I've done a bunch of writing about WordCamp events over the past few months. Likely due to the fact that I've organized one (Las Vegas), attended one (Denver), spoke at one (Reno-Tahoe) and am currently sitting on a plane heading to San Francisco to attend yet another. As if that's not enough WordCamp for one person, I also plan on attending the Los Angeles event and I'll be speaking at the Portland event on back to back weekends in September. So at this point, I'm a bit of a seasoned vet when it comes to attending WordCamp events.
I was recently asked by somebody who is planning on attending their first WordCamp, what they should do to prepare for the event. Since they asked me via Twitter, I tried for 5 minutes to figure out how to answer in 140 characters. I finally replied, “I'll have to turn this in to a blog post.”
Where it's at
Not everybody lives within shouting distance of a city that is going to host a WordCamp event. If you visit WordCamp.org, you can find the schedule for upcoming events and hopefully find one that's not too far away. If that's not the case, I strongly suggest planning to go to a WordCamp event in a city that you'd like to visit. Plan on going a few days early and do some sightseeing and then attend the event before heading home. Be sure to leave enough time to take part in any after parties that may be planned following the event as these are excellent networking opportunities.
It's too far, I gotta fly
If you need to travel to attend your first WordCamp event, do yourself a huge favor and plan ahead. Flights and hotel reservations are usually less expensive if you book well in advance. If you aren't real picky about the exact hotel you stay in, use Priceline.com to find accommodations in the area surrounding the event.
I know when and where, now what?
Once you've decided on the event you are going to, the first thing you should do is register for the event. Register as early as you can. Waiting for the last minute is a bad idea for a couple reasons. Each event will have a different capacity based on where it's being held, so it's possible the place may sell out earl. Also, by registering early, you are helping the organizers get a head start on ordering supplies for the event.
Who's speaking at the event?
Each WordCamp is different and will have a unique set of speakers and topics. When you visit the WordCamp.org website, you'll find a link to site dedicated to your specific event. The site will typically have a list of speakers scheduled to appear with links to their websites. Take some time to read up on the speakers. I have found some excellent blogs this way that I have added to my RSS reader and continue to follow. Most speakers will have a Twitter account that you can follow as well. This is another great way to get familiar with who is going to be there.
What will I learn at WordCamp?
As I mentioned, each event is going to cover a unique combination of topics. Take some time to review the schedule for the event to figure out which topics you are most interested in. Many of the events recently have had multiple tracks running during the day. They usually have one track dedicated to the technical aspects with the other track dealing with more of the front-end user elements. If the event you are going to has multiple tracks, before the day of the event you should print out a schedule and highlight the presentations that you want to attend. This can save some confusion and stress on the day of the event.
WordCamp is a great place to pick up ideas for things you want to research further once you get home. It's hard for any presenter to teach you an entire subject inside a 30-60 minute presentation. That's not really the point of any presentation. But, assuming you pay attention and take some notes, you can use each presentation as a jumping off point for when you return back home. Even though I've been using WordPress for more than 5 years, I've still come away with new ideas and concepts from each WordCamp I've attended this year.
Preparing for the day of the event
I can't stress this enough… DRESS COMFORTABLY!! The event itself will last 8 – 10 hours and there will probably be some sort of after party to attend. Yes, you'll likely be sitting for much of the day, but also be prepared to walk/stand for quite a while as well. After WordCamp in Denver we ended up in a bar chatting with people for more than 3 hours. Most of that time we spent standing. Do not fear that you are going to be under dressed wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
Most WordCamp events try to provide wireless internet access. But, from what I've experienced so far, do not rely on having wireless access. With 100+ people all trying to get their laptops and cell phones to connect to a single router, access is going to be spotting and slow.
Bring something for taking notes. I personally have horrible handwriting, so I bring my laptop to type notes and save them for easy reviewing when I get home. If I were to bring pen and paper, it would be like trying to decipher the Dead-Sea Scrolls. Do what works best for you.
Bring a snack. There will most likely be a break for lunch, but still you may want to consider packing a Snickers bar or something for either the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. You don't want to be falling asleep during a presentation due to lake of sustenance.
Plan to arrive early and stay late. There is great value in all the presentations, but I believe there is equal if not greater value in the networking opportunities that happen on breaks and after the event has concluded for the day. If there is an after party, make sure to go! I have made some excellent contacts at these gatherings that would have never had happened if I skipped out early.
What do I do when I get back home?
This is probably the most important part. When you get back home it's important that you take your notes and review them. Then, for everything that you took notes on, do some additional research. Get involved with the information that you found interesting at the event. If you liked the hearing about building templates, hit up Google and search for “Building a WordPress template from scratch”. Did you like the info about plugins? Search for “Building a WordPress plugin”.
You should also connect with the presenters that you found most interesting. Send them an email and let them know what you thought of their presentation. Many of the presenters will make their slides or even video of their presentations available a short time after the event has concluded. This is another great way to review the information to listen for things you may have missed.
Here are some handy resources that you can check out to help enhance your WordCamp experience
- wordcamp.org – See when the next WordCamp is going to be in your area
- wordcamp.tv – Check out presentations from WordCamps all over the world
- wordpress.org/support – Forum where you can find answers to most any WordPress question
Oh, and don't forget to have fun. The WordPress community is filled with some amazingly cool and incredibly knowledgeable people. They are one of the most helpful bunches of people I've found on the Internet. Interact with them and you'll see what I mean.
Did I miss anything?
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I'm happy to help.