After a busy weekend of WordPress conferences, among those that took place is the first ever WordCamp Ann Arbor. Situated on the University of Michigan campus at the Michigan League, nearly 150 people from all walks of life gathered to learn about WordPress.
Beginner’s Guide to WordCamps
I started the day with a session by Marc Benzakein entitled “How to Rock a WordCamp Even if You’re a Total n00b.” When Benzakein asked how many in the room were attending their first WordCamp, the majority raised their hands. After attending more than a dozen WordCamps, Benzakein offers advice to first-time attendees and explains how to get the most out of the event.
I’d like to see more WordCamps incorporate the same or a similar session at the beginning of the event, especially if it’s the first one for the area. It breaks the ice and gives attendees a realistic expectation of what a WordCamp is all about. Those who attended the presentation had the opportunity to meet Benzakein’s son, Eli.
His son contributed to the conversation and helped break the ice with his humorous questions and commentary. He contributed so much that if he
registers an account on WordPress.org, I’d like to see the speakers badge added to his profile. If you’d like more information on how to survive your first WordCamp, Carrie Dils has an excellent survival guide available.
Child Themes and Theme Frameworks
Next up, I sat in on Phil Hoyt’s presentation on using Frameworks and Child Themes. He described the benefits of what a theme framework offers and the proper way of editing themes via child themes. His theme framework is called Generic and is available for free on the WordPress Theme Directory.
Be The Peacock
My favorite session of the day was “Be the Peacock: Creating and Loving Your Online Brand” by Rebecca Gill. The idea behind her presentation is that a peacock has beautiful, vibrant colors, and is not afraid to strut them. Likewise, individuals need to stand out and make themselves and their brand distinguishable. In the presentation, she tells the story of how she was once a shy individual, afraid to strut her colors and diagnosed with Imposter Syndrome. After receiving a pep talk from Chris Lema, she embraced her inner peacock.
Wise Words From a Mentor
When Ross Johnson put the wheels in motion to organize WordCamp Ann Arbor, he didn’t have a reference level of interest. Although the Ann Arbor area has a monthly meetup group with 40-50 rotating attendees, he didn’t know if people would feel compelled to travel from Detroit. Because of the uncertainty, attendance for the event was capped at 150 tickets. “We ended up selling out early and having nearly seventy people on the waiting list. We of course had made all of our accommodations based on 150 people,” Johnson told the Tavern.
John Hawkins who organized WordCamp Las Vegas 2013 and is putting together the event for 2014 mentored Johnson along with a few other first-time organizers. Hawkins suggested to Johnson that he should release more tickets and that 10-15% of people wouldn’t show up. “As predicted, a large group of people didn’t show up and we were able to accommodate everyone without issue.”
Finding a Venue
Finding a venue can be one of the more challenging aspects of organizing a WordCamp. Most speakers appreciate being able to walk to the venue from their hotel room. After ruling out corporate venues due to cost, Johnson was left to choose between donated office space, public space, or the University of Michigan.
Lyndsay Johnson who studied at the University recommended that he try contacting the Michigan League event services department. “After touring the facilities we knew it was the spot we wanted to try. It was central to downtown and had an incredible classic vibe to it which brought an interesting contrast for a tech event.” Another benefit to using the League is the on site catering as well as a strong technology team to help keep technical hiccups to a minimum.
Lessons Learned From a First Timer
Johnson recommends that organizers start early. While WordCamp Ann Arbor took place on October 14th, he sent out the first email related to the event in early February. “On paper it doesn’t look like there is that match to do, but it’s more than it seems.” Second and third time organizers have the luxury of building off of previous experience. That’s a luxury first timers don’t have. “When starting from scratch you have to design a new website, new badges, new logo, etc.”
One of the most important aspects of managing a large event such as a WordCamp is the team surrounding you. “Get a group of organizers that you can really trust and don’t be afraid to delegate to them.” In addition to Johnson, the organizing team includes: Justin Ferriman, Kloe Ferriman, Rebecca Gill, Lyndsay Johnson, Kyle Maurer, and Declan O’Neill. Despite having help, Johnson feels as though he took on too much work and will do a better job next year of asking for help.
Will There be a WordCamp Ann Arbor 2015?
Johnson tells me that they’ll likely have a second WordCamp in Ann Arbor next year and planning will begin sometime in February or earlier.
Can’t Wait For Round Two
For a first time event, WordCamp Ann Arbor didn’t experience many hiccups. The WiFi speeds at the League were fantastic with a consistent 20Mb up and down throughout the day. Attendees had to fend for themselves at lunch, but the setup offered an opportunity to exercise with a short walk to main street. Downtown Ann Arbor is filled with great places to eat but many of the locations are small, not being able to handle 10 or more people per table.
With only 150 attendees, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was ample opportunity to meet each other. Attending WordCamp Ann Arbor reaffirms my feeling of enjoying smaller WordCamps versus those with 300 or more attendees. Last but not least, the University of Michigan is a beautiful campus, especially this time of year. If you live in or around the Ann Arbor area, keep tabs on the WordCamp Central schedule and consider attending WordCamp in 2015.