WordCampPDX, an unconference
It’s been less than 24 hours since WCPDX wrapped up, so I’m still processing a lot of what I heard over the course of the weekend. Still, it was within the first hour that I knew my time would be well spent here. Thankfully so, too, as I was fresh off a PDXWhisky tasting event from the night before (in bed around midnight and up at 6am for WCPDX made for a bit of a rough start Saturday morning…. thank gods for five-hour energy drinks and social anxiety induced adrenaline!).
The biggest takeaway for me was actually specific to running ‘barcamp’ style events: motivating people to lead sessions isn’t something you can control or drive, the participants need to be passionate about a topic and self motivated to put their session on the board.
The second takeaway was much more WordPress focused: “Child themes” are apparently not WordPress themes for children, but rather a more development focused capability for further customization of your site. Who knew? 😉
Over the course of the two days, I jotted down notes on my iPad to log some of the bits that stuck out to me about the entire event. Oddly, none of these were really WordPress specific… though that is likely since I didn’t come in to the conference with specific WP questions or goals… that in mind, here are some lessons learned from a participant’s point of view. Some off these were learned because of perceived failures, some because of successes, but all are lessons we can bring back and implement to improve and maintain success… please forgive the disjointed nature:
WCPDX: Unconference best practices / lessons learned / general notes and observations:
- Be crisp. Start session with topic explanation in 3 words, then poll attendees for expectations and what they want to know.
- Agenda organization is frantic from the start, but settles down later. Minimal topics in the first 30 minutes into the first session, but builds momentum with the day.
- During first session, rest of schedule builds out heavily. If you want to present, don’t wait.
- On the fly schedule updates via web / twitter were brilliant. Define single online and single physical location to find schedules. Set centralized twitter account to help users enable text notifications for schedule changes during conference. Be mindful of using this account for things other than scheduling updates during session hours.
- Participation is a lot of question/answer collaborative discussion; not a lot of push presentations, but there was a good balance of presentation to collaborative engagement.
- Finding people to lead seemed like it may have been tough at times but there was no real lack of desired topics. (how to identify SMEs?)
- WCPDX 2011 was heavily developer driven, which will likely be useful to me down the line. 50% plus in the audience make-up. Appreciated addition of scheduled keynote overlap when main was dev-centric.
- First session seems like a rough start/just getting the feel.
- Felt bad for not coming with a topic to lead. Will need to prepare for future camps. I had ideas but nothing solid to present, just general topics and didn’t want to cram the schedule with a nebulous idea… wondering how to motivate people like me to lead not just attend.
- Topics shift quickly based on attendee feedback; some sessions were listed as one thing and quickly changed to something connected but generally different.
- At one point I realized was in wrong session (I had forgotten the right room number and went to the wrong one), but found leaving to be difficult due to the perception that simply leaving would mean I was unhappy with a session which simply wasn’t relevant to me… Need to define an unconference better in the beginning, define etiquette and level set from the start, make it easy for participants to navigate and engage without feeling as though they are being rude.
- Need multiple text editor capabilities to easily switch note taking topics and ideas. iPad multi-task capabilities came in handy for this.
- Prepared sessions are good, but I found open dialog and conversation on guided topics are better. Facilitator vs. Presenter.
- Free rooms are essential to allow for people to ad hoc hack, blog, etc. Make space available with tables.
- Bring business cards.
All in all, the event was an outstanding success for me as a participant. Like after most conferences where you are focused and learning about specific topics that challenge your current skill sets or provide new exciting ways of accomplishing your goals, I am on a high and excited to make some changes to my sites. I am sure the euphoric buzz will wear off soon enough, but the stuff I learned won’t deteriorate with it.
I am once again re-invigorated with desire to improve my WordPress driven sites (I own and maintain 3 of them), and am looking to revamp at least one of them to make it more functional for the user base. I even found some great tools over the weekend (like the EditFlow plugin from http://editflow.org/) to really help bring my sites up a notch and ensure that my content is the reason people don’t stay on my sites, not the site itself 😉 Yes, that was self-deprecating humour to make a point, I really hope my content isn’t that bad!
I also found that my iPad was the perfect tool for a conference event like WordCampPDX. It is light and nimble and easily woken from sleep. Having it at the ready-made keeping up to date on the unconference scheduling easy, and checking out resources mentioned during session allowed me an efficient way to set the content for later review, or even just install a them or plugin on the fly as we were discussing it. Brilliant.
Plus, I was able to easily follow the conversations occurring on Twitter under the #WCPDX hash tag, which allowed me to connect with a few of the event attendees in the same sessions or conflicting sessions I couldn’t get to. While that made for a very busy day in terms of communications, it really skyrocketed my experience at WCPDX by enabling two-way real-time feedback in sidebar discussions concurrent with live sessions, or off in ad hoc meet ups for more in-depth conversations. I can’t imagine attending any conference without my iPad and constant twitter feed going. Not only did it make the conference more efficient and effective for me, but it also allowed me to discover and connect with some cool new people!
For those of you I met at #WCPDX: thanks for making it a great weekend! If you haven’t already, check out www.acdntlpoet.com and connect with me in the other social web spaces so we can continue the great conversations!