wordcamp tips

How to Survive WordCamp: a Guide for n00bs

One of my most favorite things about working with WordPress is the opportunity to meet people in real life at WordCamps.

I’m in the process of helping plan WordCamp Dallas / Fort Worth and it occurred to me that we’ll likely have campers who’ve never attended a WordCamp and are a little apprehensive.

The following WordCamp tips will help you do more than just survive a WordCamp – they’ll show you how to have a blast.

Tip #1: Don’t Stress Out

Unless you’re one of the folks organizing the event, there’s no need to stress out over WordCamp. :) It’s not like kid camp — You won’t have to get on stage or do a chicken dance or stuff your face with marshmallows (unless you just really want to). The most outrageous thing you’ll have to do is introduce yourself to people (we’ll talk about that in another tip).

WordCamps are very informal and usually follow some sort of structure like this:

  • Registration
  • Opening Remarks (everybody)
  • Morning sessions (break out in various rooms)
  • Lunch (everybody)
  • Afternoon sessions (break out in various rooms)
  • Closing Remarks (everybody)

WordCamp sites will post a schedule ahead of time and usually have a printed schedule at the event. Just pick out the sessions you want to attend and roll with it.

Tip #2: Don’t Be Self-Conscious

WordCamps attract many different folks (you’ll easily see ages spanning 5 decades) who work with WordPress in many different ways (i.e. blogger, hobbyist, developer, designer, etc.).

So, if you’re just a blogger (I say that tongue-in-cheek, ’cause I don’t think any of us are “just” anything), know that you’ll find other people like you. Don’t assume that you’ll be the only representation of your personal or professional demographic.

That’s not to say that WordCamps have diversity conquered, but it’s high on the radar. WordCamps are welcoming environments. I say all of this so that you can relax. Don’t be self-conscious.

We’re all a bit nerdy or we wouldn’t spend a weekend at something called “WordCamp.” Trust me, you’re gonna fit right in.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Shy

You will meet famous people at WordCamps. Well, famous in the WordPress world anyway. Maybe you’ll recognize them from Twitter, maybe they work for Automattic, or maybe they even taught you WordPress via Lynda.com.

You will get a little star struck, you will want to meet them, but you might be tempted to walk away if a lot of people are talking to them or they just look particularly Busy and Important.

Don’t walk away. March right up to them, introduce yourself, say whatever it is they’ve inspired you to do, and then move on. I mean, don’t be a stalker about it, but don’t miss an opportunity to speak with someone in real life that you interact with or admire online. Put your brave pants on.

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Tip #4: Don’t Wear a Prom Dress or Tux

Speaking of pants… I almost titled this tip “Dress like it’s casual Friday,” but for those of us who work from home, casual Friday might be code for “work in your underwear.” (Side note: if you do find yourself in need of clean underwear, you never know when some famous WordPress person may help you get them!)

WordCamps are casual events. You’ll see a lot of t-shirts and a lot of flip-flops. Dress professionally if that’s what’s comfortable to you, but know that most folks will be rocking a well-loved tee and some chuck taylors. Just be yourself.

Tip #5: Don’t Sit By Yourself at Lunch

When the last morning session breaks, there will be a mad dash to the lunch line (did someone say “food?!”). You’ll grab a sack lunch lovingly provided by some volunteer and then you’ll stand there, possibly awkward and not sure where to go. It’s lunch on the first day at a new school all over again.

Try this: Head over to any table with open spots and simply ask to sit down. Unless you just really need that lunch break for personal time, don’t miss an opportunity to meet folks over lunch!

Tip #6: Don’t Be Afraid to Miss a Session

Sessions are awesome. Sessions are where various subject matter experts (or at least enthusiasts) get up and talk about a topic for 30 or 45 minutes. You will learn cool things in sessions. You will learn tips that make your life easier.

But here’s the deal: don’t be afraid to skip a session.

This isn’t like school where you get demerits for missing a class.  If you get the opportunity for a fantastic hallway conversation in lieu of a session, do it. You can make valuable connections, forge new friendships, or even spark up new business at a WordCamp. While sessions are awesome, leave plenty of space for conversations.

Tip #7: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

The whole point of WordCamp is to learn, engage with others, and be a part of the larger WordPress community. HAVE FUN. You’ll be wiped out by the end of the day (information overload, awesome overload, social overload), but chances are high you’ll already be thinking about your next WordCamp…

Carrie Dils

I’m a recommended Genesis Developer with 15+ years experience in web design and development. I'm creative, resourceful, and ready to put my mind to your project. Want to discuss your WordPress project? Let's talk!

Comments

  1. rebeccagill says

    Carrie I love the post. It is another example of why I dig you as much as I do.

    While it took me a long time to get active in WordCamps, I’m so grateful that I did. I have met a ton of wonderful new friends and have also forged some great business alliances in the process. While my husband always questions my WordCamp adventures, I know they are invaluable for my happiness, personal growth, and the overall success of our business. Yes I have fun, but they are also business. I’m blessed to be able to combine the two into one great weekend.

    I would encourage WordPress users to jump in. Don’t be hesitant like I did. Take the plunge and go fully into the event. Don’t just sit in presentations, join hallway conversations and share taxi/uber rides. You’ll meet new friends and you’ll realize you can go much further in WordPress when you go along with a few friends.

  2. Ginger says

    Perfectly described! For those that haven’t attended — I just went to my first WordCamp in Austin, TX earlier this year. I had a blast! I was blown away by the people. It’s so fun to just plop down at a lunch table and introduce yourself. And know that I’m not the social butterfly person, but there it is easy. Even though I was brand new I still found folks that I was able to offer technical tips to. And, I discovered the greatness of Desktop Server who had a vendor spot. In short, attending help me see that this WordPress community is REAL, very real and welcoming even more so in person than on the Twitters :-)

  3. says

    Excellent advice, Carrie! Wish I’d read this before Austin. I skipped a session to get some sleep (I hadn’t slept in a few days) and felt guilty. But it helped me be prepared for the 2nd day. I also didn’t introduce myself to enough people. So excited to change this at WCDFW.

  4. says

    Just bought a Prom Dress for WPMU. Now what? I think Sofia is to cold for shorts and flip flops. All this dilemma’s. I’m glad all your other tips are great and really can be helpful. Great blog Carrie.

  5. says

    Hi Carrie,

    I’ll be attending WordCamp DFW in October and it’s actually my first WordCamp. I’m so excited to be around people who understand what I do are passionate about it as well. Thanks for writing this post! It’ll be exciting to actually meet the people I follow in real like.

  6. says

    Great post! Reminded me of my first WordCamp in Austin, TX 2013. I was star struck by Rachael Butts because she was my inspiration to get into the business. Then I found out about you and I was star struck at WordCamp Austin 2014! Ha! Thinking of going to WordCamp SF. Talk about star struck!

  7. says

    Great post! I did my first WordCamp this year and it was great! (I was the one live tweeting, like EVERYTHING.) One of the things that surprised me was there was no 15 minute meet-and-greet time on the “big” presentation day. Not everyone goes to the dinners (we & several others did not), and not everyone will feel comfy chatting up others at the lunch table. Meet-and-greet is a great way to collect business cards and get into the groove of networking. It’s also a great way to get the lay of the land, so to speak – and it forces the local group members to get away from each other to say “hello” to new people. We tend to stay in our comfort zones.

  8. Ginger says

    One more thing I learned — if you’re bringing your computer, get a backpack for your stuff. I looked like a big ole noob trying to manage my hand bag and over-the-shoulder computer bag. Everything bumping into each other and constantly falling off my shoulders. Here comes Miss Carrie calm, cool and collected with her backpack with everything stowed :-) I’ll be ready next time.

  9. says

    Great post, Carrie! I went to my first WordCamp in Seattle earlier this year. I brought my iPad instead of my MacBook Pro and wish I had brought my MacBook Pro. It would have made it easier to take notes and participate in some of the more technical sessions (like working with SASS). Also, if Morten Rand-Hendriksen is speaking, don’t miss it! He is awesome! I wish I had gone up and told him about all of his Lynda classes I took and how much he’s inspired me. Won’t miss that opportunity again should it arise. And I promise to introduce myself to you, Carrie, if I ever get the chance.

    • says

      Hi Pam!
      I had a total star-studded moment when I met Morten last year at WCSF. I first learned WordPress through his Lynda tuts, so he’s a hero (albeit humble one) in my book.

      Will you be at WCSF this year? I look forward to meeting you one of these days!

      Cheers,
      Carrie

  10. says

    I love WordCamp! You can actually talk to people about what you love without getting a blank stare and a yawn.
    My first WordCamp in SLC a few years ago, Matt Mullenweg was there. I was such a noob I didn’t know who he was. (I do now.) I also know that the “famous” people are down to earth and will share their cheezy fries and awesome knowledge with you.

    If you can, I recommend attending some of the after parties too. Make friends, get great ideas for your own business/website, help someone else… who needs sleep?

  11. says

    Awesome post.

    As a WordCamp n00b, I needed to hear some of this advice. Easy to start getting imposter syndrome or to feel like you’re the only person who sucks at networking :)

  12. says

    Really well timed post. Just yesterday I was trying to convince myself to attend a WordCamp and actually get involved in the community. I’ve built or worked on around 100 WordPress sites over the last couple years but have kept to myself. I think you pushed me over the edge to plan on attending the DFW WordCamp.

  13. Carolyn Y says

    Loved this post. I hope to attend a WordCamp soon. I’m actually considering the DFW one, but it might be a bit pricey for me, what with airfare, etc.

  14. says

    Cool. By the way, I noticed the images on your Podcast page don’t center on smaller resolutions like the rest of the content. If you add
    .post-type-archive-podcast .entry-header { text-align: center; }
    to your stylesheet that ought to fix it.

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