I’m a two-time WordCamp lead organizer and also a MeetUp co-organizer so, yes, I like to get involved and grow communities. Even if the official handbook for WordCamp organizers is very well written and detailed, I would like to share a more personal and subjective, probably, perspective on some essential elements in organizing such events. It’s better to be prepared because there are some behind the scenes facts that nobody tells you about and also sometimes your expectations are moving away from the reality.
Fist step: create a team
As a lead organizer, you can’t put in place a WordCamp by yourself, you need help and support. The first thing you have to do is to create a team. I’m sure you already know some of the future team members from the MeetUp regulars and attendees, but also a Call for Organizers will help. Create a Google Form for example and send it to the MeetUp members or post it on the local Facebook Groups.
Choose wisely your future team members because they will have to fill in different roles like the design and create of the website, create content, social media, find sponsorships, filter speakers applications, manage volunteers, manage suppliers and so on. Each role becomes essential at some point during the organization of the event, so, again, make sure you have the right people, else you will have to do the job by yourself in the end.
Set team’s rules
Once you have the team of organizers it’s time to set some ground rules to work efficiently:
- setup the communication channel; we’ve used Slack, and we’ve created different channels for the site, social media, printing, communication, speakers, sponsors etc;
- keep all the info centralized; a “master spreadsheet” will be a good idea, create tabs for all the sub-teams or for all sections. What I found very helpful was a Contacts tab containing the phones and emails for all the organizers and later for all the volunteers, too. This way, if there is a fire, everyone will be able to get direct access to everyone else;
- a leader has to delegate tasks; your team won’t know what to do by default. Read the official Handbook and understand what needs to be done at a specific moment and delegate the right tasks. Support your team and get involved as much as possible, help them and get their feedback. Don’t forget that all the organizers are doing this in their spare time so sync with them and schedule together with them the tasks;
- because I’ve mentioned schedule, a handy tool we’ve used for planning our calls is doodle.com;
- create a calendar for everything, including posting on the site and social media.
The first thing you have to do to be published on the official WordCamps calendar is to find a venue and sign a contract with them. In the official Handbook, you’ll find a lot of basic guidelines on how to find a suitable place, but there are also other important details you need to consider.
Finding a venue which is used for this purpose on regular basis, probably it would be the best idea. Don’t go directly to the cheapest, pay attention to details because sometimes what is cheap can produce a lot of issues and expenses. And if the venue has a technical person, even better.
Make sure your place has good Internet access, I’ve noticed that sometimes people may overrate their equipment and you won’t like your connection to go offline at any time. After my first organized WordCamp, I was pleased when people told me that it’s their first time when during the lunch break the Internet was working at the same high speed.
Learn from other WordCamps
Even if you think your venue is perfect, it’s not. For example, our location is formed by three spaces, the large amphitheater, the lobby and the food area and we had the following issues:
- We put the sponsors’ tables all over the lobby and, obviously, also during the presentations, some of the people were out there talking to the sponsor’s crews. Even if nobody was screaming or speaking loud, the overall noise was annoying in the amphitheater, with the doors closed;
- The food area was above the lobby and the access was made through stairs. Our hosts advised us not to let the attendees come down with food or drinks, which we did but everyone has been annoyed by this (Sorry!);
- It seems that some people considered that there were too few toilets available, which is not so true because there were also toilets on the top level, near the lunch area, but we didn’t communicate this and we didn’t place any posters with directions.
I think this part is one of the most difficult and challenging of organizing a WordCamp and there is a need for a good team for selecting and handling the speakers. Just as a note because I will mention it several times below, we had a team of five, dedicated to the speakers’ selection.
- If the audience is not familiar with WordCamps, you must be prepared for some high and even exaggerated expectations regarding the presentations. Surely, you’ll do your best, but also be ready for it. Probably this aspect will get better after a few numbers of WordCamps in a row;
- Many speakers have the annoying habit of applying at the end of the Call for Speakers period, some of them precisely on the last day. Not cool, but you can’t control it, and you need to be prepared. Our strategy was to announce a few speakers during this period and leave as many as possible for after the deadline when both a complete analysis and a fair comparison are possible;
- Selecting the right speakers can be so difficult. In order to make it a little easier we defined very well what we were looking for and we’ve created a spreadsheet where all of the members were rating each of these areas of interest for each speaker;
- Choose a few backup speakers. They are essential, and they need to be treated like any other. If possible find more of them and with different types of presentations, so if a speaker with a technical presentation will withdraw, you will replace it with one of the same kind, and the balance between the topics will remain the same;
- Review your speakers’ presentations and give them feedback if needed because you need to make sure they will deliver value to the audience. We reviewed all the presentations sending back feedback and suggestions.
The sponsors / The money
Well, I’m sure this is a stressful subject for many of the organizers but in reality, it shouldn’t. From my previous experience, I can say that good speakers will bring attendees and sponsors. For the WordCamp we hosted in Bucharest this October we reached the minimum budget needed to run the event even before launching the Call for Sponsors. What we raised after that gave us the freedom to pay more attention to details and to offer some treats to our participants and speakers like for example
- a discounted tour to a couple of the principal Romanian castles, including Dracula’s,
- even better food, coffee, and drinks,
- free airport transfers for our speakers,
- and many others.
At the same time, if it is the first WordCamp in your city and the sponsors are not rushing in, don’t get scared, the WordCamp Central is having your back covered.
Get invoices for everything
There is also a grey area about the budget and the money. The Central’s politics still need to improve especially for countries with different fiscal policies and rules. If you decide to run all the payments directly through the Foundation, it’s fine, especially if your vendors can wait few days for their invoices to get paid. I’m not saying that the Central people are making payments with delays, they are moving really fast, but even so, sometimes you can get some days of lag.
There will also be payments processed directly by you, and then you’ll ask for a reimbursement. In this case, I have the following comments:
- make sure you have an invoice for everything; you won’t get reimbursed for something which is not covered by an invoice;
- try to include tips (if any) in the invoices; the Central is not paying them back to you;
- if you have currency exchange fees or bank transfer fees, or fees for the reimbursement amounts you’ll receive, talk about them with the Central people, because, again, they won’t pay anything which is not coming with an invoice from a vendor.
You need to pay attention to these details, else you might end up in spending a significant amount of money directly from your pocket even if your final budget is positive, and I’m saying this because … been there, done that :).
Organizing a WordCamp is stressful and time-consuming. It is said that a lead organizer is spending about 170 hours on this. I think the real number is a little bigger than this, especially if your event is larger. No matter how good your team is, you still need to have such time availability.
Most of this time is used in the last two months before the event. If you are a freelancer, manage your projects well and lower the work volume in this two months, else you’ll end up with some angry clients. If you are working for a company, make sure your colleagues and managers understand the level of effort you’ll have to put in, and they will schedule fewer tasks for you.
- Make sure you have good speakers with valuable presentations. Review them!
- Backup speakers are equally important as the others, and you need to have at least 2-3;
- Try to promote your event as much as possible;
- Make sure all your vendors are delivering what they should;
- Make sure coffee will be available all the time;
- Serve good food with a generous variety;
- Always check your budget and get invoices even for the smaller amounts;
- Pay attention to all the tiny details, you might think they are insignificant but you’ll be surprised to see how the attendees actually think of them.