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I have contemplated going to conferences for at least the last 4 years. Something or the other didn’t work out. I was also unwilling to go to a conference alone and I didn’t have anyone who was willing to go with me.
Then last year in November, WordCamp US 2019 was announced and I felt a strong pull towards it. My spouse and I spent a long time debating the cost (this would be an entirely out of pocket expense that I could mark as a business expense on my taxes) vs the value. I was conflicted and decided I would wait to see if there was a more compelling reason to go later on.
After WordCamp Calgary in May (which I help organize), my friend (and fellow co-organizer) Christina Workman decided to spearhead the first Contributor Day in Calgary. As co-organizer, I felt that I should probably contribute and get to know more about the world of making WordPress before that event. So I started contributing (that’s a whole other topic) and discovered a whole new world that lit me up.
Then in July because of my involvement, I was invited to co-lead a workshop on Creating Welcoming and Inclusive Spaces at WordCamp US. Is there a more compelling reason to go? I booked my flights and hotel right away.
What I didn’t realize at the time but would later was that it was a fairly big deal to be invited to speak at WordCamp US (the regional WordCamp for all the Americas – roughly 2500 people congregate in one city for a jam-packed 3 days). It was an honour (such a big thank you to Jill Binder for inviting me to co-lead!).
Going to WordCamp US blew my mind. I met people I’d only ever talked to online, I met people I’ve admired from afar online, and I had so much fun. It was exhausting, my introvert self needed a full week to recover from the amount of socializing I did, but by the end of the second day I already knew I’d be back. This is already a must-go event for me and I plan on dragging some of my friends with me, because I know it’ll blow their minds too.
So here are 7 things I learned during that crazy weekend:
1. Speaking in front of a community of folks you don’t know means you forget every word you memorized
I am not someone who usually reads off their notes. I refer to them yes, but I’m an excellent ad-lib because the topics I speak about are topics I know a lot about. But I was standing there in front of a (not big) group of folks from all around the world and the words just flew out of my head. I don’t even think I was that nervous the very first time I spoke.
I’ve forgiven myself for that now and vowed to be excellent next time I speak outside of Calgary.
2. A large smile + saying hi to everyone is the key
I’m a friendly person and in social mode, I have a wide smile on my face and I say hi to people as I walk past them. In a crowd of 2000+ people, this was such an asset. I walked into the lunch area after grabbing food and had no idea where the 3 people I knew were sitting. But I had a smile on my face as I paused and looked around. Every time, someone would beckon at me and then I would get to know more amazing people.
Who knew being friendly would make getting to know people easier? Haha 😛
3. The talks are the least important part
I attended talks/workshops for sure. However, I rarely stayed for the whole session – not because they weren’t good, they seriously were. But because the real magic happened in the hallways and in the Sponsors room (officially called the Hallway track). I laughed (and got free coffee! Thanks Marco 😛 ), learned, and kickstarted relationships I already know I will value for years to come.
Such magic, I tell you.
4. Come early, go later.
I’m glad I came in time for the Volunteer Dinner (a day before the conference start). I’m glad I was around on Monday, the day after the conference, so I could hang out with seriously cool people and have deep conversations about topics that are important, awesome, and cool. I’d recommend coming the day before (and volunteering or speaking so you get to go to the Volunteer Dinner!) and staying an extra day (or at least an extra half day) to get more out of some of your new relationships.
5. Stay at the official hotel.
The Marriott was expensive, I’ve never paid that much for a hotel in my life (and it was a shitty hotel too, practically nothing was included in their exorbitant price, I’ve stayed at far better Marriott hotels). I agonized over the cost for a while, but I decided that it was far better to be closer to the activities and where most others would be staying than to cheap out.
A lot of the after-parties and conversations started and happened in the hotel Lobby bar and restaurant. It was awesome. And I never had to worry about leaving early so I could safely get back to my hotel, because my room was just one elevator ride up. I stayed as late as I wanted without worrying about my safety (or feeling guilty about asking someone to walk with me to a hotel, or taking super late night Ubers alone in an unknown city).
Lots of people did stay elsewhere. However, for me, it was absolutely the right decision. The people I most wanted to meet, chat with, and hang out with all stayed at the Marriott. And I never had to have the in-the-back-of-your-mind-safety-concern-because-you’re-short-brown-and-female thoughts.
6. It’s okay to take care of yourself.
At the end of the first day, I needed some time to myself during the after party (WordFest!), so I went and hid for a while and then hung out with just 4 other folks that I know. I didn’t network all that much and I actually didn’t even get the chance to explore the City Museum (SUCH A COOL PLACE) as much as I would like. But mentally, I was better for it and able to get more out of the rest of the days because of it.
Take care of yourself, even when it means taking a chunk out of your limited time to do it. 80% of the time at 100% mental/emotional capacity is way better than 100% of the time at 50% mental/emotional capacity.
7. LinkedIn matters, apparently?!
Over the course of the weekend, I had 5+ people tell me about how awesome/important LinkedIn is. The first 3 times I dismissed it as something for older folks who work in the corporate space. Then I heard it again (looking at you Rana) and again (looking at you, Topher). Then my dad asked me to post a photo I shared with him on LinkedIn. So I thought I’d try.
I was amazed. The level of engagement I got was something I would never have gotten on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram that quickly. So one of my goals now is to become more active on LinkedIn and maybe shed the assumptions I have about it right now.
These takeaways are still marinating in my mind so you may hear more about this later on. But for now, this is what I’ve got. 🙂
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