In my 6 years of working with WordPress my 2 greatest teachers have been: #1 Troubleshooting #2 WordCamps.
I’ve been going to WordCamps for 3 years now. Each time, I walked away having learned something new and was better at my job because of it.
But it wasn’t always that way for me. You see, I am the painfully shy/introvert person who would go hide in my car at lunch during WordCamps just to avoid talking to strangers.
So whenever someone would mention how great WordCamps were for networking and making connections- I’d kinda look at them dumbfounded, because that wasn’t my experience. Even though I knew the problem was never WordCamps but rather how I approached them. That is until I decided to change the way I approached WordCamps and in the process, got even more value out of them.
So if you’re a major introvert like me this post is for you. It took me several WordCamps to get the hang of it… but these are my favorite tips for an Introverts Guide to WordCamps:
Plan ahead of time. It’s easier to be more social around an event that you’re really excited about. So once you find the WordCamp you want to attend (you can check out the list here) Sign up for their newsletter. The point is, you want to stay informed. The newsletter will typically tell you when tickets go on sale (so you can grab one first) when they’re looking for volunteers, and neat info like which hashtags to use to follow the event.
Start tweeting it up early! When they announce the speakers, tweet which talk you’re excited about and tag the speaker. Trust me, they’ll be super flattered. Additionally, it’ll make them that much more approachable when you see them in person. Start following the hashtag and RT’ing or replying to other people who tweet about the event. More friends!
Volunteer. Yeah, you read that one right. I know, you’re an introvert… volunteering may mean talking to people. I know. I know. That’s out of your comfort zone, but here is the thing… you’ll be so busy doing volunteer stuff that you’ll forget that you’re nervous or an introvert. Also, as a bonus- the organizers and other volunteers become your instant friends.
Remember you’re not the only introvert in the room. In my experience most others who work in technology are shy/introverted as well. So if you catch someone hanging out by themselves, go up and say Hi. Keep and eye out for a few people that are off by themselves. Those should be your targets, start a conversation with them. That industry leader/speaker/person you admire- they’re probably really cool and would love it if you said Hi and asked them a question.
Muster of 20 seconds of insane courage. There are days where I really really don’t want to do something. Like walking up to a group of strangers and starting up a conversation? That’s just painful in my mind. In those moments, I find a way to muster up only 20 seconds of insane courage. I count to 3 and then walk up to the group of people and ask a question. Usually I make a friend.
Best way to make a friend? Ask them questions! Everyone likes to talk about themselves. So at WordCamps I have some questions I usually like to ask someone I’m getting to know. Here are my go to questions: What are you doing with WordPress, how did you learn about WordPress, where do you work, what projects are you working on, which presentation are you looking forward to attending, which presentations have you attended so far, what’s your favorite point so far, etc. Having your opening line/question planned a little, so that once you have your burst of courage you’ll actually have something to say goes a long ways. Also be prepared to answer the “What do you do with WordPress” question.
Don’t miss Sundays. If you’re anything like me, you go home completely exhausted from being around people all day on Saturday and don’t want to return Sunday. But trust me you want to go Sunday! Sunday is wayy less crowded and you’ll find it easier to approach others and make friends. Typically speakers from the previous day are around and easier to approach.
Does your WordCamp have Contributor day? Go! You have something to contribute. Even if you just learned WordPress, you have something to contribute to the community. You have a perspective that someone else out there doesn’t. And the best way to make friends… is to get involved. In general the open source and WordPress community are very giving/friendly/awesome people.
Moral of the Story? Jump in, get involved!
My experience at WordCamps completely changed when earlier this year I decided to force myself to stop hiding in my car at lunch. So I volunteered to help out at WordCamp Orange County. When I filled out the volunteer form I basically offered to do anything to help out and if you’re doing Step 2 the organizers already know you’re excited about the event and you have a better chance of being picked.
When I was volunteering I got to help check people in at registration, help record some of the talks, and helping out at the Happiness Bar. In addition the other volunteers and organizers immediately became my friends. You also get to meet a lot of people when you’re getting them checked in.
I also got the chance to sit in on one or two sessions. But otherwise spent the time working behind the scenes with the other volunteers while hanging around and talking. Despite missing a lot of the talks (which I always catch later on WordCamp.tv) I still learned way more from sitting next to someone else who loved WordPress and just talked shop.