How to Get Ready for WordCamp USA 2023
Table of Contents
Welcome to my series about life at a major WordCamp! My name is David Wolfpaw, and I am a SiteGround Ambassador, WordPress developer, and have been a WordCamp organizer since 2012. This year the SiteGround team and I decided to give you an insider perspective from the flagship WordCamp North America event, where I’ll be happily volunteering as an organizer.
WordCamps are annual gatherings of business owners, bloggers, developers, designers, and anyone else with an interest in WordPress. They take place all over the world, and are a core part of the WordPress community.
The flagship event for North America, WordCamp US, starts this week. I’ve been attending them for years, and I’m excited for my first WordCamp US where I will be volunteering as an event organizer. My intent with this series is to share my firsthand experience at the event, as well as some behind-the-scenes planning work, and tips to make the most of attending a WordCamp, or any other professional conference.
The most important things at a professional event like WordCamps are the following:
- Networking and making connections for your business
- Getting valuable information and ideas from speakers
- Finding the fulfillment in your WordPress journey
Throughout the week I’ll be offering ideas and resources on how to achieve the above, and how better to start than with pre-event planning? Today we’ll discuss:
- Finding sessions to attend
- Connecting with speakers
- Finding other attendees in your space
- Ensuring that travel and tools are planned
Crafting a Session Schedule
The wide variety of sessions available at a flagship WordCamp like WordCamp US can be overwhelming. This year has over thirty sessions across two days in three rooms, and that’s toned down from years prior! With so many sessions, it can be hard to figure out what to prioritize.
When I look to the schedule I have a few criteria in mind. Sometimes I look to the speakers, looking for names that I know from social media and blogs. Sometimes I read through every session description, taking note of technologies and tools that I’ve been interested in learning, or just choosing based on an interesting title. There have been a lot of serendipitous session choices in the past, like a session on web publishing that I attended solely because I liked the speaker, and it turned into a conversation that led to a new client.
If you see multiple sessions that you want to attend at the same time, check to see if they will be recorded. Most WordCamps record their sessions to later post to WordPress.tv, making it easier to avoid the FOMO that comes from two great talks happening at once.
Connecting with Speakers
The conversations that you have at a WordCamp can easily be the most valuable part of attending the event in person. Content is great, but connections are better. Getting face-time with speakers can put you on their radar when it comes to work. As both an event speaker, and an attendee, I’ve found that it really breaks the ice to have something to talk about already, which can easily lead to further conversations. Most of my clients have come from word-of-mouth, including from speakers and attendees at WordCamps.
You don’t just have to wait until the event to reach out though! I don’t recommend blindly spamming all event speakers, but look through bios and talk descriptions and see if there are any individuals that you want to ensure that you connect with. Send them a short message, expressing your interest and excitement for their presentation, and your wish to say hi during the conference. Event speakers have already put themselves out there by applying to speak, and absolutely want to share with attendees.
Finally, make sure that you find out what communication methods the speakers that you’ve connected with in person prefer for followups after the event. Again, they came to share and they want to talk to attendees as well! Don’t be afraid to talk to them, and don’t be afraid to follow up later if they share contact information with you.
Networking with Attendees
Speakers aren’t the only people that you’ll want to connect with at WordCamp. You’ll also want to find like-minded attendees who you can build business relationships with.
It’s easy to assume that anyone else working in the same space as you is a direct competitor, but WordCamps are a great example of the opposite. I have met plenty of other WordPress maintenance providers who could be considered competitors to my company, FixUpFox. But I’ve met other agency owners who shared tips with me, passed along client contacts, and have become clients themselves.
We all have our own niches and specialties, and when the customer who just isn’t right for you comes along, but you know someone who might be a better fit, wouldn’t you want to pass them along? And you’ll be on the top of their mind when they have clients that fit your niche in return.
Preparing your Tools and Travel
WordCamp US has made part of my travel easier, by hosting in a convention center with a hotel, making it easy to get around the event. But prior to the event I needed to make sure that I had a flight to a nearby airport, a ride lined up for there and home, and I’ve checked the train schedules in advance to ensure that I can easily go from airport to hotel.
I’m also making sure to create a packing list, ensuring that I have everything that I need to stay connected and comfortable at the event. Take a bit of time to think about what you need while at a conference, from clothing to coffee, toiletries to technology. And while you’re at it, check out the SiteGround TikTok account for some quick tips and additional resources for preparing for WordCamps.
One more tip that I want to make sure to address is to listen to your body and focus on your health before, during, and after events. I unfortunately had to skip my last WordCamp because I got sick, and I didn’t want to spread that to any other attendees. I’ll be watching my health this week, including while I’m at the event.
Sometimes you just need some quiet time to yourself, and that’s ok! You’ll never be able to do everything at an event, but that’s ok. Knowing that there are limits to the number of sessions that you can attend and the number of people that you can talk to means you can prioritize what is most important to you at the moment.
Finally, take care of yourself post-event. It is easy to get caught up in the emotions of an event where you are surrounded with hundreds or thousands of like-minded attendees. Then you get back home, to your day job, where you have the daily grind of life to attend to. If you have the ability, take a day off after the event to rest and recharge. Even extroverts can get worn out from lots of social time.
More to Come
Follow along for the rest of the week while I share the journey to WordCamp US as an organizer and attendee. And if you are attending yourself, come say hi!