, don’t worry about not selling all of the tickets in the first month after announcing the event. Make sure to know how things run in your country. For example, in Latvia, people like to wait till last minute, give you extra gray hair from worrying too much, and buy tickets 24 hours before the event. Or just walk in on the day of the event and buy them. We sold 70% of the tickets in the last two weeks and in the end we were all sold out.

Speakers at WordCamp Riga
WordCamp Riga 2016 speakers (from left) Raitis Sevelis (Visual Composer), Petya Raykovska (HumanMade), Karlis Upitis (Würth Phoenix)

What’s great about WordCamp is that a lot of people from foreign communities apply to speak themselves. For example, Petya Raykovska from Bulgaria and Arunas Liuzia from Lithuania got in touch with us quite early on. We were able to schedule them to come to Riga and speak at the event. It’s great to introduce the local community to members from other communities and spread your name around the world.

About the location – whatever you do, whatever friends and contacts you need to use, to get a location for free, use them. We managed to get an awesome place totally for free by collaborating with the Student Union of the University of Latvia.

We sold 70% of the tickets in the last two weeks and in the end, we were all sold out Click To Tweet

And sponsors are awesome if you want to get and give more cool stuff for your attendees and speakers. It’s not always about the money, but if you want some extra cash, then this should be addressed as soon as possible. Have a team of people and use all the resources you have to get in touch with companies directly. Call them. E-mails suck most of the time. Do it early, because many businesses need to have at least three months in advance, or even six. Remember that the person you think is responsible for sponsorship, most definitely receive dozens of request a day, so make your WordCamp stand out! And don’t forget to say thanks to them in every way you promised.

Oh, and set the date as soon as you can, and do a little search of other local IT-related events that might interfere with yours to not make people choose.

Audience listening to the speech at WordCamp Riga
Audience listening to the speech at WordCamp Riga

Stuff you shouldn’t be afraid of

Organizing a WordCamp for the first time can be scary. Hosting an event (or running a project) for the first time is scary. But what’s great with WordCamps is that there are dozens of people you can ask for help. All you have to do is get Slack, if you don’t have it yet, join the international WordPress team and not be afraid to ask whatever you want to. Of course, regarding WordCamp or meetups, or how to do stuff for WordCamp or meetups.

They organize several “office hours,” where you can ask questions to support team and get answers in minutes. You can get in touch with people directly, and there are literally more than thousand people who might have the answer you’re looking for because there are not just official WordPress people, but also people from the community that actually organize meetups and events themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions you think are stupid, feel free to ask about technicalities and definitely ask if you have questions regarding GPL, sponsorship, and money. They do have plenty of rules you have to follow but don’t be afraid to apply some of them for your WordCamp and country specifics.

During the organizing process you’ll get answers from many people and don’t be afraid to remind them about something you asked, need or they promised to do. Remember, there are 60+ WordCamps in a year all around the world and we’re all human, even the support team, and humans tend to forget stuff.

Don’t be afraid to treat the speakers like people Click To Tweet

Also don’t be afraid to treat the speakers like people. I know this one sounds weird, but the story behind is the following – we had a team of volunteers who didn’t know WordPress or WordCamp, and they were also quite young in age (mostly younger than the speakers). But what we said to them in the training was to treat the speakers like any normal human being, who they all were, and if they were speaking too long, don’t be afraid to interrupt them and say that their time is over. We did have a tight schedule we had to follow and I do believe that this small thing helped the event run as well as it did.

And the most important thing not to forget and not be afraid of is (drumroll please) – to have fun and enjoy the event! Though it sometimes is hard, we somehow managed not to leave all the small things to the end, so I got a good night sleep before WordCamp Day 1 and everything was running so smoothly (and no, we hadn’t forgotten anything) that the organizers were really able to enjoy the day and so did the attendees.

WordCamp Riga organizers, speakers and visitors
WordCamp Riga organizers, speakers, and attendees

In the end

As the actor, Shia LaBeouf said in one the most inspirational videos in the world – Do it. Just do it. Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Yesterday you said tomorrow, so just do it. Make your dreams come true. Just do it!

If your dream is to host a WordCamp then you’ll have to take the action in your own hands. And it’s not that hard. There’ve been 600+ WordCamps all around the world since the first one in 2006 in San Francisco organized by Matt Mullenweg himself. If Matt, me and others can do it, so can you.

There have been more than 600 WordCamps all around the world since the first one in 2006 Click To Tweet

Make sure to plan out everything and keep up with your plan. Have a great team aa nd strong community. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to enjoy it!

Still not sure if you can do it? Feel free to write down what’s bothering you in the comment section below. Or maybe you think that I’ve left something out? Then add what else should an organizer keep in mind or do to have a great WordCamp!

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