WordCamp Sacramento 2016 has been part of my life since February of this year, and while it feels a little weird to have it over and done with, it feels really good to have hosted such a fantastic event.
Growing from 150 tickets sold in 2015 to 363 tickets sold in 2016, This year’s WordCamp was a big step up from our inaugural event last year! We also grew from 19 speakers to 31 speakers and moved to a larger, more attendee-friendly venue.
Sacramento should be proud!
Our community came together in a big way to welcome WordPressers from across the country to our city, to share our knowledge and experience and help lift up others, and to demonstrate the caring nature of our local Sacramento WordPress community.
In fact, one of our speakers, Tate Barber, wrote a great follow up post about his experience and the generosity of a fellow WordCamper that you should check out.
My hope is that as we continue to grow and more and more people in our local community experience WordCamp for themselves — there really isn’t anything like it — that more local businesses, the community colleges, the Sacramento State Graphic Design program, and the Sacramento tech community might even start paying attention and want to step up and participate or hopefully sponsor… fingers crossed!
Now for the full event debrief…
Last year, the Art Institute of California, Sacramento donated the entire venue and the janitorial service to clean up, and they setup the event too. They were amazing.
After selling out every ticket in two hours, it was clear that for 2016, we needed a bigger venue. It took three and a half months to secure a venue for this year’s event. I researched, made phones calls, send emails, and had conversations with close to 50 venues and tapped the brains of several local event planners for suggestions.
The critical details:
- Available on the weekend, both Saturday and Sunday
- Available for any weekend from the end of September to the first weekend of November
- Ability for multiple tracks
- Ability for at least 300 attendees
- Space for lunch
- A venue that was in our budget and had food options in our budget
Brian and I ended up touring almost 15 venues and finally connected with the Harper Alumni Center and everything fell into place. The contract was signed in May and we hit the ground running.
We did learn a few things this year from dealing with a venue contract and rental, which comes from this being the first venue contract I’ve dealt with:
- Make sure you really understand the access you’ll have to the venue. Find out if you’re going to be charged extra for the pre-event, volunteer walkthrough because they consider it also part of the venue rental. Also be sure you know up front if the setup/clean up time the caterer will need is also something you have to pay for.
- Pad the venue rental with an extra hour for set up and for clean up each day just in case, especially if the venue is strict with access.
- Get every single thing you discuss in writing. No phone conversation is ever going to be good enough, especially when your contact is a student who isn’t going to be your contact after the semester ends and they promise things that your new contact says no to and needs to charge you extra for.
- Get in writing who will be responsible for dealing with the trash cans, especially after lunch if you’re serving boxed lunches.
Other than a few contract hiccups, that could have been avoided if I had been a bit more diligent, the Harper Alumni Center was a fantastic venue and the team was great.
We had the entire building and it was out in the parking lot away from the other buildings on campus, so you knew that every person there was with WordCamp. This venue also had a better traffic flow for moving between the two rooms, visiting the sponsors, and getting coffee, etc., which also meant it was easier to see everyone and meet more people.
And yes, the wifi was awesome!
Last year we had Chipotle for lunch, and while giving attendees the ability to build their own burrito or bowl was yummy, it was a huge pain in the butt.
First, we needed several volunteers to leave the event to go pick up the food, which wasn’t ready on time and caused the lunch line to back up a lot. Then the volunteers had to scramble to get it all set up in a space that was too small, and because it wasn’t grab-and-go, it took a long time to get people fed. We also had to go pick up the coffee ourselves and get it refilled ourselves. It worked for our first year, but it was tough.
This year we partnered with a caterer that was pre-approved by the venue to handle the coffee stations, lunch, and the after party — and all of the organizers and volunteers that helped with food last year cheered!
I’ve got to give the Caterer a hand, as the food was fantastic. The sandwiches were big and the lunches were plentiful and the after party treats were to die for. I had a chance to walk around and chat with many of the lunch tables and heard from many of you that the food was amazing and that this was one of the best WordCamp/conference lunches ever. Sweet!
A few things went really well with lunch this year:
- We had four lunch lines, which got people through the lines very quickly.
- The food was grab-and-go premium boxed lunches, so no extra time was needed to get through the lines.
- We kept the beverage station away from the lunch lines, so attendees could get their food quickly, find a seat, and then grab a drink.
- We had attendees take any of the extra lunches, so no one was hungry!
We also gave attendees lots of options with lunch, including turkey, roast beef, ham, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and kosher options. Each lunch also had variety to choose from, including different breads, different sides, and different desserts. Next year, I’m going to aim to add a dairy-free option.
Another win for the food/drink area of the event is that we hammered the coffee and water, but never ran out, not even during the very last sessions.
We did learn a few things though, as what we received from the caterer, wasn’t exactly what was promised or agreed on, and the setup wasn’t what we agreed upon either:
- In addition to coffee and iced water, I want to add a hot water station with tea/cocoa for next year.
- Make sure the caterer tells you exactly how much time they need to set up and that the time is allotted for in your venue contract.
- Make sure the number of people promised for setup is in your contract, especially if it’s a short time frame and they promise to send extra people, because those extra people actually need to show up so they’re not setting up while attendees are arriving.
- Make sure the caterer and venue are on the same page in terms of who has which job, like emptying the trash cans.
- Spell out how you want your lunch organized.
- Make sure the caterer actually sets up the food stations the right way in the right place. We were supposed to have two separate food stations for the After Party, and instead everything was combined into one big table that created a backup and line.
- Try to confirm details with the people who will actually be working your event, so the decorations promised come in the right colors, the right number of linens are brought, and setup runs smoothly.
When there is no work involved to attend, more people will attend.
This year the After Party began directly after the final speakers on Saturday finished their talks. Attendees didn’t have to get in the car and drive anywhere, and there wasn’t a break between the two events for people to change their minds, get tired, go home etc. All you had to do is walk outside.
The After Party ran from 5:00 – 7:00 pm, included food and live music — no booze. We wanted everyone to have an opportunity to wind down, relax, and continue conversations from the day in a casual, relaxed atmosphere, and we didn’t want anyone to go home hungry.
Great food was really important to me. I’ve been to a lot of WordCamps and a lot of after parties, and there sometimes is no food, barely any food, or weird food. I’m not an adventurous eater, so weird food doesn’t do it for me. We went with build your own bruschetta, breads, cheeses, crackers, and fruit, and two big chocolate fondue stations. Yum! Everyone I spoke to was loving the food!
We also chose to skip the booze and go with a refreshing cucumber water and a Mai-tai punch. Alcohol has the potential to make things weird, and because this is a community event, we went with other options to ensure everyone has a good time and felt comfortable, and used the rest of the party budget on the food.
The live entertainment was amazing! Brian and I have been to after parties where the music is so loud that you can’t have a conversation, or you feel like you’re shouting at each other. We’ve also been at after parties that are really quiet and it’s weird!
Brian and I have seen local musician Matt Rainey play several times, and this summer we saw him do a solo afternoon show at Driven Cellars and immediately thought, “This would be perfect for WordCamp!” So we booked Matt and it was everything we hoped for. The music was loud enough to really enjoy, but not so loud that you couldn’t have a normal conversation with those you were sitting with — and he took requests!
I personally had a blast and got a chance to stop by and chat with almost every table at the event to see how their day went — the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive!
We really wanted to do right by our sponsors, after all, they are what makes WordCamp actually possible.
The venue this year didn’t allow for unlimited sponsors. We only had room for six sponsor tables, so we limited the ability to have a table and pass out swag to the top-tier sponsorships. This gave the sponsors who did have a table a greater focus and more prominence.
The sponsors were positioned in a premium location and we planned the event to give them as much foot traffic to them as possible:
- Sponsor tables were front and center: directly inside the venue entrance, across from the Happiness Bar, and between the two ballrooms.
- We purposely nixed tracks based on topic, like the “development track” from last year, and instead mixed up the sessions across both rooms, ensuring attendees didn’t camp out in one seat, in one room all day, but moved back and forth past the sponsors all day both days.
We also gave the sponsors the snacks!
- We skipped the cooked snacks from the caterer, and went with pre-packaged snacks from Costco.
- We filled big snack bowls with granola bars, nuts, trail mix, organic dried fruit, and more in the morning and gave the bowls to the sponsors for their tables.
- After lunch, we emptied out the leftover morning snacks and refilled the bowls with cookies, candy bars, fruit snacks, and trail mix for the afternoon break and gave them back to the sponsors.
- Basically, the only way you could grab snacks, was to visit the sponsors. It made visiting the sponsor tables and saying hello or starting up a conversation more natural.
Hopefully our sponsors this year had a great experience!
Wrangling the speakers is a lot of work. Jen Meyer, our 2016 Speaker Wrangler was on it. She handled everything to do with the speakers before and during the event.
We knew the rooms were long and narrow and well lit by natural light, so Jen made sure all the speakers knew that they needed high contrast slides and big type. She also made sure the speakers finished their slide decks before the event and gave us their public links to share with the attendees via social media at the start of and during their presentations. This helped attendees who didn’t sit up front follow along on their own devices if they wanted.
We heard from several speakers that this kick in the pants to finish their slides in advance gave them the opportunity to really relax at the VIP Dinner Friday night and enjoy it.
A large number of our speakers this year were first-time speakers. Most speakers were local to the greater Sacramento region and for many, it was their first WordCamp ever. I’ve got to say, I sat in on at least 10-15 minutes of every presentation, and our speakers really brought their A-Game. There was a buzz throughout the event of attendees talking about how great the presentations were.
A few other things went really well in regards to our speakers:
- We got them everything they needed for the event during the Friday night dinner, so they could skip registration.
- We prepped short intros for every speaker in advance and had volunteers give an intro for each speaker.
- Most speakers hung out in the Happiness Bar area after their talk to answer any additional questions, which helped us turn the room for the next speaker and stay on time.
- All speakers were on time, early to their session rooms, and they ended on time or a bit early.
There are a few things we learned:
- One speaker couldn’t make it at the last minute, so I stepped in and spoke. For 2017, we’ll identify 1-2 alternate speakers during the speaker selection process instead.
- The Q&A at the end of each session was a bit tough at times. First, we didn’t have access to extra microphones for Q&A, so it was really difficult to hear the questions being asked. Second, many of our speakers were new to speaking and public speaking is nerve-wracking, so remembering to repeat the question before answering it didn’t always happen. Next year we need extra mics and volunteers for Q&A.
- Using a handheld microphone is awkward and weird. For 2017, we’d love to have lavaliere mics for everything, so no speakers have to hold the mic and manage their slides, etc.
Other Event Notes:
This year we rolled all of the t-shirts with the tag out and sorted them into grocery bags by size. This was much easier than having them folded in boxes that our registration volunteers have to dig through.
We had signs and volunteers out in the parking lot at both entrances and at the closest parking kiosk to help people find the venue, pay for parking, and get parked. We also sent out lots of reminders to pay for parking.
While this ran fairly smoothly, I think directing people to multiple kiosks next year will help reduce the line to buy parking passes. Many people didn’t realize they could drive over to a kiosk farther away, buy their parking pass, and then come park close to the venue.
This year all organizers and volunteers wore red WordCamp branded t-shirts. This made it easy for attendees to to know who to go to for help and questions.
Clearly we’re going to need a bigger job board next year! The job board filled up with those hiring and those looking for work, and we’re already heard stories from several attendees that there are interviews, follow up conversations, and connections already being made.
We started on time, stayed on time, ate lunch on time, and ended on time. Kudos to everyone who made that happen!
- We had lots of volunteers on hand for setup with clear duties. Everyone knew what they were responsible for setting up before the event.
- There were awesome timers for each speaker with bright yellow time signs that were impossible to miss. We signaled them with 10 minutes left, 5 minutes left, and 1 minute left until Q&A.
- We scheduled extra time for lunch to ensure everyone finished and was back in the ballrooms for the post-lunch talks.
- A hard-stop for the After Party helped ensure people got to dinner at a decent time or got home early.
- Sunday began at noon, which allowed attendees to sleep in, spend time with their families, eat a good breakfast, go to church, or sleep off their after-after party fun.
The Happiness Bar was at an actual bar this year! The location and signage was prominent (as were the red shirts), so it was easy for attendees to find. As a result, the Happiness Bar was busy almost all day throughout both days of the event. Big kudos to our volunteers who worked the Happiness Bar!
I want to extend BIG THANK YOUS to the entire WordCamp 2016 Organizing Team who jumped in to help throughout the event and did anything I asked them to.
I especially want to thank Jen Meyer who wrangled speakers, Bill Mead who wrangled volunteers AND the AV, Jose Castaneda who managed registration, Heather Hogan who planned the VIP Dinner, and John Locke who coordinated the Happiness Bar. I also want to thank Brian Bourn for jumping through every single hoop I rolled toward him and doing everything I asked him to do no matter what — even if you thought I was crazy.
HUGE THANK YOUS also go out to our sponsors. Without you this event wouldn’t have been possible. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for supporting our local Sacramento WordPress community.
BIG THANKS goes out to each and every one of our 31 speakers. Thank you for responding to our emails in a timely fashion. Thanks for creating your talks, practicing them in advance, getting your slides done in advance, and giving us a link before the event. Thanks for doing a great job in your sessions, and answering questions.
HUGE THANKS goes out to every volunteer who helped out with WordCamp Sacramento 2016. You helped make the entire event amazing, run smoothly, and stay on time. We truly appreciate your time and energy, and your effort and willingness to show up and help out.
We’ll be sharing the photos from the event on the blog and social media over the next few weeks, so stay tuned! The photographers did a fantastic job. One of them, Anthony Skelton, who was also a speaker, snapped the image I used at the top of this post!
LOTS OF THANKS also goes out to all of the WordCamp Attendees. You all made the event such a pleasure. You were gracious and kind, you made others feel welcome, you were patient, and chatty, and we loved meeting so many of you!
Mark Your Calendar:
We’re already in the early stages of planning WordCamp Sacramento 2017. Pencil us in for the first or third weekend of May.
We’ll be getting started with venue contracts in the next month or so, and then we’ll put out a call for volunteers etc. So if you had a great time at WordCamp this year and you want to be involved next year, be sure you’re part of the Sacramento WordPress Meetup so you get all of the announcements about the event.
And speaking of the Sacramento WordPress Meetup, our next meetup is happening Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at 6:30 pm at The Urban Hive. It’s a Coworking/Happiness/Help night, so bring your laptop and questions to get help or bring yourself and your expertise to give help.
We hope to see you there!