WordCamp Colombo 2017 – My Lessons as a First Time Organizer

Sri Lanka’s first WordCamp took place on September 23rd, 2017, and I was privileged to be an organizer. Many thanks to Lead Organizer Dasun Edirisinghe for bringing me on board!

This post is about my takeaways from the vigorous behind-the-scenes activity as an organizer, plus as a participant at the event.

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” — Winnie the Pooh

The Colombo WordPress Meetup group has been meeting since September 2015, and two years later, we have reached this milestone. I am immensely grateful to fellow organizers Dasun, Mahangu, Prasath, Musannif, Kasun and Asith, and the entire team of volunteers. Pretty cool teamwork!

But we can’t rest on our laurels, because the journey ahead won’t be easy. More on that, in a little while.

Wait, what exactly is a WordCamp?

A WordCamp is supposed to be an informal, locally organized, educational event with talks and workshops focused on WordPress. There is a no shortage of tutorials or information, online and offline, so this event is not about getting on to stage and dishing out instructions. This is why the depth of interaction is crucial.

And being a community organized, not-for-profit and educational event, the main WordCamp stage or workshop venue is certainly NOT a marketing opportunity. The event sponsors have the opportunity to pitch their products and services at designated tables only.

This is also a great chance to become lifelong friends with promising WordPress users, developers and businesspersons both living in your town, and those flying in from abroad.

WordCamp Colombo 2017

As for WordCamp Colombo 2017, I and fellow organizers put in many months of planning and preparation. Many attendees I spoke to after the event said they totally loved it, so I’m satisfied at the way we pulled it off.

But, did everything happen like clockwork precision? Certainly not! We now have attendee feedback and our own gift of hindsight to help future editions of WordCamp Colombo emerge even better.

What did I learn?

A lot.

Many things are now a part of me, and I may not even have realized it.

From behind the scenes…

Start preparing early, and give yourself time to steer the ship

For our September event,  we opened our Call for Sponsors in March, and ticket sales in August. The initial response was frighteningly slow for both, and being a first time organizer wrangling out both tasks, it called for a lot of patience.

Looking back, I believe we may have begun just on time for these tasks. Plus, wrangling means a dedicated hour or so has to be spent each day to ensure the entire team doesn’t go off track.

Communicate well, and quickly

People love quick communication, and that makes them think you really care for them. I could sense this whenever I received email replies fast, and sent out my own replies equally fast.

This applies to potential sponsors, attendees, speakers, fellow organizers and volunteers. But of course, you need to take a call to ignore anything unreasonable.

Furthermore, I was assigned to look after the social media and blogging campaign, both in the run-up to the event and during the event itself. This forced me to think deeply before tweeting. There is little appetite for inconsequential updates when people expect to learn something.

“The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see” — Richie Benaud, on cricket commentary.

Get accustomed to remote work

It won’t always be possible for your team to meet under the same roof every few days or weeks, so this is important. This also means you have to use a great deal of text chats and screenshots.

Using Slack and weekly Google Hangouts video calls with organizers helped with this aspect.

State your viewpoint, but follow the leader

It is important to have a good measure of independence assigned to you by the Lead Organizer, and Dasun accorded that really well.

I was able to put across my viewpoint and was respected for it, but had to also accept the Lead’s veto powers in cases of disagreements. This is important for a team to function as one unit.

At times, low-tech solutions are faster

I learnt this from WordCamp Pune 2017 Lead Organizer Saurabh Shukla in the context of speedy check-ins for attendees, and was keen to implement it here.

The night before the event, I pre-packed the swag and the attendee badges with my colleagues’ help, and at the actual event, used an alphabetical list to check in attendees instead of the officially available Camptix interface. No worries about dropping connectivity or laptop issues — low tech wins!

While at the scene…

We had some really interesting talks, and I was fortunate to tweet out a few memorable lines being said by our speakers:

I did a lot. Am I now a celebrity?

Nope.

Organizing a WordCamp or contributing to the betterment of WordPress is not about fame and power. In fact, no open source initiative would succeed with such an attitude. Hence, I and my fellow organizers are now making a conscious effort to swallow our egos and actively working to pass on the baton to new, promising WordCamp organizers.

This will prevent a concentration of power forming around each of us. Each participant has a fair stake in the growth of the WordPress community in Colombo, and WordPress’ long established spirit of inclusivity can never take that away.

I said the journey ahead won’t be easy, right?

It won’t.

In the coming months, the immediate priority of our active WordPress community members is to help ourselves grow through a bottom up approach. This means more meetups in newer locations, more presentations,  more Q & A sessions, and perhaps even a mini-WordCamp!

Now that news is out on WordCamp Colombo 2017 having concluded well, I am optimistic.

If you are in Colombo and would love to be a part of this effort,  please join our Colombo WordPress meetup group.  There is a lot to learn, and many friends to be made.

Do you want to read something more on this?

Sure, here are some links you might find interesting:

  1. Aditya Kane, talking about his experiences as an organizer at WordCamp Mumbai 2014.
  2. My colleague and volunteer Muhammad Muhsin, on experiencing WordCamp Colombo 2017 from the front row.
  3. WordCamp Pune 2017 Lead Organizer Saurabh Shukla, talking about how the WordPress community has been tirelessly focused on building bridges and any conversations around building walls and gates get no traction.
  4. The WordCamp Organizer Handbook.

 

2 thoughts on “WordCamp Colombo 2017 – My Lessons as a First Time Organizer”

  1. This is a nice summary. Thanks for linking to my post. Honestly, that was back from 2014 and I have evolved a lot since then as a volunteer in the WordPress.

    I really like this idea.

    “This means more meetups in newer locations, more presentations, more Q & A sessions, and perhaps even a mini-WordCamp!”

    Hope you can get more people in Colombo and Srilanka using WordPress and appreciate the open-web better and organise and collaborate ideas around these things.

    1. Thank you, Aditya, for the encouraging words.

      I hope Colombo WordPress Meetup members can catch up with you at some of the WordCamps happening in the region and exchange thoughts.

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