Recap of Attending the First WordCamp Retreat

The first WordCamp Retreat was held this past weekend in Soltau, Germany and by all accounts, it was a very successful event. The following is a guest post by Remkus de Vries who recaps his experience attending the event.

Remkus is from Fryslân, the Netherlands and is Manager Partnerships at Yoast. He’s been active in the WordPress Community since 2006 and co-founded WordCamp Netherlands and WordCamp Europe.

As some of you know, I’ve been active in the WordPress Community for over a decade and in that time, I’ve attended many WordPress related events. From Meetups to WordCamps. I get so excited about WordCamps, I’ve even co-founded a few.

However, in all those years, the format of a WordCamp has been relatively consistent. One or two days, multiple tracks and, in the last five years, a Contributor Day. Perhaps the biggest difference has been the city + location combination. WordCamp Europe started shaking this up with us opting for a rotating city and country principle (you should totally come to this year’s edition btw), but the main format has relatively remained the same.

This past weekend, I attended a WordCamp with my colleagues from Yoast with quite a different format though. Yes, there were still presentations, different tracks, a Contributor Day, and an after party. So what was different about this one? The short answer: a lot.

WordCamp Retreat in Soltau, Germany was the first of its kind. One of the primary goals of WordCamps is to benefit the local community and #WCRetreat took a very different approach.

Here are a couple of things that set it apart from a typical WordCamp:

  • The location was exclusive for the WordCamp attendees.
  • Indoor and outdoor activities.
  • Work on your personal development/strengths.
  • Enjoy co-working under ideal conditions.
  • Alternate between valuable input and relaxation.
  • Benefit from previously unknown networking opportunities.

Exclusive Location

Most of this was made possible by the location. Hotel Park Soltau is located in the North of Germany surrounded by woods and heath. The hotel was reserved for WordCamp attendees only. Everyone stayed there, ate there, and networked there. It was an incredibly immersive experience on a different level than any of the other WordCamps I’ve attended.

WordCamp Retreat Venue

Immersive Activities

In addition to the regular WordCamp presentations you might be familiar with, were non-tech related workshops and activities. From mindfulness, yoga, boot camps, to jam sessions and just playing sports outside (like football – not egg hand – and basketball). The goal being to interact with fellow attendees on a different level. And it worked. I saw much more networking and getting to know one another happening.

A Schedule Built Around Social Interaction

The day started with some of the above-mentioned activities, then breakfast for all, followed by the first regular sessions. There was plenty of time between the sessions as well as morning, lunch and afternoon breaks that allowed for a lot of hallway tracks. Before the end of the afternoon, we switched back to other activities again like playing sports or jam sessions.

Contributor Day on Day 2 of 3

One of the things I enjoyed a lot is the fact that the Contributor Day was organized the second day of the three. This meant that everyone attending was kinda ‘locked into’ attending the Contributor Day.  I’m not a big fan of forcing people to do anything, but this was a nice way of integrating the giving back part of a WordCamp.

WordCamp Retreat Contributor Day

I Want to See More of These Types of WordCamps

Sunday afternoon, as the attendees were getting ready to head home, you could see how much everyone had enjoyed these three immersive days. The relaxed schedule, the different approach to what came when,  the fact of us all sharing the same rooms for 72 hours, the activities before, between and after the presentations, they all made this concept an extremely pleasant and relaxed one.

This first edition had about 180 attendees and all of their feedback will determine the fine tuning of what this WordCamp can be, but I’m very enthusiastic about this first edition.

I hope to see this type of WordCamp happen a lot more. It adds value to the format as we know it.


10 responses to “Recap of Attending the First WordCamp Retreat”

  1. Thanks for write-up, Remkus! Reading the Twitter hashtag during the days of the event was truly amazing, and the personal reports I’ve heard so far second your thoughts expressed here.

    One thing I’m wondering about is the role of sponsors at this type of event. I suppose the “retreat” format with full board and lodging increased cost per capita a lot, so sponsors (as with all WordCamps) certainly played a key role in financing the event.

    Do you have any thoughts on how sponsors were represented at the event?
    Were there other opportunities for sponsors to engage with attendees than a regular booth? If so, do you think sponsors chose to leverage those opportunities?
    Was there anything that made the event format uniquely attractive or unattractive for sponsors from your point of view?

    • Hej Caspar, from my point of view the sponsors did not only get involved at their stands. Since everyone was on the same premises, it was easier to cross the road and talk a little bit. Many have taken advantage of this.

      In addition, the sponsors have not taken over the lodging. Every guest had to do it himself. But also here an unbeatable price was offered. But you are right, because of the new way the retreat also costs about twice as much as a normal WordCamp.

      You definitely missed something!

    • Do you have any thoughts on how sponsors were represented at the event?

      Not sure you’re asking specifically about the location of the sponsor booth or integration of sponsored content (there was none). But, at this particular venue, the main area for the sponsors was right in front of one of the track rooms and as far as I could see that worked good.

      Were there other opportunities for sponsors to engage with attendees than a regular booth? If so, do you think sponsors chose to leverage those opportunities?

      Yes, the relaxing atmosphere facilitated striking up conversations with (potential) clients easier. From both ends. And yes, they did.

      Was there anything that made the event format uniquely attractive or unattractive for sponsors from your point of view?

      I would repeat the answer above.

  2. A great report, Remkus. Thank you.

    The hotel was really great and the whole organization worked great. The sponsors were also not only at their stands and were able to get involved in many discussions.

    I really like this kind of WordCamp.

  3. Thank you for your great recap, Remkus!
    I can only add the awesome Karaoke-fun that you guys brought to the event! And thanks for creating our new Ghostbusters jingle, which is still stuck in our heads, by the way! ;-) “Who you’re gonna call? …”

  4. It was very touching for me as an organization member that all participants enjoyed it. Seeing the idea in real life and having a grin on everyone’s face. even though I’m not a dad … it felt like we were a Bady born to the WordPress community. Somewhat after all, it seems everyone has been waiting.

    I am glad that all get the felling.

  5. Sounds fantastic, I hope there will be something like this in the US.


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