Revisiting WordCamp Pune 2015: The Schedule

What and Why this?

Beginning with this post, over the next few days, we revisit WordCamp Pune 2015. We have introspected and received feedback on various aspects of the WordCamp. Fortunately and this shows the awesomeness of the community, we’ve only received constructive feedback. That is, when people pointed out something that went wrong, they also offered their observations, advice and/ or help.

In the rapidly growing but very new WordPress community in India, we hope our experience helps. We also hope we can get more advice and help from the community.

In this part, we discuss the most controversial and debated part, the Schedule! 😉

The schedule could have been simpler

We gave custom room names based on the names of the nearby peaks. In our excitement, we took a bad UI decision. It was a confusing and difficult mental model to work with, for even us! 😉 Rooms have names or numbers that everybody in the institute knows them by, for years. We should’ve stuck to it!

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Because we scheduled sessions of different lengths alongside each other, the breaks were weird and haphazard. All sessions in all tracks should’ve started and ended at the same time.

4 tracks = 4 rooms is simple. 4 tracks = 5 rooms is confusing and troublesome.

We looked for a venue that had an auditorium for 500 people. The auditorium never had more than 200 people at any given moment. So, in hindsight, we ended up restricting our venue options. In a multi track event of 500 people, the largest room you need is for 200 – 250, if you have more than two tracks.

Multi-track sessions were a little difficult to navigate

4 tracks, 5 rooms was a bit too much. The names were confusing for everyone and the distance between the auditorium and the other rooms got people tired. Even though it was short, we had to walk multiple times during the day.

Although, we received some amount of criticism for having parallel tracks, we now know it was one of the good ideas. Parallel tracks helped us cover more knowledge and get enthusiastic speakers for an interested audience.

However, our mental models are going to be simpler. We’ll take out the separate local language tracks and mix them into the regular three tracks that we had and will have at the next WordCamp, user, business/ community and developer. 3 tracks = 3 rooms!

Too much for one day

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A person could end up attending 10 sessions in the 8-9 hours they were at the WordCamp  from 32 total sessions. That’s a lot of activity in one day and people did get exhausted!

Some of the extra activities we planned didn’t take of at all like the Buddy program and the Selfie/ Treasure Hunt. These are great ideas with potential and we’d still like to explore them.

Some other activities like the lounges didn’t have great participation. These are ideas that are new and will take time to fit into audience’s idea of a conference and we’d still like to give them a chance. It’s like a meetup – 2 people turn up the first time and soon, you have 20 people coming in! 🙂

Not enough time to socialise

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Some people felt that one day was not enough to socialise. Ideally, if it is a two day WordCamp, the first day people meet and get introduced. The whole day of WordCamp experience gets them get talking and interacting.

Also, with so many activities in one day, people are tired by the end of the day. We know that because the after-party turnout was quite low.

So, we are considering a two day WordCamp the next year with the first day similar to the conference pattern and the second day we explore more impromptu discussions, lounges and fun in a more casual location. Something like a day long afterparty. However, this is still just a thought that we’ll explore further when we start planning the next WordCamp.

You can have a say

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We met a lot of people who said they wanted to volunteer and help organise WordCamp Pune after we had finalised everything. If you are one of those, please get in touch with us to get your ideas in early and join the team.

 

Who attended WordCamp Pune

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Age and Gender

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It was, as usual, a male dominated event with more than 80% attendees being men. However, the 20% is a great improvement in the state of the community as other WordCamp organisers may agree.

This is not a fair representation of the actual community where there are way more women involved. It is not 50-50 but it sure should be more than 35-40%. Maybe, WordCamp Mumbai 2016 or WordCamp Pune 2016 will manage to fix this!

The maximum number of attendees were between 21 to 30 years old, about 80% of the total. This could mean multiple things:

  • That the seniors (advanced users?) stayed away from the WordCamp because they weren’t convinced enough.
  • That the community itself is made up of more young people.

Again we feel this is not even close to the real world data and it should have been at least 70-30 instead of the current 80-20 distribution.

Role and Level of Expertise

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WordCamp Pune was a developer dominated event with half of the attendees identifying themselves as developers. This correlates with the real world fact that Pune is dominated by the IT industry and hence such developer turnout was expected.

However, in our conversations with potential speakers and facilitators, we realised that for some reason, WordCamps have begun to be identified as developer conferences. We worked hard to dispel such myths and did have almost equal number of technical and non-technical sessions, but that didn’t work very well for us this time.

Hopefully, we have at least established the fact that the community as well as the WordCamp is for bloggers and other users, as well. In the next WordCamp Pune (or even WordCamp Mumbai 2016), we should get a more accurate representation of the community.

With 91 Beginners across roles, 179 Intermediate users and 80 Advanced users, people who don’t consider themselves experts, formed 77% of the attendees. Only about 33% consider themselves advanced users and you can count the speakers, sponsor representatives and organisers here (about 60). This leaves us with about 5% advanced attendees that were always in the audience.

This validates our focus on beginner and intermediate users, as far as the content was concerned. This probably tells us to continue this focus onto other WordCamps including the next one in Pune.

Why not 500, why only 350?

We had given free or heavily discounted tickets to about 150 students (of Modern College and Swa-roop Wardhinee) that are not included because it completely skews the data and isn’t a fair representation of the active WordPress community.

Many of them displayed other reasons to attend the event than a curiousity or love for WordPress. Instead of trying to analyse each of them (because many of them did participate in the community and discussions, actively) to separate the wheat from the chaff, we left this data out.

You can see from the data above that this would have skewed the data on gender, age and level of expertise. Even the user role would’ve been affected because almost all of these are students of Engineering or Computer Science.

Transparency Report 5: Speaker Selection Process

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In a series of posts, we lay bare our processes and list the tools that we use. For the sake of absolute transparency and so that other events may pick up a few, since we’ve already tried and tested them. We’ll be revealing the organiser selection, speaker selection and volunteer selection criteria and processes.

If you’ve read the previous transparency reports, some of this would be very obvious. Still, there were only two factors that we considered when we decided upon a speaker:

1. Great facilitators, not just good speakers

It is easier to speak on a stage to an audience than interact with the audience and facilitate the transfer of knowledge from you (or someone else) to the audience and use the feedback and cues to mould your session to what works and not a pre-decided and rehearsed speech.

We did not select a lot of great speakers because we found the interaction lacking. We selected some whose language or presentation skills or even speech delivery wasn’t that great but they were very interactive and hence were way more interesting!

2. Advanced users, not necessarily experts

There are two choices that we faced sometimes when selecting a speaker. Should we select an expert who’s not a good speaker or should we select a good speaker who’s probably not an expert but has decent enough knowledge.

WordCamp after WordCamp we’ve learnt that there are enough experts in the audience who are more than ready to participate and help both the speaker and the rest of the audience with their knowledge.

So, we decided to have great speakers on stage instead of experts. Luckily, almost all of our speakers are also experts on the topics they are dealing with. So it worked out automatically most of the times.

There were other secondary factors that were also considered but the first two took absolute precedence.

3. Open to formats other than lectures/ talks

Some topics can only be dealt with in a lecture or talk while others can be taken in a workshop, QnA or any such interactive format. Speakers who were excited about such changes were given priority over speakers who would rather give a speech!

4. Compulsory demos

We didn’t approve a single speaker who we haven’t seen or heard speaking before. We asked for previous videos from those who we hadn’t heard in a previous conference.

We asked those who didn’t have such videos to record videos for us to consider. Some of them even held demo sessions in their workplace that they recorded and sent across. Some others came down in person in our meetups to deliver their sessions.

In the end, we based our decisions on our own experience and the audience’s reaction.

5. No fame seekers and VIPs

In our communication with speakers, sooner or later it became very clear that some speakers wanted special VIP treatment or wanted to speak to become famous.

A special quality of such applicants is extensive name dropping and excessive communication about who they are and where have they spoken rather than what they are going to speak about. As soon as we realised this, we put them on the dicey list. They were also interested in discussing the publicity options more than the actual content of their talks.

Which is why probably, none of them actually had any well thought of and interesting topics or well structured, well planned content of good quality. It doesn’t mean that you will not find an exception of someone with great content but lousy intentions. If we had met such an applicant, we might have accepted them due to our first criteria. You can make your own choice.

6. Technically sound session structure

We included two questions in our application form. One was about the Magic Number 7 and other was about Chunking. Both the concepts deal with our working memories where information is stored in the run time before turning it over to short term or long term memory for storage.

Magic Number 7

The theory of magic number seven says that our working memories can only hold seven instances or chunks of information at a time. It varies by +/- 2 in individuals. So the maximum information everyone can gather in their working memory is about five chunks! Anything more than that would be useless as it will overflow and be lost.

So, if you provide 9 pieces of information, 2 will be lost for some and 4 for some more. That’s why, a 10 digit phone number can’t be remembered together: 9224198765.

Chunking

However, by bundling multiple pieces of information into chunks, one could place more things in the working memory. For eg, the number above can be presented as 922 419 8765. Now there are just 3 chunks instead of 10 and it is easier to process! That’s why numbers are written in chunks.

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We were looking for speakers who understood this, so as to structure their presentations into 3-5 chunks/ points and at the most 3-5 sub-points. The topic’s introduction and conclusion themselves form 2 chunks!

Transparency Report 4: Structuring the WordCamp

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In a series of posts, we lay bare our processes and list the tools that we use. For the sake of absolute transparency and so that other events may pick up a few, since we’ve already tried and tested them. We’ll be revealing the organiser selection, speaker selection and volunteer selection criteria and processes.

Using our guiding principles, we started structuring the WordCamp. We used observations from other tech and startup conferences since they were the most relevant, apart from WordCamps in other cities in India and elsewhere.

Just one day

One day conferences had better attendance because of the cost of staying and the fatigue.

Parallel tracks

Not all attendees were in interested in all the sessions which led to section of disinterested audience who had nothing else to do. It also led to the speakers working with an unnecessary audience load and less interaction. So, parallel sessions were a great idea.

More than lectures

Not all attendees are interested in lectures/ talks. More people learn by doing or experiencing rather than just seeing and listening. We had to accomodate interactive formats like Workshops, Discussions, Debates, QnA, etc.

Local language

We wanted to be more inclusive and hence decided to get rid of the language barrier by inviting sessions in Hindi and Marathi. We have had such a great response that you can just attend the Hindi, Marathi or multilingual sessions the whole day!

Session Overflow

Sessions almost always end with a discussion. Some discussions are interesting and everyone wants to explore it further. But, we run out of time. So we decided to have some extra time that can be had in a separate room that can be used to continue the discussion that overflows from the session. What else to call it?

Unconference

We are not the best judge of who’s a good speaker. Sometimes we can’t accomodate some speakers. Sometimes people miss the call for speakers for various reasons. Sometimes people feel like taking a session at the last moment, maybe because another session or event inspired them to. So, we decided to have a BarCamp style unconference space of two slots that anyone can take up on the day of the WordCamp to conduct a session!

The WordPress Lounge

Not all attendees are interested in any kind of formal sessions. We had to find something for them to do. People should attend WordCamp Pune for any reason they have, not ones that we enforce. We decided to have a WordPress Lounge which would include the Happiness Bar or Support Desk or a similar concept. Basically you can just walk into the WordPress Lounge and meet some speakers, experts and other WordPress users and discuss anything under the roof. Someone will always moderate the Lounge so that the discussions are always fruitful!

Networking

It is possibly the most important reason that everyone comes to a conference or an event. WordCamps are no exceptions. So, we decided to have longer breaks and some other activities (that we will announce soon) that will make sure everyone interacts with everyone else even if they are extremely shy and won’t talk to strangers! 😉

Fun & Frolick

And while we are at a conference, why not have fun! We decided to include some activities and contests purely for fun! Some of these we haven’t talked about before and some we will spring as a surprise! Some of the activities include the Buddy Program, a Photography contest and a Treasure/ Scavenger hunt!

Swag

Everyone loves wearing T-shirts, especially from events they’ve been to. A WordCamp Pune t-shirt won’t just popularise WordCamp Pune but all WordCamps and WordPress itself. A t-shirt was must!

The best swag we saw wasn’t something that commemorated an event. That can be done with a piece of decorative wood/metal/paper/plastic/ceramic/cloth with text engraved on it or maybe a certificate! The best swag was uitilitarian.

We have often felt extremely thirsty in the middle of a session, especially looking at the little water bottles the speakers have and some other smart people brought with them. How we wish we remembered to carry a small bottle. It’s very inconvenient to keep going to the water dispenser for a sip of water, all the time. Added to the fact that we didn’t want to use plastic or paper cups for serving water, we decided to provide a sipper that attendees can fill with water and carry wherever they need.

There’s some other stuff that some sponsors and well-wishers are itching to give you but we’ll let that be a surprise!

The total cost & Convenience

We didn’t base our calculations on simply the money the organising group spend in the WordCamp. We also considered the additional costs that our attendees had to bear. We have even finalised a deal with autowale.in for a ₹100 discount on all rides that have the venue as source or destination. All you have to do is use their app and book your ride. Autos are as it is cheaper than cabs and Pune in September is great for an auto ride!

We’re even speaking to hotel booking services for a one stop, convenient service for you to book your stay in Pune! Look for an announcement soon.

We also considered the environmental cost of the event and made sure we reduced what we wasted, reused and recycled what we used.

Transparency Report 3: Selecting a Date and Venue

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In a series of posts, we lay bare our processes and list the tools that we use. For the sake of absolute transparency and so that other events may pick up a few, since we’ve already tried and tested them. We’ll be revealing the organiser selection, speaker selection and volunteer selection criteria and processes.

Just for One Day

We first decided that we’ll only have a day long WordCamp. There are two reasons we did this:

Cost

The cost of attending a WordCamp doesn’t only involve the price of the ticket. If the WordCamp would’ve been for two days, one would have to spend money on accomodation. A one day WordCamp means that a lot of people can come to Pune in the morning and leave for their homes in other cities, at the end of the day.

This single change drops the cost of attending a WordCamp from a possible 3-4K to just 1-2K or even lesser. This can encourage a lot of people from nearby, especially beginners and students, to be a part of the community without worrying about the expenses.

Audience Fatigue

This is the attendance pattern we’ve seen in almost every 2 day conference:

Day One 1st half 200
Day One 2nd half 100-150
Day Two 1st half 100-150
Day Two 2nd half 50-100

We could’ve countered this drop in attendance by almost 50-75% using various techniques and measures. However, this is in a way our first WordCamp. We thought we’d rather make sure that we give a full day of rich interactive sessions this year, see how it goes and maybe, we can have a 2 day WordCamp in the future.

The Date

Our date had to allow the maximum number of participants(5). So, we looked for a date that isn’t around not just on any public holiday or festivals that people already use for something else, like vacations, family or community celebrations or public festivals.

Our date had to experience nice weather so that people from all over the world can worry about WordPress more and their physical comfort, less. Pune’s scorching summer was excluded so was it’s biting winter. Pune doesn’t experience major rainfall, being a plateau. However, rains are a little inconveniencing.

So, we came down to just one date September 6th after avoiding every major festival and considering that September in Pune is just after rains, just before winter, not exactly spring but pleasant nevertheless.

The Venue

We needed parallel sessions, so we needed a place that had multiple assembly halls and conference rooms, etc. We also needed a place for 500 people to sit at the same time! Our choice boiled down to a couple of venues.

What clinched the deal was the enthusiasm and proactive interest the faculty from Modern College of Arts, Science and Commerce showed in hosting the WordCamp. The Department of Computer Science was extremely co-operative and helpful with the resources they had and very nominal as far as the costs were concerned.

Second, our preference was for a place in the center of the city (Deccan/ Shivajinagar). Modern College, sandwiched between FC Road and JM Road was the perfect point. It is close and well connected to almost every entry and exit point of Pune, including the bus stations, railway station and the airport. The area also has a lot of budget friendly accomodation which added some weight to our choice.

Transparency Report 2: The Accessibility Principle

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In a series of posts, we lay bare our processes and list the tools that we use. For the sake of absolute transparency and so that other events may pick up a few, since we’ve already tried and tested them. We’ll be revealing the organiser selection, speaker selection and volunteer selection criteria and processes.

In the first few discussions, when we started thinking of a WordCamp Pune, we agreed that the most meaningful interactions happen in small groups and more intimate activities than lecture talks or conference like settings. Taking inspiration from BarCamps, we decided to have about four parallel tracks that let 200 attendees split into four groups of 50 each.

Then three things happened:

  1. More people started coming to our meetups from outside Pune city. We started having people over from the whole division. The meetup group’ membership swelled to almost 300 (It is more than 600 now). We realised we had to increase the number of participants.
  2. The discussions at our meetups became livelier and friendlier whenever we switched to Hindi or Marathi from English. We realised we had to become more inclusive in terms of language and regions. We also had to make it more accessible to everyone.
  3. The more technical and/ or advanced topics attracted about 10 – 20 odd people per meetup. The beginner/ or non technical topics attracted a much larger audience of upto 36 in some meetups. Of the people interested in WordPress, majority were beginners.

Our keywords at this stage were:

  1. meaningful interactions
  2. small groups
  3. intimate activities
  4. parallel tracks
  5. number of participants

    Everything we do should encourage more meaningful interactions between the participants. For that to happen, activites at WordCamp Pune must be done in small groups. Instead of lectures and talks that only involve one way or at the most two way interactions, we should have activities that involve more discussions and many to many interactions.Intimate activities like Workshops, QnAs, Panel Discussions, etc had to find more space in WordCamp Pune. Also, since we were now expecting a large number of people, we needed to have multiple parallel tracks to divide them into smaller groups.
  6. majority are beginners
  7. more inclusive
  8. more accessible

However, the most important factor that we set as the most crucial was accessibility. WordCamp Pune had to be accessible to almost everyone interested in WordPress, irresepective of their role, skill sets, expertise, language, location and financial status.

This is what decided everything else including how many days should the WordCamp be, when should we organise it, where and how should we structure it.

Transparency Report 1: The Organiser Selection Process

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L-R: Dinesh, Umesh, Premanshu, Gagan, Amit, Sheeba, Joshua, Saurabh, Ganesh, Swapnil, Rahul

In a series of posts, we lay bare our processes and list the tools that we use. For the sake of absolute transparency and so that other events may pick up a few, since we’ve already tried and tested them. We’ll be revealing the organiser selection, speaker selection and volunteer selection criteria and processes.

“How does one become a WordCamp Pune organiser?”, is also a form of “How do I become a WordCamp Organiser?”

  1. We started with the three organisers of the local Meetup group called Pune WordPress Knowledge Exchange (Pune Wordex in short), Gagan, Umesh and I.
  2. Over a couple of meetups, we saw members who were proactive and attended almost every meetup.
  3. They even attended meetups that were of no personal or professional benefit to them.
  4. We kept inviting members to the discourse at every meetup but there were only a few that started helping with ideas and planning the meetups.
  5. They helped the other members out whenever or in whatever way they could.

Finally, we hosted an open meetup for people who were interested in becoming WordCamp Organisers. Guess who came and became organisers? The exact people we described above.

We didn’t look for people with skills required for organising a WordCamp or a conference. We didn’t look for people with a lot of contacts or extensive networking skills. We also didn’t look for people who have experience organising any such event before. We definitely didn’t look for people who wanted any fame. We had some problems because of that, but nothing too major.

We looked for people who were genuinely interested in having a throbbing vibrant community of WordPress enthusiasts and that worked out very well. We made up for our lack of skills by our determination and our lack of contacts by reaching out to everyone and till now we’re doing pretty well. Meet us.