Coming to a WordCamp?

Photo of WC Europe packed Auditorium
Image WordCamp Europe via Flickr

It will be my colleagues Dan first proper WordCamp experience this week at WordCamp Brighton (though he briefly came to Manchester) so I thought I would put together a guide to help him out with his first WordCamp. 

For most folks, your first WordCamp will probably be your local event in your town and city but for others, there will be travel involved. Maybe even a plane or two!

A WordCamp is a conference dedicated to WordPress, there are WordCamps all over the world indeed for most of the year there is a WordCamp occurring every week somewhere.

While they are similar to many other conferences, they do have their own unique features, and even there own mascot called Wapuu.

This guide assumes some travel, it’s also worth emphasising this is very much based on my wanderings and going to events. Your mileage may vary don’t take it as gospel but hopefully, there is a trick or two that you might not think of. I also asked Twitter for their ideas as well so they are peppered throughout the article.  Also, check the comments where hopefully you can see other peoples thoughts and add your own. Finally, at the end of the article, there is a Glossary with some common terms hopefully it will help you out.

What should I take?

WordCamps are conferences, they may bill themselves as an unconference, but they are heavily organised events with hundreds of people in attendance. Almost certainly there will be talks, panels and potentially workshops. 

What should I wear

While it is an industry conference, as an industry we are pretty relaxed and let’s face it the predominant fashion is “geek chic”. The most important thing to think about is your comfort if you are most comfortable in a 3 piece suit then, by all means, come in one, for myself I tend to wear jeans and a smart shirt, or work shirt if there on behalf of 34SP.com. 

If you are wearing t-shirts with slogans/motifs remember you are coming to an event with a diverse group of people that really funny joke, might not be as appropriate as you think. Otherwise, this is a great time to bring out old conference t-shirts.

While I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do this… if the WordCamp gives out a conference t-shirt it may be tempting to put it on. Other folks are having that thought, lots of others. 

Also, consider layers, WordCamps are held in a range of types of buildings, some will be air-conditioned other rooms will be boiling, so make sure you have lots of layers, so you don’t freeze in the corner. Just remember to get the balance right! Every layer you take off the more space in a carrying device you will need.

For the evening events, these normally don’t have dress codes but are often around the town/city centre. 

Laptop or no laptop?

After clothes probably the next thing is should you bring a laptop?

Probably not, hear me out, by all means, bring one to where you are staying, but unless you are speaking or have a really specific reason to have your laptop there is little reason to bring it, even the lightest device is bulky and something to break. If your laptop appears to be surgically attached to you this might be a weird experience. To often at WordCamps do you see folks just on their laptops and ultimately that’s fine, it’s their WordCamp experience but sitting in the corner on a laptop can to easily become a normal thing to do. 

If you use your laptop for note-taking, consider alternatives, a notebook from a sponsor or tablet. 

If you are bringing a laptop, assume you will not have any power for the day, so make sure to charge your laptop before each conference day and turn off those VMs and high power-draining apps!

Actually, that advice goes for anything electronic, power points will be at best be at a premium and potentially unavailable altogether, so charge all your devices before each day. You might also consider a charging brick or two.

Also, it’s an event where there are several hundred people with multiple devices, while the prevalence of good mobile coverage makes less of an issue don’t assume the wifi is going to work.

So that said, I nearly always have a laptop with me, I would argue that’s mainly due to me presenting but also I have been that person in the corner. I try not to bring laptops to every day of an event now, but it’s not always successful.

Other things to bring:

Bag

Consider bringing a backpack, they might make you look like your going back to school, but you will want something with a little extra space. Inevitably you will be given some sort of “swag” and you will need to put it somewhere, so make sure your bag has space to put extra things you will be bringing back from the conference.

Pain Killers & other medication

I’m a walking pharmacist but this is from some terrible experiences, even if you do not normally suffer from aches and pains consider some pain killers in your bag. Long days, and not drinking enough often with long periods with fans and other low noises it’s not uncommon for folks to have a headache, so make sure you have some pain killers.

It goes without saying that bring any prescription medication you might need, I use a small travel pillbox, that’s separate from my normal pillbox, that has an extra dose either side, so if I’m going for 3 nights, I will take 5 days worth just in case. By taking a separate box, it means when I get back, I’m not hunting meds the next day.

Water Bottle

Most WordCamps in 2018/2019 in the UK have been giving out Water Bottles but don’t rely on a conference water bottle, make sure you have one and keep it filled up. You will become dehydrated really quickly, so every opportunity you have to drink some water throughout the day. 

Collapsible cup

Not essential but I have found a collapsible cup to be really useful and will use it over disposable cups, I just wash it out and give it a good clean at the end of the day.

Business cards

In 2019 and I’m still recommending these not hugely environmentally friendly antiquated pieces of card? Plenty of people still exchange business cards at WordCamps, while it’s much more common to say sorry I don’t have any they are still a nice touch if you have some.

If you don’t have a business card or vice versa, you can always ask to swap photos of lanyards as an alternate quick solution.

Phone

It’s 2019 you were going to bring it regardless but put it on silent.

Don’t be that person.

Deodorant

Sorry but a hot room filled with people, please bring some deodorant.

So what’s in my bag?

For Brighton I’m already packed, at least my travel bag:

Travel Bag

  • 2 x Work Blue Shirts
  • 2 x Shirts
  • 2 x Jeans
  • 1 x Trousers
  • Suitable underwear and socks
  • PJs
  • Medication
  • Toiletries
  • Headphones
  • Wireless travel router
  • Rasberry Pi.

Messenger Bag

  • Laptop
  • Kindle
  • Notebook/Pen
  • Business Cards
  • Super secret coupon code cards for 34SP.com Managed Hosting
  • 34SP.com Make your own Wapuu stickers from 2017 (I always try to have a couple to give to people with kids)
  • Water Bottle (WCLDN 2019 Bottle, Personalised)
  • Charging bank
  • Electrical tape and small multi tool set.

Occasionally I will take a running kit or swimming kit, and if the weather forecast changes I will be packing my trunks for a dip in the sea. But this is the UK and that might be wishful thinking.

Where should I stay?

If you are travelling and staying over then you will need somewhere to stay, Hotels, AirB&B or a friends couch are all good options.

If you have the luxury of not picking purely upon the price, then look at where the event and the after-party/other events are and try to pick somewhere central to as many of the events. With more emphasis on the conference location. If you can walk back to your accommodation then that’s a good thing. Otherwise, look at public transport, if you require a bus, then a 10-minute walk, or a long taxi journey to your accommodation, then that might quickly ratchet up the costs. A good example at WordCamp Edinburgh we stayed in an Airbnb 20-25 minutes walk from the venue. But nearly an hour from the pre-party and the far side of the city. With 4 of us, we easily ratcheted up in Uber fares more than the difference for staying at an apartment closer to the WordCamp and pre-party. 

You are probably going to be making at least 2 round trips a day to your accommodation if not more, so factor it in.

Sometimes to share costs attendees will often share an AirB&B this can be a great way to really get to know people, but obviously, you are sharing a house with a group of people you might barely know. This is certainly not suitable for everyone and make sure to thoroughly vet the people you are staying with and feel comfortable about staying with them. Also if you are looking to do this pick an AirB&B with multiple bathroom facilities. 

Should I stay at home

If you live near(ish) a conference then you have the opportunity to forgo the costs of accommodation and travel back in the evening. The advantage of this is both potentially cost-saving in not paying for other accommodation and being in your own bed. As some who travels a lot for work, being in your own bed can make a massive difference.

However, travelling back home you can often feel you might be missing out (I’m not convinced you miss too much) but perhaps the biggest reason is inertia. If you are at the conference in the accommodation you are much more likely to go to day two. I have done this myself where the conference day two is a Sunday and while I thought day one was fantastic, I still ended up not going too day two instead of getting sucked into family life.

Of course, renting a place, just to force yourself to a conference when written down sounds crazy and it’s not like hotels are cheap. For me, I would normally save money and enjoy my bed you really are not missing much by staying out, other than potentially a sore head.

Tickets

Normally WordCamps offer 4 different types of ticket

A normal ticket, these cost between £25-£35 for the conference, including access to talks and the after-party.

A contributor day ticket, these are normally free and are for the specific contributor day. This is a day where folks give back to WordPress normally the day before or after the main conference. There is normally food available during the day and sometimes workshops/lightning talks going on as well.

A Microsponsor ticket – These are between £75-£125 they are just regular conference tickets at the full real cost, rather than the discounted subsidised cost. Normally they have a nominal additional perk, like a website link to say thank you.

A volunteer ticket, these are free, in exchange for volunteering at the event, that might be speaking, helping at registration, timekeeping, videography, design, social media content there are a range of volunteer tasks that go into a WordCamp. Volunteers often also go to an exclusive volunteer/speakers dinner as an additional thank you.

It may seem strange, but if you are coming by yourself you might just want to volunteer even if you have NEVER come before. Volunteering is a great way to meet people and get to know the community side straight away.

Get social

Before you even get to the event, you can get involved via social media, most WordCamps will have a twitter account and hashtag so start following it, for example, Brightons is #WCBTN notice all in capitals this is to help screenreaders and most WordCamps using abbreviations will suggest it is capitalised.

While WordCamps normally have an afterparty on one or two of the days, a lot of people will be in town the night before, so quite often there will be people tweeting unofficial gatherings and meetups.

Conference Days

Before you arrive, go have breakfast, even if the WordCamp offers breakfast food, you want a good breakfast. You might not normally do breakfast, but it’s worth taking the time to have something. Also, there will be larger queues than normal for the drinks at the opening of the conference, so consider bringing a drink in with you. 

Most WordCamps in the UK follow a pretty common pattern:

  • Registration
  • Opening remarks
  • Tracks
  • Lunch
  • Tracks
  • Closing Remarks
  • (after party)
  • [repeat]

When you arrive there will probably be a set of desks for registration, normally you don’t need to bring anything you simply say your name. You will be ticked off the list and given a lanyard and badge. Sometimes there will be other swag (though not always) the people behind the table are volunteers.

EVERYONE running the event is a volunteer, bluntly be nice to them whatever happens to be nice to them. While running as a traditional conference, they are entirely volunteer-run and no one gets paid to run a WordCamp directly. Though some employers may give their staff time off to run the events.

If you haven’t already grab yourself a drink and do some networking. Not the networking type? Have a wander through the sponsors’ area or consider putting a message on social media, to say you are there.

Quite often folks at conferences will use Twitter to find each other. Also here in the UK, we have the WP UK Slack community and each WordCamp has its own channel so if you are a Slack user it’s worth joining for up to date info. 

There are often sub meetups at WordCamps, for example, the Genesis theme community will often hold a mini-meetup this is a great opportunity to meet a group of people.

If none of the above work, then as Sara says walk up to someone and sit next to them. This first part of the day may feel intimidating and slightly odd as a lot of attendees might seem to know each other. Here in the UK we have a large WordPress community but there are a small group of folks who regularly go to each WordCamp and then there are local meetups so lots of people will be here catching up with old friends.

The vast majority will not, so Really don’t be worried you are not the only person alone in the room.

Opening remarks

You should go to opening remarks, it’s a great orientation to the WordCamp. You will inevitably be told that one thing that never gets repeated anywhere else that is super useful. The side corridor means you don’t need to go out in the rain and the code is 1111 type thing.

If you are considering taking photos (and you should) then at opening remarks they will probably let you know about folks who don’t want their photo taken, normally this is something that’s asked as you buy the tickets, or on the day you can grab a no photo sticker. If you don’t want to be photographed put it in on. The volunteer photographers will try to make sure they don’t upload photos where you are prominently in the shot. You might be in the background but people try there best to avoid including you in photos and certainly not to make you the subject. If your taking photos, you should abide by the same rules if you can and respect peoples privacy.

Swag/Sponsors

At some point visit the sponsors, your ticket price is kept low in part by sponsors turning up. Sponsorship is not always cost-effective, so sponsors might be losing money by being there and are doing it in part to support the community. Going up saying Hi and liberating them of there swag is just being polite but also making sure they know they are appreciated. 

Don’t be worried about saying, I’m sorry I’m not interested in your services, I just wanted to say hello. Or even I just wanted the swag. As a sponsor, I would much rather you say something upfront then me wasting your time with a sales pitch. I would much rather chat about the conference and talks at that point. 

Remember sponsors are attendees, they probably have gone to talk, they are also normally part of the community so do treat them as such.

Sponsors often have discount codes, and special offers so if there is a sponsor you have been considering now is the time to go talk to them. If you do sign up using the discount code from the event as they will be using those to track the viability of sponsoring.

Food and Drink

Catering at WordCamp London 2015

Normally WordCamps have at least lunch catered for and often an evening meal at the afterparty. These are included in the ticket price. Your ticket price is incredibly low but normally the food is fantastic. WordCamps try to cater to everyone, it might be you don’t like the food that’s ok.

Tell them in advance if you have an allergy. I have many a time gone out for lunch, sometimes its because the WordCamp couldn’t cater for me, that’s ok. I have a weird allergy, and as long as I know in advance they can’t cater for me I’m happy. It’s ok to go and eat outside. What’s not ok is to complain (unless its an allergy maybe :p ) about the food. Think of it as free food you paid for the speakers and venue not the food.

That said, eat and drink. Drink lots of fluids, lots of fluids.

Talks

The heart of the conference is the talks, speakers spend a lot of time preparing talks and they are normally great. If the conference is multi-tracked look at the schedule ahead to make sure you know what talks you want to see.

The good news at most WordCamps the talks are recorded and put up on WordPressTV if you haven’t visited WordPressTV is an amazing resource of past talks, even folks like myself have turned up on it occasionally.

Pick the talks and get to talks you really want to see early as rooms fill up. If your unsure about a talk consider sitting near the door, no one minds people leaving as long as you do it quietly and don’t make a scene.

If your taking notes there are lots of different styles, but one tip from Birgit is to write notes in long-form and avoid laptop, though tablets have been becoming increasingly common. If you are note-taking with a keyboard, be aware that a person typing is really irritating (so that super cool iPad mechanical Keyboard is probably best left at home)

A growing trend for WordCamps in the UK is to have Live Captioning with either Speach to Text Reporters who do an absolutely amazing job or through automated captioning, which can have mixed results with some UK accents. If the captioning is available I find I quite often rely on it.

If you are a developer, and there is a clear dev track it might be tempting to go purely to the “dev” track, I’ve done this but by far the best talks I’ve seen at WordCamps tend to not be the pure development talks. So go for the dev talks but stay for the rest. 

It’s worth emphasising there are strictly no sales pitches and sponsors cant get a speaking slot just because they sponsor. Talks are chosen by the organisers on pretty strict criteria so the quality should always be high even if they might not be your cup of tea.

Most talks will have time for questions, this is a great opportunity to ask questions but asking a good question can be hard. The question should be short, no longer than a couple of sentences. It should be a question. If it starts with “not a question but” then this is not a question. You also need to make sure your question is not too specific, so avoid, in my specific and unique use case will x work style questions. You can still ask and discuss the talk with the speaker just do it afterwards, be it during the room change or later in the day.

In addition to normal talks, WordCamps might have Panels, Lightning talks and Workshops.
A Panel is a group of people on stage, often with a MC to guide the panel who take Q/A on a given topic. So a panel might be on Gutenberg, or even how to run a WordCamp!
Lighting talks are fast-paced short talks normally on one very specific subject, so where you might have a normal talk slot, you might have 3 speakers each lightning talk. Sometimes people think doing a lightning talk as a good place for novice speakers but lightning talks are some of the hardest to get right. A lightning session also changes the pace and can be great for stimulating and getting you pumped. If you are feeling a little tired, maybe consider popping into one.
A Workshop is less a talk more a hands-on session, depending on the time they might stretch over multiple sessions or even be whole days.

Hallway track

One of the largest pieces of advice, when I asked Twitter what they thought, was spend some time in the hallway track. The hallway track is the sponsors and surrounding space while the talks are on. It often becomes a hive of small groups chatting and talking. A lot of people spend their entire time networking in the hallway track, and to be honest it’s where I spend the vast majority of my time these days.

While I do think the hallway track is super valuable if this is your first WordCamp go to talks, the hallway track will be at the next event the talks might not be. If you start becoming a seasoned WordCamper, the talks lose some of their appeals and the hallway track becomes the place you want to be in.

There is no specific structure to these gatherings, so do what my friend Carme recommends, jump in and say How are you. I remember when Carme came and said Hello to me, also don’t be afraid to say hello to people, volunteers, attendees or speakers. Everyone is super friendly and speakers are normally quite happy to take questions.

One slightly formalised area in some WordCamps is the Happiness Bar & Site Health Clinic larger camps might have these as separate spaces or one or neither in smaller camps. Happiness Bar is normally manned by volunteers, and its the place to bring your questions and problems, that CSS being tricky? No problem, need a recommendation for a plugin to take over the world sure. The site Health clinic, on the other hand, is about getting an overview of the health of your site, are you running the latest version of PHP things like that, often the health clinic is a way to get affirmation of a good job, or a list of things to do.

These spaces are great places to meet people and while they often are manned by volunteers, there is nearly always room for a few more people so hang around and help people.

Taking time out

WordCamps are often over 2 days or even more, that’s a lot of talking and communicating don’t be afraid to just take some time out. You might miss something but its better that you are refreshed and in the right frame of mine.

Many WordCamps now have a quiet room, where you can go and compose your thoughts these are great for just shutting your eyes and letting the world flow. Just remember its a space for all attendees, if your friend comes in take the conversation somewhere else.

I personally try to get fresh air at least a couple of times during the day, even if its just standing outside but ideally finding a nearby park. Whatever you choose make sure you take some time to yourself.

After Party

The After Party is a social event post talks normally but not always on the first day. It sometimes has food and normally has some complimentary drinks. The venue changes by WordCamp, sometimes its in the venue as the end of the talk, for others it will be at a different location a couple of hours later. Normally to gain admittance you just need your lanyard.

Now for something radical, don’t drink too much alcohol, lots of folks enjoy the WordCamp after party and you should do to, I don’t want to be a party pooper. I, however, have a list of people I would never ever work with and the vast majority of that list is down to their behaviour when drunk. If you don’t handle alcohol well or you think it doesn’t affect you try not to drink or don’t drink too much.

Free bars are a common feature of WordCamp afterparty enjoy them but remember you are out with your friends, your peers, your potential employer, your vendor and your clients. It might be an “unconference” but it’s still for many a professional gathering.

If you do have any free beer tokens as you are leaving, give them to someone, it might be tempting to give them to your friends. But try to give them to someone you may be met the first time, or a person on their own. You might make someones night.

Staying Safe

WordCamps are conferences and if you are travelling its important to stay safe, here in the UK we often don’t have to worry too much about our personal security but other countries have different threat model. Even here in the UK there are some things to think about. When leaving the venue, take you Lanyard off!

Nothing says visiting person than a conference lanyard, with your name, the conference name and other details. Most people won’t know what a WordCamp is but they might guess its a tech conference and will make assumptions that you are carrying expensive technology.

Have a buddy, if you are coming alone, and you won’t know anyone at the conference don’t be afraid to let the organisers know you will be on your own also consider something like ConfBuddy.

If you are out at the after-party to remember that security is often, simply did you have something that looks like a Lanyard to gain entry, so keep your processions insight and assume that space is public.

If you have any issues at either the event or the after-party, then every WordCamp has a Code of Conduct and a mechanism to report issues. While the Code of Conduct is often referred to in reference to harassment the reporting mechanism is there along with named people to contact for any safety concerns.

Likewise, if you see an issue, say it, don’t assume others will or it’s not your place, let the organisers know.

Making Friends & Contacts

If you haven’t already worked it out, apart from getting an immense amount of knowledge from the talks WordCamp is about the community, meeting the community and becoming the community.

You might arrive, not knowing anyone but…

Can’t guarantee you always leave with a posse, but I strongly believe what separates WordCamp and WordPress conferences from other tech conferences is that they are super welcoming community and I’m not alone…

One great tip is if you see someone and it’s appropriate grab them then, don’t wait especially at larger WordCamps.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk to people who are “internet famous” just because they have a large following doesn’t mean they are not here to be part of the community and that includes you. Sometimes it might feel like everyone is in little tribes but people are normally happy to chat and take questions be it there first time, the seasoned pro or a special guest speaker.

Going Home

So the conference is over? Time to go home, I hope you had an amazing event, assume you are not working the next day. Conferences take it out of you big time, I go to multiple a year and can at least manage to work the next day but most of my colleagues rightly take the next couple of days off. If you promise to email folks at the conference, make sure to say it won’t be for a couple of days.

If you have taken photos, or are writing a blog post don’t forget to share it using the conference hashtag and carry on the conversation on Twitter, Slack or other mediums.

I hope you had a great time! 

But what’s next, well find your local meetup? What’s a meetup it’s like a mini WordCamp every month. WordPress Chapter meetups happen all around the world in most big cities. In the UK we have meetups as far south as Exeter, right up to Aberdeen.

You can find your local meetup at Meetup.com or look in your WordPress admin dashboard for your nearest group.

Hopefully, you have gotten a bit of a bug for WordCamps, so remember those amazing volunteers? Well, the next WordCamp that could be you, becoming a volunteer is a great way to plunge into WordCamps, especially if you are in a city you don’t know well or are not going with friends and colleagues. Volunteers only spend part of the day doing things, for the rest they can watch the conference. In exchange, they get a free ticket and access to any speaker/volunteer social.


So there we have it, myself, Keith and Dan (Hi Dan) will be at WordCamp Brighton on Thursday/Friday 16th-18th August 2019. You will be able to find us in our Blue Shirts and both myself and Keith will be talking.

So your mission if it’s your first time, or even if you are a conference regular is to find us and to come say Hi.

In the meantime check out all the amazing responses, and thank you to everyone who responded on this twitter thread.https://twitter.com/tnash/status/1160819657546358784

Glossary

  • WordCamp – A WordPress specific Conference
  • Contributor Day – an event, often associated with a WordCamp where people give back to the WordPress project.
  • Happiness Bar – A support area to ask questions and get help with WordPress
  • Site Health Clinic – a space to get advice on keeping your site up to date and healthy.
  • Wapuu – the semi-official mascot of WordCamps based around an original mascot for WordCamp Tokyo
  • CoC – Code of Conduct, a set of rules regarding people conduct while at the venue.
  • MC sometimes Mceee – Master of Ceremonies, normally the people speaking during room breaks and introducing speakers.
  • LocalHost – Its common for volunteer t-shirts to have the word Localhost on them, to denote they are volunteers.
  • Quiet Room – A space put aside, for some quiet contemplative time for attendees