WordCamp Europe - First Time Organizer Perspective
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For the last few months there have been times that I wasn’t present at the office, I could not attend some of the weekly SiteGround meetings and I have neglected a lot of the internal mail communication, that needed my attention. But it was all for a great reason — I was lucky and honored to be part of the core organizing team of what turned out to be one of the most successful WordCamps. With 2 conference days, a packed Contributors Day and almost 800 people in attendance, I dare to say that WordCamp Europe was one of the best and most rewarding experiences I’ve ever been part of.
How Did All This Happen in the First Place?
Up until #WCEU my WordCamps involvement consisted of representing SiteGround on many of the events we sponsor and communicating with the organizers about all sponsorship related things. It just happened naturally that during the last 2 years I also got involved with our local community (which is absolutely awesome btw!) by helping organize WordCamp Sofia and the Local WordPress 10th anniversary celebration, which SiteGround supported as well.
So when a call for WordCamp Europe organizers was put up and after the amazing WordCamp Sofia we had the previous year, SiteGround encouraged me to join the rest of the WordCamp Sofia organizers and to be part of the team that will apply to organize the event here. The rest is history as they say. Once we knew that Sofia was chosen to host WordCamp Europe, SiteGround decided to dedicate part of my work time to organizing the event and I am so glad they did.
Now that the dust has settled, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the event and share some insights about the challenges I faced and lessons I learned as an organizer.
1. Volunteer Work ≠ Little Work ⇒ Dedicate Time if you Want to do it Right.
WordCamp Europe is 100% volunteer organized and also incredibly time consuming. If SiteGround hadn’t decided that part of my work time will be dedicated to this event, I would not have been able to do even 1/10 of what I actually did and I would have never been as involved with WCEU. So my advice to future WordCamp organizers would be: if you are a freelancer or self employed, accept the fact that you will be spending a lot of your time on the event and your normal routine and projects will probably fall behind. If you are employed, you’d better convince your boss that it’s well worth it to dedicate part of your work time to work on the event. I am lucky enough that SiteGround didn’t need any convincing on that part, on the contrary – as firm believers in contributing to WordPress, they encouraged me and here’s the time to say a huge thanks for not only allowing me but also helping me with the organization of this amazing event.
2. Don’t be Afraid to Step up and Take Responsibility. Be Proactive.
WordCamp Europe was organized by a team of 15 people. 10 of the organizers were located all over Europe part of which participated in last year’s WCEU organization, and 5 of us were first time WCEU organizers and were here in Sofia. Working mainly at SiteGroud for the last 8+ years, I am used to act in an environment where roles are clear, communication is mostly face to face, tasks are distributed quite quickly and job’s being done pretty fast. Probably this explains my initial frustration during the first weeks after I started working as part of the WCEU organization team, where all the communication was only online through Skype and P2, there seemed to be lack of clear structure, immediate todos and material results. I was the new kid on the block and wasn’t sure what was the best approach to this situation. This was a crucial moment when I could have easily become discouraged and disconnected, but instead I decided to take the initiative in my hands instead of passively waiting for someone to assign tasks to me. After all I was the one with the best idea what I am good at, so I stepped up, assigned myself the tasks I was OK with and started working on them.
The rest was a question of good communication to the other team members and lots of enthusiasm to get things done.
3. Communicate – Be as Precise, Clear, Justified and Timely as Possible
With a team this big and distributed, it’s needless to say that communication is the key to get the job done. Everyone on the team needs to be up to date with the progress of your work and should be able to provide feedback. For example, as a person on the ground taking care of the venue and food, I made sure I posted detailed pictures of the venue with suggested layouts, decoration, and signage. I also described my catering research process and the requirements I had for the food. Also, whenever I had an idea or suggestion, I made sure to explain it as good as possible and justify it. I should admit that sometimes when being short on time and deprived of sleep I was tempted to just inform briefly the others about a decision I have already made and avoid discussion. However, resisting this temptation and actually being willing to hear what the others have to say has always led to great results.
Outgoing communication to speakers, sponsors and volunteers is as important as your internal team communication. Those people are going to set the vibe for the event and it’s only going to be positive if they’ve been treated well by the organizers. One thing we could have done better this year is precisely communication to speakers – we delayed our responses to the people who applied to speak and we know that this made travels planning for some of them a bit hectic.
4. Start with the Budget – It’s the First Step to a Great Event
When I started working on the budget for WordCamp Europe, I had no idea that it will require so much time. However, after I was through with the task, I was thankful for every minute spent on it. If there’s one thing to recommend to future WordCamp organizers it is: take the time to do your budget right.
Detailed and proper planning of our budget gave us 3 immediate benefits: 1) We had done the big part of the research process on the vendors we would later work with for food, t-shirts, coffee breaks, printing, etc and this made our work afterwards much easier. 2) We knew exactly how much money we needed to raise from sponsors and got our sponsorship packages ready. 3) We were able to set an affordable price for our event and attract as many people as possible. WordCamp Europe ticket price was only 30 Euro which is one of the least expensive WordCamp tickets so far.
5. Enjoy it!
I failed miserably at this one several times mostly because I am diagnosed with perfectionism and lack of patience, but the sooner you accept that some things will happen slow and over others you do not have full control, the better. I am incredibly thankful to absolutely everyone from our organizing team for the patience and the support in the difficult moments (I need to mention especially Petya and Veselin as they have seen the worst of me) and trusting me to be part of the most epic WordCamp to date. No matter how stressful and busy it was at times, this was well worth it and I am glad and thankful that I did it.