When I first started thinking about organizing the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup, I really had no idea what I might be getting myself into. Since those early days, first talking to Doug Stewart and Brad Williams, planning with Coreen Tossona, it’s been an amazing ride. I’ve met so many new and interesting people. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve certainly learned a ton about WordPress. It’s been a fantastic ride!
1. Be Prepared to Be Surprised
After 12 great WordPress meetups, I’ve learned to expect surprises at all times. Some wonderful surprises. Some less than desirable surprises. But always something. The best surprise has been the level of interest in the meetup and the support that the established WordPress community has lent in our first year. Many experienced WordPress designers and developers have spoken to our group, generously giving of their time and skills. On the downside, the difficulties of relying on volunteers and the vagaries of hosting free events has thrown the most challenges in my way.
2. Focus on Community is its Own Reward
In Philly, there is a shining light of how to build a successful and productive community: Alex Hillman. Although I’ve never met the Fearless Leader of Indy Hall, I follow him on Twitter and learn from him every day. His focus on community as a goal in and of itself has shown me the light. Giving to a community always brings return to those who give. It’s a wonderful dynamic. I know that I have reaped more than I have sown with this great group.
3. WordPress: Build It and They Will Come
WordPress is a hugely popular content management system – and deservedly so. As word of its flexibility and scalability has grown, more and more people have become eager to join WordPress meet-ups. All I needed to to do was announce the new Philly ‘burbs WordPress meetup, and people started showing up. There is no need for any special event planning skills — just issue the call and people will join in.
4. Involve Others and Others Will be Involved
Speaking in front of a crowd is not something a lot of people do regularly. By providing a welcoming and pleasant audience, our meetup group has encouraged a wide range of people to speak about WordPress, plugins, fonts and more. The friendliness of the group has made it easy (well, easier anyway) for me as an organizer to find new speakers. Whenever I asked a member to speak about a topic — any WordPress topic — unfailingly I received a ‘yes’ reply. We’ve had so many different people — men, women, older, younger, developer, designer, blogger and marketer — deliver great presentations. To see the community volunteering to share the load has been very cool.
5. Nothing is Free
While attending our meetup has been free to all comers, I’ve come to understand more thoroughly the phrase that “nothing is free”. I have a new found respect for those who expended their own energy and time to organize the many free events that I’ve attended over the years. Organizing a free monthly meeting that offers value to attendees takes a lot of work. I now understand that better than I ever have before.
6. The WordPress Community is AWESOME
I’ve talked about the special and generous nature of the WordPress community. My experiences at WordCamp Philly 2012 really cemented my deep appreciation of the WordPress community. That Matt Mullenweg would take time on his Sunday to travel to another city to hang out with a bunch of people who like the software he started speaks volumes. Closer to home, the Philadelphia WordPress Meetup Group, and its organizers, have offered much insight, support and friendship in helping us get off the ground.
7. Hidden Gems Are Everywhere
Never judge a book by its cover, and never, ever, judge a meetup attendee by their appearance. I like to think I keep an open mind, but running this meetup has pushed me further. Knowledge and generosity is hidden behind the faces and smiles of many a person. I’ve been surprised time and time again by what I have been able to learn from the most unlikely of sources. It really has been a case of “treat every stone as a diamond”.
8. Get Ready to Push Yourself
Organizing a monthly meetup about any topic is not easy. Delivering a consistently valuable, enjoyable and dynamic experience takes a lot of time and energy. Paying attention to the little details requires a committed focus. And that’s just the start. I’ve been forced to learn more about WordPress. To make sure that each meetup is as good as it can be, I’ve been forced to work harder and longer than I expected. That’s not a complaint; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. (Well, almost every minute …)
9. It’s Not About Money
Open source software and GPL aside, WordPress meetups should not be about the money. At our meetup, we deliberately avoid the sales approach: speakers are allowed only a minute or two to introduce themselves and their work. Yet, we meet to discuss WordPress and to create a network that many of our group use for business. By focusing on community, sharing of knowledge and experience and building a strong network, our meetup grow has generated financial value for some members. Although I don’t have any firm numbers, I know anecdotally that a number of people in our group have worked together as a result of coming together through our group.
10. Consistency is Key
Anyone who knows me fully appreciates that I am by no measure an event planner. Getting it right takes a lot of focus from me. I struggle with it. Yet, I’ve learned that delivering consistency is key to a successful community building effort. Not boring repetitiveness but a level of predictably that allows members of our meetup group to develop a comfort level in our surroundings.