WordCamp Nashville 2016 swag, branded glassware and guitar picks

Unexpected Lessons at WordCamp Nashville

WordCamp Nashville, an annual conference focusing on all things WordPress, took place in mid-September this year. Although I’ve participated and attended the previous four years, 2016 was the first time I helped to plan the conference. I volunteered to lead the publicity team, naively thinking that the role wouldn’t involve much heavy lifting for a first-time volunteer like myself. I had no clue that the work would allow me to grow in so many ways.

What I learned:

Don’t be afraid to step outside your lane

In my official role as Publicity Team Lead, I was in position to see an opportunity to work with a local media outlet beyond the standard press release. Discussion with my contacts at the Nashville Scene led the alternative weekly newspaper to offer an in-kind sponsorship that promoted WordCamp Nashville across print, web and email platforms. We were then able to track incoming ticket sales via web analytics using coupon codes and tracking links. Prior to volunteering to organize WordCamp, I had never written a sponsorship email. As publicity lead, I wrote three, and secured just short of $4,000 in sponsorship dollars. Not bad for a beginner.

Shake things up a bit

Now in its fifth year, WordCamp was in need of some new energy. We took an approach to revamping things that was careful to maintain the integrity that people expect of the conference and the atmosphere they have grown to love.

Previously, WordCamp Nashville took place at the Nashville School of Law. This year we moved to a different venue, generously outfitted with windows that allowed ample natural light and an open office plan that encouraged socializing between conference sessions. The change in energy was evident immediately, simply from a change in scenery.

In past years, attendees got t-shirts as event swag. This year, our planning team agreed we all had enough conference t-shirts, and chose a branded mason jar and multi-colored guitar picks for our giveaways. When a sponsor got word that we opted out of t-shirts, they offered to provide some, with the WordCamp Nashville 2016 logo on front and their logo on back.

Since they were the exclusive sponsor of the after-party, those t-shirts were used as an incentive for conference attendees to show up to the party. Plus, by not printing t-shirts ourselves, we ended up with a sizable budget surplus that will carry over for event space rental in 2017.

Finally, we extended the conference to two days instead of just one. The first day was standard WordCamp: three tracks of presentations across three levels of expertise (beginner, intermediate and developer). The second day was reserved for WordPress core contribution activities that appealed to web developers as well as workshops useful for beginners, intermediate and advanced users.

Generate community goodwill

I have gotten to know many people in my neighborhood by serving on a communications committee in my neighborhood association, and after frequenting a burger and beer joint that moved into the area I had a friendly rapport with the owner and staff. WordCamp Nashville was held in a venue close to my home, so I approached both the neighborhood association and the restaurant/bar for sponsorships. Each generously signed on.

There’s a maxim that when you give selflessly, you often receive more than you anticipate. All parties involved gave in expected ways and received unexpected returns. When our budget surplus was discovered on day two of the event, we decided to use some of the money to pay for attendees’ lunches at the burger spot. And so, as our event wound down, the restaurant had a very good day of sales, and the same amount of money they had spent on the sponsorship ended up landing in the pockets of servers and cooks as tips from their involvement in the event.

Planning WordCamp Nashville 2016 was one of the most challenging tasks I’ve tackled. By stepping out of my lane, I discovered talents I didn’t know existed. Expanding our event to two days created added value. Finally, community involvement built bridges between users of a content management system, residents of a local neighborhood and a nearby business. I am a richer person for my experience.