A little over two weeks ago, I attended WordCamp Orlando. This Florida event lasted from Friday through Sunday. The Friday session was an optional, day-long, Workshop Day, followed by two full days of classes, delicious meals prepared by the college’s cooking school, chats with sponsors and networking.
For which I felt completely unprepared. And a bit anxious. This was only my second WordCamp. The first was here, in Jacksonville, FL, in April 2018.
Our next WordCamp Jacksonville, which I hope you will come to, speak at, and/or sponsor, will be held on June 29-30, 2019.
Even though I knew a lot of people at WordCamp Jax, I still found the prospect of going a bit intimidating.
You see, I am not a design professional. Nor a developer. I am not a marketing or SEO guru. I am a plain, ordinary middle-aged woman with a small blog, on which I post essays, fiction and poetry.
I could not help, but view this trip to Orlando WordCamp, with trepidation. I was happy enough, to get away from the housework and laundry and other family chores. But I had my worries, about how it would go. I also wondered, whether I was “qualified” to go, or whether I would be in over my head. I wondered, if I was wasting my time, and more importantly, the time of the speakers and professionals. who generally attend such things.
Why Go to WordCamp, Anyway?
Much like I did, you may wonder, what the heck do I need to go to WordCamp for? Why should I bother?
The list of reasons is long, but let me sum it up, by saying,
…[I]f you want to enjoy your WordPress experience, rather than think of it as a chore, or as a book in a language you can’t understand, you have to “read the manual”. You have to spend some time, educating yourself. At least, to the degree that is necessary, to do what you want. Or to hire someone else, to do what you can’t or don’t dare.
And WordCamp is by far the most pleasant and entertaining and enjoyable way, of taking in this information, and learning how to put it to good use. It’s also a good place to find names, to put in your virtual Rolodex. Just in case, you encounter a problem that you can’t handle, and you need to call for help.
Whether or not you ever use their services, you will meet cool, interesting,creative people from across the state, country and world.
So don’t let fear get in your way. They probably have a WordCamp planned for somewhere close to you. Go!
So what worries kept me from going to WordCamp, for the first couple of years that I had a blog?
Other than embarrassment, about looking like I don’t know what I’m doing, I think my main worry was not knowing, what was going to happen. I was worried about logistics.
Luckily, at WordCamp, as at most conferences, a schedule is published or posted in advance, telling you, in general, what’s on tap.
But the descriptions can be very broad. At WordCamp Orlando, the WordPress 101 Friday Workshop was described on the website as too easy, for anyone, who already had a blog. That meant that people like me, who have had a blog for a while, but don’t necessarily have much expertise, ended up going to a workshop (either Development or Design) that was a little above our level. Or not going on Friday at all.
Lesson for WordCampers: Read the schedule ahead of time and sign up for workshops, even if they are out of your comfort zone
Lesson for WordCamp Organizers: Specify the skill level necessary, to participate in any given workshop, and provide enough workshops, that there is something for everyone ,who would like to spend the extra time.
But, no matter. I still got a lot out of it. I think the idea of an extra day of Workshops is an excellent one, and I hope we will include them in WordPress Jax sometime in the near future.
The second general worry I had, was that something might go wrong. Since WordCamps are volunteer-organized events, and they operate with a limited crew and limited resources, choices have to be made. And sometimes, things go wrong. But the problems are usually minor, like the glitches I detail below, in Orlando, on that first day of workshops.
Let me make it clear, that I think the organizers did a great job. But any event will have its ups and downs. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Let me set your expectations and calm your fears, for when you do go to WordCamp. Let me tell you a little about my trip, and the lessons I took home, as suggestions, for the organizers of this year’s WordCamp Jax. Despite everyone’s best efforts, there were little glitches, that first day. But, thanks to all those dedicated volunteers, the many generous sponsors, and the expert speakers, the event, on the whole, was superbly done. And I, like the many other WordCampers who attended with me, gained a great deal from the experience.
I hope this memoir will entice you to attend a WordCamp, or to help organize a WordCamp near you, very soon!
For some of us, it is always a challenge, to find a new place and get our bearings, especially in a city the size of Orlando, Florida. I admit that I often have butterflies in my stomach, when trying to locate a venue for the very first time. That’s why WordCamp organizers tend to bend over backwards, to make sure you find the right place.
Interestingly enough, this was the subject of our Design Workshop: “How to Make This Day of WordCamp Better.” It was a great topic, since everyone obviously had a vested interest, in making the experience a better one. Our small group picked the sub-topic of getting to the right place, or “wayfinding.” This word was not even in my vocabulary, before this session. And I am an English major!
Guided by the presenters, we applied design principles, step by step, to try to create a design solution to issues people had, getting to WordCamp Orlando. The issues, below, sprang out of that workshop. [Thanks to Erin Fonzi Denton and Karalyn Thayer for their excellent presentation and guidance through the design process, which is much more complex than I ever realized.]
All the scheduled talks will eventually be up on WordPress TV, so check them out!
For those who didn’t get a chance to go, all the scheduled talks, during the two days of classes at WordCamp Orlando, will eventually be up on WordPress TV, so check them out, and get a taste for what you’re missing! Other WordCamps, also, have sessions posted there, from this, and many years past.
Finding the Venue
With modern GPS systems on most phones, WordCampers should have little difficulty, finding the set of buildings they are looking for. Sometimes finding the right entrance to a complex, such as a college campus, can be a problem. In our case, the gate, to which most GPS systems directed us, happened to be closed. This minor, probably unpreventable, inconvenience nonetheless made some of us late.
Lesson for WordCampers: Give yourself plenty of time!
Lesson for WordCamp Organizers: Specify which entrance WordCampers should use!
Another glitch, that some of us were unaware of, had to do with parking. Since this first session was on a Friday, school was still in session, on the small college campus. That meant, that parking was being enforced. The WordCamp Orlando organizers providentially went to the trouble of getting a code, so that we attendees could get free parking, anyway.
There were two problems with this strategy.
The first was, that the email containing the code was sent out too late, for some (such as myself) to notice it. It was sent around midday,on the day before the conference was to begin. I had already left Jacksonville, and was driving south, when it plopped in my inbox. Many people coming from much further away than I, were, doubtless, underway, as well. I realize, some people are glued to their inbox, but with all the safe-driving precautionary features on my IPhone, I missed it. I imagine, others did too.
The second unintended consequence was that a huge queue formed, at the parking pay kiosk, closest to the entrance. Everyone was trying to enter their code in one place. At least, at that point, those who didn’t get the memo, probably found out about the code. Still, they definitely got their parking passes more slowly, than if the attendees had been disbursed, among several available kiosks, throughout the lot.
I parked a little further away. And, all by myself, at another, fully-functioning kiosk, still blissfully unaware of the code, I paid full price for my parking. (It was only three bucks!)
Lesson for WordCampers: Check out the parking policies of the venue, and check your email, for any last-minute information before you pay for parking.
Lesson for WordCamp Organizers: Send out any last-minute information, such as parking codes, locations of kiosks, and parking policies, as far in advance of WordCamp as possible, to allow people time to travel in peace. If something is truly last minute, send it as a text to the WordCampers phone. But remember, as we learned in our customer interviews, in the Design Workshop, some people do not like to give out their cell phone numbers. So have an alternate way to contact those people.
I parked further away, partially due to the fact, that I had no idea where on campus to go, for the WordCamp. There was a person, standing close to the curb, near the entry drive, who may, or may not have had a sign (I didn’t see it). He was talking to people, if they stopped (I didn’t stop), and telling them where to go. But there were no fixed arrows or signs in the parking lot, or along the entry drive, to guide us there.
My son is in a robotics club, and this is something they do very well, at their meets. A few blocks from the venue, you will see a temporary sign, stuck in the ground, pointing you in the right direction. Then at the entrance, another sign. If you go too far, a sign pointing in the opposite direction will lead you back to the event. On campus, or at the venue, various signs lead you thru hallways and corridors, to your destination.
On that Friday, at WordCamp Orlando, locating registration was harder than it needed to be. Unless you spoke to the man standing at the curb, you would not know, that the tables were hidden inside, behind a set of doors near the front entrance. There was no sign, or other indication, as to where we supposed to go. Again, you had to fumble around or, Heaven forbid, ask.
Now, I do not mean to criticize the greeter, who did an excellent job. I imagine that job was quite tiring. But one does not have to go far, in the WordPress blogosphere, before one finds an introvert. Someone, who would just as soon, not go up to the man at the entrance. In my opinion, signs are for that person, to respect his or her preferences.
Lesson for WordCampers: Ask. Or follow the crowd.
Lesson for WordCamp Organizers: Clearly guide your attendees to the registration table, on all days of the conference, with visible signs. Do not rely on one person, to greet hundreds, even if he once worked at Wal-Mart. And remember, some people don’t like to interact with strangers.
Finding Your Classroom:
I noticed something about registration, on that first, and, granted, optional, day. There was very little, in the way of welcome or swag. Once you checked in, and they logged you into the computer, you were free to go to your workshop. No schedules were handed out, that first day. No maps. No pins or stickers or doo-dads. No name tags.
One thing, that the organizers of WordCamp Jax did, last April, was to make the name tags a little larger, and print the entire schedule for the weekend, on the back and front. That way, it was easy to figure out, what you were doing next, and, where you were going.
Not having a map of the location, made finding the classroom (or lunch, or coffee!) a matter of luck. There were a few clapboard signs, listing the three workshops going on that day and the classroom numbers. But there was no indication of where the classrooms were. Fortunately, all of the classrooms were numbered, and all were both close to registration, and near the clapboard signs. But a map, or even just an advance copy of the schedule. which included a map, would have been helpful.
Once the classes started, on Saturday, everything ran perfectly. The registration desk was moved, to a more prominent, visible, outside location ,in the shade of the entryway. Everyone checked in and got their bag, which contained, among other things, a name tag, and a schedule, and a map, in a neat booklet.
This booklet was not, to my knowledge, published beforehand, on the website. The descriptions were much better, than I remember, from when I registered online, in October. It would have been nice, to have seen the campus map and the schedule, in a block format, beforehand.
The T-shirts, which I always look forward to, were not available, at the time that bags were handed out, for some reason. They also ran smaller, than you would expect, for the size listed. As I do not belong to the slim, svelte or petite category of WordCampers, I was happy that they gave me a larger size, with no trouble, later in the weekend. But it was only through word of mouth, that I found out the location of the T-shirts. So, I almost walked away, without one.
Lots of swag was available by Saturday: buttons, stickers, phone chargers, pens, notebooks,etc. The vendors and sponsors came out in force, many with giveaway items. A veteran WordCamper told me, that the “cool kids” wear all their WaPuus on their lanyard. I now have about seven, most of which I got in Orlando. All on my lanyard, ready for the next WordCamp. I hope I was not steered wrong.
Lesson for WordCampers:
- Ask. Or follow the crowd. And put all your collected WaPuus on your lanyard for future WordCamp “coolness”.
Lesson for WordCamp Organizers:
- Provide a schedule and bags to attendees each day, including the workshop day. These bags should include a clear map of the venues and classrooms, as well as a name tag, lanyard and a true-to-size T-shirt, if purchased.
- Be welcoming to your workshop attendees, who may be among your most loyal and devoted WordPress enthusiasts.
- Clearly mark the way on campus, with signage for the lunch, coffee, sponsor, Happiness Bar and class venues. Publish a map of the venue and a block schedule of all days, on the website.
- Get your materials (signs, schedules, brochures, t-shirts) printed well in advance, and have your bags stuffed and ready for the first day of WordCamp. Consider printing the schedule on the nametag.
Don’t Get Me Wrong…
The entire weekend of Orlando WordCamp was a fabulous success! Kudos and thank you, to all those volunteers who helped to make it happen, to all the WordPress users, bloggers, developers, designers, marketers and other experts and sponsors who showed up and contributed. Thanks also to the college venue, and its talented cooking school students, who kept us fat and happy. They all play a part, in making this WordPress Universe a fabulous place to be.
Why do I think WordCamp Orlando was a good use of my time and money?
- I was exposed to so much information, that it will take me another few WordCamps to absorb all of it.
- I met fabulous people, from across the state, country, and world.
- I developed a renewed appreciation, for all the hard work, that goes into building and maintaining and using the beautiful WordPress platform. Websites, leisure activities, creativity, and livelihoods depend on it!
I definitely plan to go back to WordCamp Orlando next year!
This blog post was, in part, an exercise in trying to think of ways, to make our local event, WordCamp Jax, even better! (No intercity rivalry here!)
We would love to have you come see our WordCamp in June: sponsor, speak or just attend. And afterwards, let us know how we’re doing! Hope to see you all there!
Click here and learn all about it!
Lesson for All:
If you have never been to a WordCamp, you should go! And if you have been before, you should go again. WordCamp is the way our community cross-pollinates and becomes even better. And everyone in this WordPress Universe, no matter their interests or level of expertise, is the better for having attended!
Hope to see you at a WordCamp soon!
What ideas do you have to make your WordCamp better?