So WordCamp San Francisco is in a month and a half and you’re raring to go? I’ve done two WordCamp San Francisco’s, so I’m by no means an expert of them, but I’ve been to the Bay Area enough to know some of the more annoying aspects of it. Here are my top considerations for the camp of camps.
I’m going to say this. SFO sucks. It just does. I’ve only flown once without significant delays, and that was 2012 where they had a ‘surprisingly mild summer.’ The rest of the time, consider flying into Oakland. You can still take the Bart. The reason SFO sucks, in general, is the cloud coverage. The airport is right by the water, and the weather caused by the bay is nuts. Speaking of ….
Pack for cool weather. “Summer” in the Bay Area is not like summer in pretty much the rest of California. It’s a micro-climate, hemmed in by the bay and the mountains, which means it’s cool and a little damp. Unless you’re used to it, pack long pants and light jackets because the damp will do a number on you. Spring or fall weight (light sweatshirts) versus summer weight is smart. Lots of people bring shawls, if you’re into that, and the trick is light layers. Everyone from outside the US, I’m really sorry, it’s not ‘summer’ at all. I will note than in 2013, it was actually warm, so having a light jacket that was easy to tuck away was my best friend.
October isn’t going to be cold in San Francisco, but it won’t be warm either. That light jacket will be your friend.
Speaking about clothes, remember your feet! You will walk. Bring comfy shoes. In fact, bring two pair. I pack sneakers, comfy ‘talking’ shoes, and a pair of flip-flops for the inevitable moment when I can’t fit my feet back in my shoes. You will also be standing and talking a lot. If you, like me, have a knee that likes to flip you the bird, keep that in mind and have no shame in telling people you have to sit down.
There are six taxis in SF and you probably know the way better than they do thanks to Google Maps. No, I kid. But really, taxis are rare. A lot of people use Uber or Lyft to handle booking cars for quick transport, but even with that, people use other options. It’s kind of like Gypsy cabs, if you’re from the East, only a little less sketchy. Most of us use the BART, though. It comes right from the airport (both Oakland and SFO), and you can get a Clipper Pass to use both MUNI (which goes from downtown to where WCSF if held) and traditional BART. If you plan on coming back to SF ever, it’s a decent investment.
Walking through many classes of areas quickly
You can go from upscale to seedy in about a block, so if you’ve never walked through the city before, please go with someone you know already, or suck up the price of a car ride. Can you walk from your hotel to WCSF? Probably. Do you want to? Probably not by yourself. This is not to say that San Francisco is particularly dangerous, but it’s a big city. There are crazy people and bad people in every major city in the world. Be aware of this. I try to never be alone on the streets at night in any city, just as a rule, unless I know the city really well. Even so, I lived in Chicago for 15 years, and I never once forgot that I was a woman, and it just plain wasn’t safe to walk though, oh, Cabrini Green by myself at night. If you don’t know what is and is not a safe part of town, don’t go alone, or don’t go at all.
Unless you’re speaking or doing the Happiness Bar and, thus, need the laptop, leave it at home. Bring your tablet to take notes on or use a notebook. There are usually some Moleskin and pen swag lying around, so grab one if you forgot yours and take your notes/reminders there. If you bring your computer, you will be tempted to log in, be social there, and do work. You just came to a massive, in person, WordCamp. Look up from the screen once in a while. I promise, WordPress is people.
Everyone gives away swag at WordCamps. There are the high-level sponsors who have tables, and they’ve usually got t-shirts, pins, pens, candy, postcards (with information), water bottles, and all sorts of weird stuff. You can get swag from everyone, even your competitors (who really are your coopetition, right?). I’m fond of how soft the WPEngine shirts are. You will get tons of swag. Leave room in your luggage for this stuff so you can get home. Also you’ll want to bring an empty bag with you to the event to tote stuff around. Unless, like me, you know how to make bags out of swag pins and t-shirts, you want that extra bag.
Hugs (set boundaries fast!)
I need to preface this with “The way I hug you is not directly proportional to how I feel about you.” I hug like I follow people on Twitter. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and it’s pretty fluid based on my mood.
It’s okay not to hug! A lot of us are huggers, though, especially because some people are considered family. No, I’m not related to Amy or Andrea (or Andrea) or Courtney or Jen, but we’re good friends and they’re people I will likely hug a lot. Especially right before they go on stage, or right after, or when we first see each other, or when we’re leaving for the day, or when we check out of hotels… Then there are people like Otto and Jaquith and Nacin and Koop who almost always get at least one hug hello.
There are also a lot of people I bro-hug. You know the one, right? Where you clasp a hand and keep it between you as you one-arm hug?
This doesn’t mean I like you less. I’ve hugged my wife this way following a performance. It may mean I’m feeling overwhelmed and need not to hug someone. I may have spilled my drink on myself and not want to get you wet. Maybe I smell bad and don’t want you to know. Point is, different people have different huggy rules depending on their mood. Respect that. Also it’s okay to hold up your hands and so ‘No, bro, no hugs.’ I went to WordCamp Portland while getting over a nasty flu bug, and was on a no-hug trip. People understood.
People talking like they know you (and they probably do)
They do know you. Or your work. Or your avatar. Suffice to say, it’s weird the first time it happens, and it’s weird every other time. Even Otto has remarked to me that he finds it weird. I mean, we’re just people, we’re not celebrities, right? You’d be surprised how other people feel. It’s still weird to me, but recently someone said “Where do I know you from?” and I smiled and replied “Probably the Internet.” He cracked up and we exchanged nicknames which was when he realized he’d seen me on WordPress TV. People know you, they know your avatar, and they’ll want to treat you a little different than ‘normal’ because to them, you’re kind of important. Say ‘you’re welcome’ when they thank you, and if they have something to give you (like more of those awesome 10up moleskins?) say ‘thank you’ and you will be a great person.
Mobbing and/or Monopolizing People
So many people do this, I feel bad for Matt Mullenweg (whom I know expects this and is probably okay with it). A lot of people want to meet Matt and talk shop. Respect the fact that everyone wants his time, and try not to take up more than five minutes. Maximum. If there are other people hovering around you looking anxious, ask him what a good way would be to get in touch and talk longer later.
As for other people… I was at a WordCamp where I was chatting with a friend and noticed someone standing to the side looking edgy. I smiled at her, stepped to open up the chat circle, and asked if she wanted to join our chat. She actually wanted to thank me, personally, for something. As we talked, a couple more people queued up. As the first woman kept on talking, I finally said “You know, I’d love to talk to you more about this, but we seem to have made a line. How about we all sit together and lunch and we can all chat?” She huffed, but agreed, and the next person smiled at me and said she didn’t want to monopolize, but did I know of a good plugin for something. I did, she thanked me, and left. That set the tone for the next few people. They realized they weren’t the only person important to me in that moment, and they shared me.
So the take away here? Share the person you’re mobbing. Take no more than 3 minutes. If it takes more than that, you should offer to buy them lunch/coffee/dinner and have a private chat. After all, they’re here to learn too!
Sensitive ears? Bring ’em. The afterparty is a party. It’s loud, and it may not be for you. But know that earplugs are probably a good idea. Also it’s NOT a dinner, so after camp breaks up, get with a group of people and go eat. Go to your hotel and nap. Then come party. We’ll still be there. They usually have to kick us out.
Losing your voice
I come out of WCSF sounding like Angie Harmon, and with a really sore throat, every single time. I talk to a lot of people, I end up shouting to be heard at dinner/parties. I am far more social at at WordCamp than I am in my normal life, where I like to be pretty quiet, so I almost always come back a little Kathleen Turner. So I guess there could be worse fates!
What about you?
What are your tips and tricks?