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16 April 2018

Attending, Volunteering and Presenting at a WordCamp

WordPress is the planet’s most popular open-source Content Management System (CMS), and accounts for about 27% of the world’s websites. That is ten times the number of websites built on the 2nd and 3rd most popular CMS’s out there! Of those websites using a CMS, WordPress has approximately 60% of the market share.

What this means for your organization or solo endeavor is simple: Since there are millions of dedicated WordPress enthusiasts all over the planet, you will never be at a loss finding someone who can shed light on any number of topics related to running a successful WordPress website.

From the respected lead developers and well-known bloggers to the everyday Janes and Joes, there is always someone somewhere who is coming up with creative approaches to problem-solving, implementing new marketing solutions or finding brilliant new uses for an old tool using WordPress.

You can hear many of these people share their experiences and advice in person, at local WordPress meetups and WordCamps.

Local WordPress meetups get together several times a year, sometimes even monthly. They usually consist of a single topic or two for the night or an open-ended group discussion. They can provide a chance to network with other WordPress enthusiasts in your area while you unwind after work over a beer or some snacks. You can visit meetup.com’s website to find (or start!) a local WordPress meetup near you.

WordCamps, on the other hand, are much larger affairs and will be the focus of this article.

What are WordCamps?

WordCamps are WordPress conferences. They can feature anywhere from a dozen to three dozen speaker sessions, depending on the interest and attendance level in the cities where they take place.

They are almost always held on a Saturday to allow for a higher number of attendees than a weekday schedule would yield. In some instances, they can also include events on Friday and/or Sunday.

WordCamps consist of several tracks of presentations catering to everyone from the WordPress rookie to the advanced WordPress developer. They also include lunchtime and afternoon snack breaks, free swag from the sponsors, and many times will have event t-shirts included with your ticket purchase. Some WordCamps also wrap up with a keynote address and an afterparty.

Q&A session with Andrew Nacin

Andrew Nacin answering advanced developer questions at a WordCamp Philadelphia. Photo: Russell Heimlich, WP DC.

The secret ingredient that makes a WordCamp truly successful, however, are the many WordPress enthusiasts and evangelists who attend them. The atmosphere at a WordCamp is infectious. Being around that many users, contributors and thought leaders all focussed on a weekend of sharing their WordPress tips, problems and solutions is energizing. Attending a WordCamp opens your eyes to just how large and diverse the greater WordPress community, that you’re a part of, is.

WordCamps also offer you the unique opportunity to get off of the web, out of the office or basement and indulge your inner WordPress geek, in person, with over a hundred like-minded souls.

It’s also a great way to let those members of your team who work most closely with WordPress day in and day out to further peak their interest in or become more inspired by, your chosen CMS outside of the usual work environment.

As WordPress gains in popularity, new local WordPress meetup groups are being formed every month and the number of areas and cities that are hosting their first WordCamps continues to grow, both here in the U.S and globally. There are even a bevy of articles on what to expect when you attend your first WordCamp.

Attending a WordCamp

Once the WordCamp that you’re hoping to attend moves from the “Planned WordCamps” column to having a set date and its own website, remember to start regularly checking back in on it. Ticket prices and availability announced speakers and topics, as well as itinerary and post-conference social events, will be updated as the date draws nearer.

There are usually three or four speaker tracks at each WordCamp. While one track might cater more to WordPress general users, neophytes and hobbyists, other tracks may concentrate on talks tailored for designers, developers or power users. You can attend any level of talk you want, no matter how challenging or basic the subject matter. Many times, the difficulty lies in deciding which talk to attend over another in the same time slot.

By staying on top of the posted schedule beforehand, you can work out the optimal order of talks you’d like to attend and not get paralyzed with indecision trying to make your mind up the morning of the event.

In addition to the talks I want to attend, I usually also like to make a point of picking a time slot where I don’t go to any talks. That way I can review some of the sessions I’ve already been to, re-up on coffee or tea, give my brain a rest and/or take a quick walk around the block to get some fresh air.

It can be during these free times, and the times between sessions, that one discovers the truism behind one of the most common observations about attending a WordCamp:
“The talks were great, but I especially enjoyed the hallway track!”

The infamous hallway track is a humorous reference to the many interesting people and conversations you encounter in the halls, stairwell and lobby as you make your way from session to session and during breaks. By the time you’re heading to your 2nd or 3rd session, it will dawn on you: meeting all these other WordPress enthusiasts can be just as informative and energizing as attending an expert’s talk.

WordCamp Baltimore attendees

Attendees at a WordCamp Baltimore

You might cross paths with a well-known blogger whose name badge you recognize, the lead developer for the last update of WordPress’ core, someone who helped you online in the wordpress.org forums, or the president of an agency you meet during break who is looking for WordPress writing help.

As a matter of fact, that last example is why you’re reading this AmDee blog post right now. I met AmDee’s head honcho Amar Trivedi at WordCamp Baltimore this past fall at a lunch table the day before I was going to attend his talk “Designing for Accessibility for Better User Experience.” Five months later, I’m collaborating with him and his team on our fifth article for the AmDee blog.

Volunteering at a WordCamp

A great way to give back to the WordPress community that’s easy, fun and even saves you some money is to volunteer at a WordCamp.

Once the dates are solidified for an area’s WordCamp, the local organizers put out the call for speaker submissions. While they review and choose the lineup of presenters and settle on the logistics, the request for volunteers will also go out on the local WordCamp website.

Volunteering at your local WordCamp usually involves signing up for a few 2-3 hour shifts during the course of the event. The shifts range from assisting with setup beforehand all of the way through to the conference end and helping with cleaning up the event space.

Some of the commonly available jobs include:

  • Checking attendees and speakers in at the registration table
  • Helping to set up the lunch, snack and swag tables
  • Doling out the attendees’ t-shirts
  • Introducing and monitoring speaker presentations
  • Video recording of the sessions
  • Helping attendees with their WordPress queries at the Happiness Bar (Bring your laptop)
  • Setup and cleanup
  • Assisting speakers with any mic or equipment needs

While this list is not exhaustive, it gives you a general idea of the different manners in which the organizers need help coordinating and having a successful WordCamp.

If you are accepted as a WordCamp volunteer, the organizers will work with you if you have time constraints, or for jobs that are over your skill level or which you are not comfortable performing. Many of your fellow volunteers are also very accommodating and will exchange part of a shift if there is a scheduled talk you want to attend.

Do your best to try and get as much rest as possible the night before the event. You will want to be refreshed for the event, ready for a full day of WordPress information overload, fun socialization and of course, being a well-rested courteous representative of the WordPress community as a participating volunteer.

You’ll get to meet a lot of people just during your volunteer shifts, including the local event organizers and your fellow volunteers, not to mention the hundreds of attendees you can come into contact with during the course of your shifts.

While volunteers get the supreme satisfaction of having helped to contribute to a smooth-running and successful WordCamp, they also are reimbursed the cost of their ticket (if they had purchased one before being accepted as a volunteer). Sometimes they will also get to attend an organizer’s, speaker’s and volunteer’s event on Friday or Saturday night, depending on how their WordCamp is structured.

Speaking at a WordCamp

If you want to up your participation level even more at a WordCamp, you can consider being a speaker.

Although organizers, sponsors and volunteers provide the infrastructure and wherewithal of each conference, WordCamps would certainly not be as appealing without a strong bevy of speakers. WordCamps are not cloned events of identical speakers, talks and duplicate subject matters. Each WordCamp solicits its own set of speakers and topics.

Once a WordCamp event is confirmed, its organizing committee will issue its Call for Speakers. Quite often, they will also post a list of desired topics they are looking for. For example, in the screenshot below, a WordCamp is looking for the following presentations for its Power Users and Beginners tracks:

Raleigh's WordCamp call for speakers

It’s important to note that you do not have to pick a suggested topic! All that is required is that you have a WordPress.org ID, a WordPress-applicable subject matter and that you submit a topic outline. Preference is given to those who have had experience giving presentations at previous WordCamps or at their local WordPress meetup. The organizers will get back to you after they have made their final decisions and may even recommend another upcoming WordCamp or meetup for you to apply to if they have already filled all of their speaker slots.

If chosen to be a speaker, it is your responsibility to make any travel or lodging arrangements and to do your due diligence prepping your topic and slides. Presentations should stay within the time parameters allotted to you, and you should always try to leave 5 minutes at the end for any Q and A the audience may have.

WordCamp presentations are recorded for posterity, and volunteer contributors do their best to later transcribe them and upload them to wordpress.tv, where you can find hundreds of archived WordCamp talks in many languages from around the globe.

Wrapping Up at WordCamp

Hopefully, this article has gotten you inspired to attend, volunteer, or speak at an upcoming WordCamp. I would strongly urge you to visit WordCamp Central and see if there’s an upcoming WordCamp in your neck of the woods this year.

They are a great source of information, provide an excellent networking opportunity and are a fantastic value monetarily, thanks to the cost underwriting by the various sponsors.Try and attend the next WordCamp in your area. You never know what you’ll learn, who you’ll meet or what those new connections may bring.

If you find yourself unable to attend a WordCamp because you’re saddled with an overload of work or can’t find one happening near you, there is always wordpress.tv to get a feel for the atmosphere or to catch a highly sought after presentation.

But actually going to one in person is ultimately rewarding in its own right and offers a great way to learn something new and contribute something back to the community.

Other articles you may be interested in.

Understanding the differences between wordpress.com and wordpress.org
Top 10 WordPress SEO mistakes that beginners make

Jeff C.

Headshot of Jeff Creamer

Jeff Creamer is a DC-based WordPress website administrator, tutor and consultant. He has been helping small businesses and nonprofits launch and manage their WordPress sites since 2013.