6 Ways to Make Your Job Easier as a WordCamp Conference Organizer
For members of the WordPress community, WordCamps provide an awesome opportunity to get together. Thanks to events in every corner of the globe, sponsors subsidizing the cost of tickets, and ticket scholarships available for those who need them — there are few barriers to entry when it comes to attendance.
But these events don’t come together without a lot of planning. And the conference organizers who put in the hard work to make WordCamps happen don’t make money off their efforts — they contribute because of their love for WordPress.
I’ve been helping to organize WordCamp Denver for the past three years. Each year, I take on a new role to try to understand how each position helps contribute to the event as a whole. Supported by an amazing team of professionals, I’ve learned a lot about event planning and creating efficiencies throughout the process.
If you’re considering a position as a conference organizer in the future — at WordCamp or otherwise — you’ll appreciate these tips for creating efficiencies wherever and whenever possible:
#1: Plan (Way) Ahead of When Decisions Need to be Made
Waiting until the last minute really doesn’t work when it comes to event planning. If you wait too long to figure things out, you lose access to venues, speakers — even ticket sales, as people’s calendars fill up fast.
Knowing this, it’s important to get ahead of your role as a conference organizer. Start by creating a calendar for when important decisions need to be made and map out the steps necessary to finish each task.
Plan for things to take longer than you think, especially when evaluating different vendors or collaborating with team members.
Getting ahead is important because you’ll start getting stressed as the date of the event approaches — you don’t want to have to deal with last minute issues on top of the stuff that should already be figured out!
#2: Designate a “Second” for Each Major Role
For WordCamp Denver, major conference organizer roles include:
- Lead organizer
- Party planning (for the speaker/sponsor dinner and event after party)
- Social media/email marketing
If there are enough willing volunteers to assist with conference planning, assign a second person to help with each major role. Since they’re not ultimately responsible for the main role, seconds can assist with more than one role depending on the time they have available to volunteer, helping to ensure that nothing important slips through the cracks.
#3: Schedule Regular Catch Up Meetings
WordCamp Denver typically happens mid-summer, so our initial conference organizer meetings start sometime after the beginning of the year. We meet every two weeks until about a month out from the event, at which time we switch to weekly meetings.
Having these meetings is beneficial for moving forward in two ways: it keeps everyone accountable for what’s expected of them in their roles while also creating an opportunity to collaborate and seek help with any issues that come up.
While you can host these meetings in any format, Zoom video calls where we can all see each other’s faces is a nice way to connect.
#4: Use a Centralized Email & Project Management System
The WordCamp Denver teams operates from one centralized Gmail for the majority of communications between conference organizers and vendors, sponsors, and speakers.
Limiting the majority of communications to one inbox makes it easy for anyone on the team to access relevant conversations that they may need to act on. Since Gmail is searchable, team members are empowered to first look for answers to questions they might be able to solve in Gmail before looping others in for help.
We use Slack to communicate with each other outside of our planned meetings, which is likewise useful for creating an organized repository of conversations and their resulting implications for the event.
While we haven’t landed on a project management tool that everyone’s excited about yet, it’s an essential element for staying organized and ensuring that event planning stays on track.
#5: Document Knowledge & Processes for Use Year After Year
It’s not easy to create an event from scratch, which is why many conferences are planned as repeat events.
Since WordCamps happen all over the world, year over year, conference organizers hold the keys to a lot of useful knowledge that shouldn’t have to be constantly reinvented. So while you’re creating email templates, spreadsheets, and other repeatable processes, make sure to create documentation to help others who may assume your position in the future.
Part of this is simply making your knowledge accessible. With this in mind, conference organizers should create a central knowledge repository that’s easy to navigate. I’d suggest using a cloud storage solution with folders and understandable file names.
#6: Collect Important Attendee Information During Registration
Last year, we forgot to ask speakers to sign a release to record their sessions during our call for speakers application process, which would be necessary for getting their talks on WordPress.tv.
This created a huge and avoidable headache. We didn’t want to wait until day-of to get their signatures, so we had to send out forms for online eSignatures, one by one (with extra follow ups necessary to ensure 100% participation).
Situations like this can be easily mitigated by a smart approach to registration. When attendees move forward with purchasing tickets, the sign up form might include questions asking them about dietary restrictions for meals, shirt sizes, and their participation in certain activities (for example, WordCamp Denver offers multiple Sunday workshops with attendance capped for each session).
Conditional Checkout Fields is a WordPress plugin that empowers conference organizers to collect this personal information during checkout (for WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads), limiting the annoying follow up that you’d otherwise have to deal with when contacting individuals, one by one.
Final Thoughts: 6 Ways to Make Your Job Easier as a WordCamp Conference Organizer
It’s worth mentioning that none of these tips will work quite as well as when you’re collaborating with a team of people who are motivated to do their best and who take their role as a conference organizer seriously. So if you’re in charge of bringing on new team members to a conference planning team, do your due diligence to find people you can count on.
If you’ve been a conference organizer for WordCamp (or another event), we’d love to hear from you. What tips would you add to this list? Tweet your thoughts at @checkoutfields and we’ll share our favorites.