WordCamp Warmup: An Experimental Event Aimed at Breaking the Ice for New WordCamp Attendees

WordCamp Warmup Featured ImageFor newcomers, attending WordCamps can be an intimidating experience, especially if you don’t know anyone at the event. A new experimental event called WordCamp Warmup, aims to alleviate the intimidation factor.

WordCamp Warmup is part of WordCamp Ann Arbor that takes place October 14-15 at the University of Michigan. The event is the brainchild of Rebecca Gill, founder of Web Savvy Marketing.

“It came to my head at PressNomics and I thought it would be good for introverts,” Gill said.

“I think it was after someone made a comment about WordPress having a ‘cool group’ and newcomers felt that the cool kids were unapproachable. I was grouped into that cool kids segmentation and I absolutely don’t want to appear unapproachable, so I thought this event would be something we should utilize to fix that issue.

“I started to think I could personally welcome each person who arrived at WordCamp, but then thought this might go one step further. Kind of like a buddy system for newbies.”

Considering WordCamp Warmup is a day before WordCamp Ann Arbor, I asked Kyle Maurer, lead organizer for WordCamp Ann Arbor, if he needed WordCamp Central’s approval to attach it to the main event.

“I briefly discussed it with either Cami or Andrea,” Maurer said. “I’m paraphrasing when I say she said it was totally fine and as long as we make sure we have our budget in order for the important stuff, adding additional gatherings/activities like this is not a problem.

“We’re not the first to have additional activities and social gatherings beyond the traditional speaker dinner and after party format. But to my knowledge, we will be the first to put together something for this distinct purpose.”

Meeting new people at WordCamps can be difficult, especially for introverts who are not used to starting the conversation. Maurer knows first-hand that the relationships or lack thereof created during the course of the event can make or break a newcomer’s experience.

“I know from experience, the value derived from attending a WordCamp is strongly correlated with the level of comfort and companionship one feels with the rest of the attendees,” Maurer said.

“Basically, the more people you know and the more comfortable you feel when walking into a session or lunch and when asking questions, the better your overall experience will be.

“My confident expectation is that those who attend this social gathering on Thursday, will have an overall better experience on Friday and Saturday because they will see more familiar faces and feel more welcomed.”

The event is free for WordCamp Ann Arbor attendees and is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 13th at 6:30pm at Arbor Brewing Company. Appetizers and drinks will be available and space is limited to the first 50 people who reserve a spot.

18 Comments


  1. Our meetup, Women Who WP, felt exactly the same way. So we organized a pre-WordCamp breakfast before WordCamp Orange County last weekend. People organically buddied up and we kept finding each other throughout the whole weekend.

    I’m so glad to see this happening.

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    1. Bridget this give me hope that it will be a positive event!

      I know my first “away camp” was made much easier on me because Chris Lema made a concentrated effort to introduce me to everyone he knew. This lead to another new friend and another and another because they would in turn introduce me to people they knew.

      I had such a great experience and walked away with such a positive feeling about the WordPress community. I want to give that to others.

      What you described above is exactly what I want for this event. And I hope it is a success and other camps can use the same format with their attendees.

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      1. I am sure it will be. One thing the three of us (the WomenWhoWP organizers) did is not sit together. We made a concerted effort to be friendly to the new people and introduce them.

        You’re right. The friendships that emerge from WordPress related events are amazing. But it was initially terrifying for me (2013) so I went with a friend.

        I cannot wait to hear how this event went. I’m sure there will be great stories of friendship and encouragement.

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  2. For me the thought of attending a ‘camp’ is terrifying. I am autistic. So are quite a few people, but I find these types of big events simply do not cater for the way I interact with the world.

    Mind you, trying to get a job is hard too, as job interviews are incredibly confusing for me. They ask all sorts of totally irrelevant questions. ‘Why do you want this job?’ I was once asked. I replied with, ‘Because I need money.’

    I don’t get on well with strangers. Not at all well, except where the conversation is planned and arranged in advance.

    and so I miss out on all the potential advantages of a ‘camp’. :-(

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    1. Trevor do you think there are things that could be done to help make the events more inviting and less terrifying? Or are these types of events just not manageable due to the size?

      There are so many of us that love attending WordCamps and feel enriched after an event and I know we (the majority of us) would love to find a way to make the event more available to introverted people or those individuals with special circumstances like yourself.

      The issue isn’t our desire, but more the knowledge on what we can do to make it manageable for you.

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      1. I agree Rebecca. Trevor, I am sincerely interested in finding more and better ways to help extend positive experiences like those I’ve had at WordCamps to individuals like yourself. If you are open to discussing the matter further, your insight would be invaluable. Please don’t hesitate to start an offline discussion with me.

        There is no question that crowded, busy events are not comfortable environments for every personality but that shouldn’t mean you miss out entirely. Could there be simple ways to make the experience favorable? Perhaps attending with a close friend or meeting a few organizers one on one in advance to help make you feel less alone. Or even finding ways to participate virtually via live streams and Slack communities.

        I don’t mean to single you out Trevor. I’m grateful that you took the time to share your situation as this conversation may benefit others thinking the same thing.

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      2. Thank you for replying Kyle and Rebecca. I suspect that my life experience of being ‘ASD’ (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) is not dissimilar to others like me. From no empirical basis, my guess would be that the ASD coders you might be potentially targeting as an audience are either Asberger’s or HFA (High Functionin Austitic). I am the latter.

        HFA are often wrongly labeled as savants, because, in our early years we appear to be highly skilled (to the exclusion of apparent normality) in one thing. For me that was Math (not unusual for HFA). But, as we get older, most HFA, who have been wrongly labeled as savants, do/can start to function slightly more normally, but no-one who knows me would ever call me anywhere close to ‘normal’.

        The thing is, a LOT of Asperberger’s and HFA are coders.

        We have learned to accept that people we meet will normally react negatively towards us, sometimes quite strongly and in rare cases violently. By the time we are mature adults (for men that is around 50), we try to avoid situations where we have to socially meet and/or interact on anything more than a superficial level with strangers.

        In the UK, it is rare for us to have employment (over 90% do not). We generally have low self esteem and poor body image. Those that do work tend to do so from home as self employed and earn very little, as finding new clients is hard when you won’t go out and ‘shake hands’.

        Think how many people you know who are in great jobs as a result of meeting someone, at events like these meetups. Or from a comment like ‘I know a friend who would be great …’. I have no friends. Each day I awake stunned that I am even married and have a beautiful daughter.

        Like most ASD, I am OCD. New places, like hotels, freak me out. It takes a huge amount of preparation and planning for me to go to an event. I will know my room number in advance. It will not be changed. I will have been given a detailed schematic of the location and lots of photos and/or videos. How to explain? Imagine going to a place you have not visited before, by auto. I use Google Streetview and memorize the entire journey so that when I drive it, it is as though I had already done it. Before Streetview, a strange journey was incredibly stressful for me.

        I can’t cope with turning up to a hall with seating and not knowing which seat is mine, or, worse, knowing which is mine, but someone else being in it.

        And then there are the discussions. Someone will engage me in conversation. They will get one of two responses from me. ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I do know’. By the latter, I mean what I know IS the answer. No discussion. It is not possible to have a normal your view/my view type discussion with me. Either it is possible to come to an answer, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, I will say so and that will be the end of it for me, or if an answer is possible, I will tell you what it is.

        It is incredibly annoying for a coder to show me a chunk of code that they know has a bug but that they cannot find and they have been looking for days. Because I do not read in the same way that normal people do (I see only patterns) I often spot the bug within seconds, point it out and walk away. It is a very annoying personality feature that I have. Most people hate it.

        In general, people do not come away from meeting me with a positive, warm feeling. If you have an ‘alpha’ type of character, you really won’t like me. It has cost me every conventional job I have ever had. New bosses come and go. I am not nor should I ever be put in charge of people, so bosses get promoted above and around me. Eventually one will be an alpha, and they will fire me within a short time.

        What else? A high number of people like me will have been found guilty of committing a crime. We find it difficult to operate within social and legal rules. Someone once hurt me very badly, so I hurt him and his business (a bank) back. Hard. I took a LOT of money off them (electronically). Stuck it under my bed and waited for them to ask for it back. They did, with the Police. 3 years it cost me to learn that lesson that you don’t hit back at the people that bully you. Instead you take the hit without complaint and walk away. But now most countries won’t give me a visa.

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      3. Thanks so much Trevor for taking the time to provide us all with such a detailed look at your perspective. I value it very highly as not everyone in a position like what you’ve described feels comfortable sharing so extensively.

        I certainly can’t say that I have any answers (if there’s even a question here). All I can say is many of the most caring, open and compassionate people I’ve ever encountered were once strangers at a WordCamp.

        Again I thank you for sharing and wish you all the best. Don’t hesitate to reach out directly to me if you have more you’d like to share or if there is anything I can do to help you.

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  3. Rebecca and Bridget, this is wonderful! Thanks for helping to reinforce the amazing and welcoming character of WordCamps. As a new WordPress user, at my first WordCamp a few years ago, I sat with Chris Lema and Shay Bocks at lunch, not realizing who they were (or what Genesis was). I can honestly say that experience changed my life. I can see how it would be hard for shy people or introverts to make the most of the WordCamp experience and I applaud you for making an extra effort to be approachable and help new comers feel comfortable!

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    1. Going to WordCamps totally changed my life — because the people are so amazing.

      But so many of us have internalized social anxiety and it is hard for us to want to attend. So this is amazing. I think if I was invited to go to a pre-camp thing, I would think about signing up for sure.

      Maybe even a Facebook Group for those people would help break the ice. :)

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  4. This is a really phenomenal idea!! I really hope that all WordCamps can try to fit in something like this into their planning.

    Wether it is formally part of WordCamp (and partially funded?!) or even if it is just a recommended place for people to check out and meet the evening/day before as an ice breaker event … for those that have concerns about being shy, or nervous, or think of themselves as introverted this would go a long way in making the WordCamp experience that much better for all attendees.

    I would even suggest making the local WordPress Meetup’s event immediately preceding the WordCamp as a great kick-off point as well for those local to the WordCamp.

    It can be very challenging to move outside your comfort zone and these types of ideas really do help … a friendly face and welcoming smile go a very long way in helping others to be more comfortable in new settings.

    Kudos to all doing this now … and to all that planned to continue these efforts!!

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  5. There have been several warmups before. In Vienna at the WordCamp EU we had even different Warmup Events at once. We had a meetup, a picnic, a tour thru Vienna, a warmup evening and so on.

    https://2016.europe.wordcamp.org/arriving-early-to-vienna-join-other-awesome-people-at-one-of-our-volunteer-organised-warm-up-events/

    In germany we have the tradition of a warmup evening since years. It’s a very nice evening for meeting other people. But it’s really nice to hear, that you do it now too! :)

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  6. This is an excellent idea!

    I love WordCamps, but I am also terrified of them. Once I get to know someone, I can relax and kid around and be totally at ease. But it is the initial getting to know phase that usually does me in.

    I don’t want to bother someone I don’t know. And I don’t want to be the creepy fat old dude who wants to be noticed and liked by the cool folks and ends up being someone lurking just outside the conversational comfort zone.

    Sometimes I just flee back to hotel room to take a break – and yell at myself for being such a loser and missing opportunities to make new friends.

    “Real” or not, this is my reality, but I am slowly trying to learn to just fake it and act like I belong. If I can do that at least 10% of the time at a WordCamp, I feel like it has been a successful event for me.

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    1. Paul,

      I totally get this. Totally.

      I think Twitter is also a great place to get to know people.

      BTW — Epic fistbump and selfie when we finally do meet IRL at some camp some time.

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  7. Paul I would love to meet you in person and would not once think of you as “creepy” as you suggest. I doubt anyone would consider it a “bother” either.

    I confess that I’m horrendous with names and this limits my ability to be the outward one who starts conversations. That’s my limititation. It prohibits me from meeting as many people as I would like. We all have our quirks and none of us like it.

    And we all need toes up time in the hotel room where we regroup. I totally skipped one night at a camp because of it. When people asked where I was the next day, I just said I put myself in a time out. Which was totally true.

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    1. Thanks Rebecca! It probably sounds crazy, but through your adventures with Carrie, it almost seems like I kind of ‘know’ you already.

      And I’m sure (or I hope) that no one has ever actually thought I was bothering them or being creepy, BUT inside my head, that is what I am hearing and sensing and feeling. (The inside of my head can be a very scary place – for me – quite often.)

      I am truly hoping to make it to this event, as long as I can make the budget work for it, and look forward to meeting you IRL.

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      1. LOL Paul! Life with Carrie Dils is an adventure. It is why I like her.

        I look forward to meeting you IRL too.

        That is actually what I love about WordPress – is you already have friends, but just haven’t met them yet IRL. Once you do it only strengths the relationship and friendship.

        If you come to WCA2 make sure you grab me either at the WarmUp or at the WordCamp. =)

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