8 Takeaways as a First-Time WordCamp US Attendee & Speaker

7 min read
Freelancing, WordPress
By: Maddy Osman

I’m no stranger to attending WordCamp events in various locales.

My first WordCamp, as both an attendee and speaker was at the 2016 WordCamp Chicago. I moved to Denver shortly thereafter, and got involved with WordCamp Denver as both an organizer and speaker.

I also had the opportunity to check out the more topic-specific WordCamp for Publishers when it came to Denver in 2017.

But no matter how involved I’ve gotten in the WordPress community, nothing could prepare me from the entirely different beast that is WordCamp US.

The stars finally aligned: in 2019, I made my way to St. Louis for my very first major regional WordCamp event.

Here’s what I learned as a first-timer, to help you make the most of your next WordCamp US or other big industry event:

#1: Research Attendees You Want to Meet Ahead of Time

Thanks to the backend system that powers WordCamp websites, it’s easy to access a list of attendees who’ve opted in to share their conference-going status.

Here’s how that looks on the WordCamp US website:

Since the WordPress community loves Twitter, you can also connect with attendees ahead of the event by following the #WCUS hashtag.

It’s important to start the outreach process ahead of the event because people’s schedule fill up fast. Besides the main conference and Contributor Day, there are several after-parties and unofficial events that will split people’s time.

If you want to meet up with someone at the event, make your intentions known.

It will also help if you have a system for meeting with attendees.

Which brings me to my next WordCamp US takeaway:

#2: Use a Calendar Scheduling Tool to Set Meetings With Attendees

Going into WordCamp US, you should (ideally) have some basic idea of the sessions you want to see and any additional events you want to participate in.

Once you’ve made some decisions regarding what you absolutely don’t want to miss, put them in your calendar, alongside any other useful information — like the room number or location. This will help you smoothly transition from one thing to another day of, without needing to pull up the WordCamp US website or emails with event information.

But blocking out your time also has another benefit. It helps you understand what remaining time you have to set meetings with individuals or companies.

At this point, you’ll want to loop in a calendar scheduling tool like Calendly or Cirrus Insight’s Enterprise Scheduling. The latter tool lets you set up personal scheduling pages that can be customized for different events, such as WordCamp US.

Armed with a link to your up-to-date calendar, invite attendees who want to meet you to book a 15 minute slot on your calendar for the times you’re not already “booked” with sessions you want to see. This would also be a good tool for setting up coffee, drinks, lunch, and dinner meetings during an event, with limited slots available each day.

This is something I didn’t do this year but something I absolutely plan to put into action for the next big industry event I attend.

#3: Set Alarms for Client Meetings & Sessions You Plan to Attend

I found myself totally losing track of time when getting lost in conversation with fellow attendees at WordCamp US.

Which is great. I had such a blast and my number one goal for attending this event was meeting a lot of friends and clients in-person for the first time.

But it also meant that the day passed in a blink of an eye. I had no real organization around actually making these connections — luckily, most happened serendipitously as I recognized someone or vice versa.

So another WordCamp US strategy I’ll be testing out for next year is setting alarms on my phone 15 minutes before I need to be at a session or meeting. This will give me a natural out if I need to cut a conversation short in order to get to something else I’d previously determined to be important.

Just make sure that your phone doesn’t go off during someone’s session!

#4: Don’t Skip Major Conference Events

Most WordCamp events have several things going on in addition to the main event.

At both WordCamp Denver and WordCamp US, there was a speaker/sponsor dinner (referred to as a volunteer party at WordCamp US) and an after-party to give attendees some unstructured time to make connections.

Then at major regional WordCamp events, there are also Contributor Days, where attendees can contribute to the open source community and make WordPress better. Even if you’re not a developer, there are other teams where you can help make a difference.

The main conference event can be a little crazy, so it’s nice to have a little extra time to meet people in a more relaxed setting.

You just have to make sure that you’ve planned to stay in town long enough to take advantage!

#5: Use WordCamp Events as an Excuse to Travel

I didn’t realize this before but WordCamp US happens twice in the same city before it moves to a new host city. This year was the first for St. Louis, so it will make a repeat appearance there in 2020.

From an organizing standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. Since it’s such a large undertaking, there really is no need to reinvent the wheel every year.

It’s also nice as an attendee that you can scope out the scene the first year WordCamp US comes to a city, coming back the next year with a better understanding of where you want to stay and how to most efficiently get there.

Now that I have a better understanding of the events I want to attend in addition to the main conference, I’ll be planning a longer trip for WordCamp US in 2020. Doing this means I can fully participate in Contributor Day while also giving me time to actually explore the host city as a tourist. I didn’t give myself enough time to do that this year!

Another major WordCamp event, WordCamp Europe, finds it’s host city in Porto, Portugal this year. My mom has never been to the country, so we’re planning a mother-daughter trip there for WordCamp in 2020!

Even if you don’t want to hop across the pond, there are so many awesome Camps in each region. At publication, there have been 1050 WordCamp events in 6 continents, 65 countries, and 75 cities! There’s bound to be one near you or closeby somewhere you’d like to visit.

Plus, work trips mean tax deductions on plane tickets, food, and accommodations, which I’m all about.

This particular trip also gave me the opportunity to meet another online friend from outside of the WordPress community!

#6: Don’t Be Afraid to Get a Little Emotional (the Community Has Your Back)

Time to get a bit more personal.

I can honestly say that going to WordCamp US this year was the first time I’ve been genuinely happy in months.

I lost my dad in July this year and have felt pretty lost since then.

I had already bought a ticket to go but got my speaker acceptance just days after my dad passed. I’d like to think that he had something to do with that — giving me something to look forward to in the midst of my grief.

And I so wish he could’ve been here to see how my session turned out.

I didn’t realize it until the day of, but I gave my first talk as a WordCamp US speaker on what would’ve been his birthday.

I had a good cry that morning, then powered through to practice my talk and make final adjustments to my slides.

I made my way to the venue and I think I nailed it — at least according to the feedback I got from the people who came.

I was so nervous but I felt my dad’s presence with me that day, helping me to cut through my nerves to help my audience solve a problem I see many modern businesses struggling with.

Later in the conference, I met up with several clients and friends who asked me how I was doing since my dad’s death.

Which prompted more tears, though not in a bad way.

It was extremely cathartic to be able to talk to people who had experienced similar types of loss in their families.

Holed up in my home office, I’ve felt a little bit disconnected from the world around me these past few months. Having the opportunity to just let myself feel and cry it out was truly just what the doctor ordered.

What I’m trying to say is that the WordPress community is pretty damn special. Many of us are tied together by a shared caring for each other’s well being. We openly talk about our struggles with mental health. Fellow web hosting companies that could consider themselves competitors aren’t trying to undercut each other — in fact, you often see situations where they’re boosting each other up.

It truly is an honor to serve this community as a WordCamp organizer, speaker, and writer for many WordPress brands.

#7: You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Suitcase

how I feel about the swag at WordCamp US —

It’s easy to get carried away with swag at any conference but WordCamp US has the best swag. Companies really pull out all the stops to encourage attendees to stop by and share their booty on social channels.

My Wapuu collection grew exponentially this year. GoDaddy had the coolest job function-specific Wapuus (and encouraged attendees to take selfies with their “pin twins”). But my favorite new Wapuus (Star Wars themed!) came from Jennifer Bourne, from a previous WordCamp.

The rest of my swag was a lot bulkier. I collected several t shirts, coffee mugs (the collapsible one from WooCommerce will be a future conference staple for me), and even a hammock from Liquid Web! All of this barely fit between my suitcase and backpack.

Oh, and the stickers. They always come plentiful at WordCamps:

#8: Giving Back is the Best Gift

WordCamp event tickets are subsidized by sponsors or the WordPress Foundation so that people don’t have to deal with financial hardship to attend. Tickets are typically $50 for 2-3 days of events, which tend to include meals. For those who can’t justify spending the money, several ticket scholarships are also available to help.

Because WordCamps aren’t for-profit, organizing and speaking at these events are very much a labor of love — participants don’t get paid for the tens and hundreds of hours they put into making WordCamps happen.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As we were so poignantly reminded during the screening of the film Open | The Community Code (by the wonderful team at Wordfence) during the State of the Word, this community exists because members are generous with their time and talents.

Whether it’s at the official Contributor Day event, organizing or speaking at a WordCamp, or starting a local WordPress meetup — there are so many different ways to support this community.

Will you join us?

Final Thoughts: 8 Takeaways as a First-Time WordCamp US Attendee & Speaker

I left WordCamp US energized with ideas for how to pivot my business in the future and I’ll be working hard to make that happen through the end of the year. I also left the event feeling more strongly connected to this community — my friend circle has grown!

If you haven’t been to a local WordCamp event or the biggest WordCamp in the US, what are you waiting for? I’d love to meet you at next year’s WordCamp Denver or WordCamp US. 🙂

What were some of your biggest takeaways from attending a WordCamp event like WordCamp us? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Maddy Osman

The Blogsmith

Maddy Osman is the author of Writing for Humans and Robots: The New Rules of Content Style. She's a digital native with a decade-long devotion to creating engaging, accessible, and relevant content. Her efforts have earned her a spot in BuzzSumo’s Top 100 Content Marketers and The Write Life’s 100 Best Websites for Writers. She has spoken for audiences at WordCamp US, SearchCon, and Denver Startup Week.

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WordCamps are great, aren’t they?

I’m glad that your talk went well, and that you felt your dad’s presence that day. I bet he would have been proud.

Totally with you on the Wapuu swag. I treasure my scarf from WordCamp London 2015, with the punk Wapuu.

If I ever get to WordCamp Europe, we might meet up some day!