Reflections: Notes from Running WordCamp Portland

Last Saturday was WordCamp Portland the first WordPress blogging conference in Oregon. I led a team of volunteers to produce and manage the event, based somewhat on other WordCamps I’ve read about along with other tech events in our area. This is a writeup on some things to consider for other similar events.

Perhaps these tips will be of interest to other event organizers.

  • Plenty of wifi and power – bloggers need to plug in and get connected.
  • Have a schedule; stick to it – we kept pretty much on track all day. I’ve run other events that have gotten behind schedule and it usually throws everyone off-pace and into a situation of uncertainty.
  • Include an Unconference Component – even if you go for some pre-planned sessions, include an unconference-type component so that folks can gather and discuss topics that come up during the event.
  • Length of the day – we scheduled our day too long (12 hours). Keep it shorter or folks will fade. I’d recommend two short days instead of one long day.
  • Reliable volunteers in key roles – Delegate, delegate, delegate, and do it to people who will follow through.
  • Cold, hard cash – we went for a revenue model that charged $10 per person, which covered about 1/4 of the expenses for the event. The rest was made up by sponsors. Even with a free event, you’ll need an organization to collect money from sponsors (and/or attendees) and disburse funds to vendors. Look for a local business that it tied into the community and see if they’ll help out.
  • Sponsors – look for local businesses using WordPress or tied to the web development and writing communities. Secure commitments well in advance and then get paid in advance of the event. Pad your budget a little to account for unexpected last-minute needs.
  • Vendors – ask around to get recommendations for vendors for food, shirts, or anything else you’ll need. Don’t leave things until the last minute. Something might go awry, and you’ll want to be able to recover.
  • Location, location, location – you’ll want plenty of room. Ideally the location should have lodging nearby and be accessible via public transit (if that’s an option in your city).
  • Technical setup – scout out and understand your technical needs. Projectors? Screens? Laptops? Adapters for MacBooks (they’re not all the same)? PA system? Batteries for wireless microphones? Spare bulbs for projectors?
  • Speakers – if possible, have a couple well-known speakers that will help draw folks in, but be sure to also showcase some lesser-known folks that also have good information to share.
  • Content Level – it’s hard to create “one size fits all” sessions that will be interesting both to the newbie as well as the advanced plugin developer. At WordCamp Portland I think we did a good job catering to the middle of the continuum but could’ve used more advanced content for developers as well as some very basic introductory material for the absolute beginner. Having a couple of tracks in the conference (at least for part of the time) will help for scheduling a variety of content for the audience.
  • Lorelle – (she gets her own bullet point) She’ll probably give you advice on how to do things or offer suggestions on parts of the event. Listen to her. She probably has her finger closest to the pulse of the WordCamp community (arguably closer than Matt).

Feel free to chime in with thoughts about anything I’ve forgotten or if you think I’m full of bunk.

[tags]wordcamp, wordcampdx, wordcampportland, conferences, unconferences[/tags]

  • Josh Bancroft

    How about “plenty of parking” for choosing a location? 😉

  • CamiKaos

    You’re right on about the length of day… that was the only downside to the event!

  • Betsy Richter

    Looks like a good list to me!

    As the person who was wrangling the registration list/waitlist, I’d add a bit more nuance here:

    * Definitely charge for admission, if for no other reason than to keep the number of no-shows and/or ‘on second thought, never mind’ attendees down.

    * Cut registration changes, cancellations, and wait list includees off 24 hours before the event. (Let those people on the wait list know that they’re out of luck via an email blast to prevent the ‘I’ll show up just in case…’ types if you really won’t be able to do same-day sub-ins for no-shows, for example.)

    * Email, email, email. Keep your attendees informed with regular newsletters & announcements, which includes parking information, logistics, and other nuances. Then repeat those details in another email 48 hours prior to the event itself.

  • Lorelle

    What a great summary – and thanks for including me as a bullet. 😀

    It was an incredible event and these are excellent notes. Thanks so much for all the hard work you and all the volunteers and sponsors put into the event. It was incredible!