It might be strange to hear that, especially just after a fantastic WordCamp US, one of WordPress’ large flagship events. If you’re not familiar with WordPress events, you may also wonder where I’m heading with this. But hear me out.
Large community events have huge draw, and feature speakers of the highest caliber. They are filled with experiences, excitement, and so many connections. They’re fun! I had an incredible time at WCUS this year, and I’m already looking forward to WC Asia.
At the same time, large events are A Lot.
Large events are the most time consuming and logistically burdensome to organize. While annual events are technically regular, a community that has a stream of consistent touch points is more likely to thrive.
Large events also offer the most visibility to speakers, which is wonderful. However, it is also the most intimidating and risky, especially for underrepresented people. This intimidation and risk factor is also true for attendees, especially if they do not see themselves represented in your speaker line up.
Your smallest events create consistency and opportunity in support of your largest events. That’s why they are so important.
Smaller events are less logistically complex, and can be nimble. In the WordPress community, for example, we have a meetup program. These local community events come in all shapes and sizes, and are endlessly extendable. I’ve attended meetups with just a couple people, where we sat and companionably blogged together in a coffee shop. I’ve organized workshops for meetups, where we prepared to give talks at larger events. I’ve heard of meetings in parks, in coworking spaces, in theaters, etc.
For the WordPress community, the recommended practice is a meetup each month, and new organizers commit to at least three months. A measure of success is around consistency in having an event, because events do create additional opportunities to connect over mutual interests. These touch points correlate to a larger and more engaged community.
Of course, having an open and welcoming community also leads to that engagement and growth. Small events can create opportunity, by virtue of frequency. More regular events mean more opportunities to participate, whether as a sponsor, speaker, volunteer, or organizer. This is particularly valuable for new speakers and attendees, and especially for those who are already underrepresented in the community. If someone is hesitant to participate, a more accessible option is to try out a smaller event.
In the WordPress community, new speakers are encouraged to start at meetups, to build their public speaking skills and to refine their talk content. As they gain confidence and skill, and feel increasingly comfortable with the level of visibility, they can further grow by speaking at increasingly larger events – in WordPress, these are WordCamps, then flagship WordCamps. These pathways for growth are critical for a community that wants to nurture the voices of the future.
Impact on your largest events
And if the smallest events are engaging, inclusive, and welcoming, they can influence expectations for larger events. Local WordPress community members will attend larger events together, planning flights and extra excursions, because it is fun to do so! They’ll support and cheer each other on, especially if a friend is speaking. This is essential for new and underrepresented speakers and participants.
So celebrate your events large and small, by which I mean, share that spotlight with your wonderful, small events.
Additional insight into the WordPress community, and thoughts on increasing diversity
In the same way that speakers have a pathway to speaking on our largest stages, organizers also have guided path to building event management skills. After all, all WordPress event organizers are volunteers! Even if they have no event organizing experience, they can first organize a smaller, local meetup. As they gain experience, they can organize larger and larger events, like a WordCamp, and even a flagship event, like WordCamp US. Imagine having going from having no event organizing experience to adding “Led a 60 person team to deliver a 3,000 person event” to your resume! Alongside event management skills, organizers gain leadership, communication, and community building skills.
Diversity in events also needs additional thought. It is not enough to create these pathways. Underrepresented people are less likely to have the time and resources to contribute to organizing or speaking. There are some incredible efforts in the WordPress ecosystem worth mentioning, like the #WPDiversity working group, Underrepresented in Tech, and Support Inclusion in Tech. These are all efforts led by phenomenal women.
What would I like to see more of? Further sponsorship of diversity initiatives and of underrepresented people’s time for contribution. Ping me if you’re interested.