WordCamp Brighton 2017: making an inclusive conference
WordCamps are non-profit WordPress conferences organised by WordPress users. For the past year, I’ve been lead organiser of WordCamp Brighton.
In its second year, this was an amazing opportunity to create positive expectations for future WordCamps in Brighton, and leave a legacy of a welcoming, inclusive conference.
What it’s like to organise a WordCamp
I’m not going to lie: at times being a lead organiser felt like a bit of a burden. Suddenly, you have hundreds of people you don’t want to let down. Not only the 200 attendees, but the WordPress Foundation, the sponsors, and the wider WordPress community.
As lead, you also own the restraints of budget and time, which means having to say no to ideas you would really love to see through.
There’s no way around this stuff and I just had to focus on doing the best job I could for the community I ❤.
The greatest magic trick we pulled was that the tickets were only £30. We even gave some free ones away.
For a catered two-day conference, with 18 speakers, tonnes of coffee and great swag, plus a volunteers dinner, plus a contribution day – it’s genuinely one of the best bargains around.
And this low ticket price is a great way of making WordCamp accessible to many.
The vast majority of the budget came from wonderful sponsors, for whom I’m eternally grateful.
The best thing about organising a WordCamp is the very real opportunity to make change.
I wanted us to build on the foundations of our first WordCamp Brighton and create a WordCamp for people who would normally feel uncomfortable at a conference like this.
This meant not only attendees, but speakers, volunteers, organisers, sponsors – literally everyone involved.
Even if you’d never felt it before, especially If you’d never felt it before, this time you’d feel like you belong.
Crucial to this was our tone of voice – which we kept consistent throughout the website, blog posts, social media, Slack, emails and information packs.
Also crucial were asking, listening, and being transparent.
When you’re putting on an event geared towards being inclusive, it follows that you should be asking for feedback regularly from the people you’re creating the event for.
Our organising team was really varied in terms of skills and life experiences, so was a great source of ideas.
As a team, we organised in the open on Slack so anyone could check out what we were up to, chip in and feedback.
We also crowd-sourced ideas from the wider community before making decisions.
Keeping this transparency and open contact throughout organising gave more people ownership over the event.
It also meant the decisions didn’t just come from one person’s opinions – they were the consolidation of lots of opinions, feelings and needs.
We really listened to people.
In no particular order, I count the following things as some of the biggest inclusion successes of WordCamp Brighton 2017:
- For many, it was the first time they’d attended a WordCamp
- For many of our speakers, it was the first time they’d spoken at a WordCamp
- An attendee said it was the first tech conference they’d attended where they didn’t feel in the minority
- People who had serious dietary needs could confidently eat (and eat well) throughout the entire event
- People who suddenly got their period didn’t need to leave – we provided plenty of sanitary products for them to use
- At least one person was inspired to start a WordCamp in their city
- Someone with anxiety said they conquered their fears and got down on the after party dance floor
- Even with very diverse interests, lots of attendees found the talks useful
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to do. I look forward to seeing how we can build on these successes next year.
More folks getting involved in WordCamp
On that note, if you’re reading this, and you love WordPress, and you want to make WordCamps – I completely encourage you to get involved.
I guarantee you’ll get to make a change, and you’ll learn so much more about WordPress and the people who use it.
As for WordCamp Brighton 2018: people may have expected me to continue being lead for the maximum allowed two years. But that’s not what I’m going to do.
For me, the entire point of leading in 2017 was this goal of inclusion – reaching more people from more diverse backgrounds, and encouraging them to get involved in the WordPress community.
Once WordCamp was over, and I saw how our community had grown, it’s only logical I make room for others to have a go.
Of course, WordCamps only happen if there are people ready and willing to create them. I’m thrilled that there are plenty of people who are super keen to be a part of organising one in Brighton next year.
And, as our new lead, a brilliant marketer, fantastic speaker, and an all round great person, I have complete faith Laura Nelson will do awesome things for WordCamp Brighton 2018.