#4 – Dan Maby on the Importance of the WordPress Community – WordPress Tavern
Sure. So as a charity, we always intended to have some form of larger in-person event. Events have been something that’s had a real passion for a very long time. The ethos of bringing people together, helping reduce social isolation of lone workers is something that really fits well with everything that we’re doing in terms of Big Orange Heart. So we wanted to enable people to come together. That had always been on the cards from the very early stages of Big Orange Heart. Of course, when we got thrown into this situation with the pandemic, as I say, we moved into the virtual environment for our monthly events, that platform that I’ve been discussing, we actually opened up to other communities. So we’ve enabled other communities to be able to run their events through our platform, without any charge to them. We just simply wants to be able to create a solution for those communities to continue to come together when they couldn’t deliver them in person. What that actually meant was that we, in the first 12 months that we were delivering events through our live dot Big Orange Heart dot org site, we’d had over 12,000 attendees come through that platform, which has meant that we’d obviously had a huge amount of feedback and we’d been able to iterate very quickly across that solution to get to a point where we actually decided that we want to deliver a larger scale event. It’s always been on the cards. Why not do that as a virtual conference or virtual festival? That’s really where the concept of WordFest was born. And I want to, again, when we give a huge shout out to Brian Richards, particularly of WordSesh. WordSesh has been around, you know, as a virtual WordPress focused virtual event for many years, I can remember way back in the early days of the first WordSesh, the first few WordSesh’s, which were 24 hour events and had a lot of fun attending those. And I remember attending my first one and actually attending for the full 24 hours. So this wasn’t something that was new in our space. We were very aware that there was a desire for it, but we wanted to wrap together the two elements of what we do. Our hearts really are in WordPress, but our focus is really around wellbeing and mental health, positive mental health. So this concept of WordFest was about bringing those elements together. So if you attend WordFest, you will find content that focuses on both WordPress and our individual wellbeing as remote workers. It really was about this concept of a global celebration of our community. We talked about different ways of delivering it. We talked about do we do over multiple days because we appreciate time zones, how do we, how do we factor in a way of enabling anybody that wants to attend to be able to attend? But we didn’t want to just say here’s a set time on this day, here’s six hours that would deliver it or, over a period of days, we’ll do, it was a real challenge. So we, we kept coming back to this 24 hour concept because it would end up, if somebody wants to attend over that one day, there was some point in the day that hopefully they would be able to join us. And it has mushroomed. It’s grown and grown. We set out to deliver the first one back in January, this year, 2021, we set a target of 2000 attendees to the event we had just over two and a half thousand attend. So it was, we completely smashed all our expectations in terms of people attending the event. But also we completely smashed our expectations in terms of the number of sessions that we were delivering. We initially set out a wanting to deliver 24 sessions over the 24 hours. That turned into 36 sessions actually ended up being 48 sessions through the first event. I’m really happy. I’m not sure it’s the right word, but I’m really happy to say that this time around we’ve actually got 66 sessions that are going to be delivered in the 24 hours. It’s been a phenomenal experience, delivering this as again, as a wonderful team of volunteers, sitting behind this people like Michelle, Cate, Hauwa, Paul, just wonderful people that are really enabling us to be able to continue to grow this event into a much larger scale event than it ever was initially. So the next WordFest live is taking place on the 23rd of July. So we’ll be featuring 66 sessions over a 24 hour period. And it is, I think one of the most wonderful things I took away from the last WordFest was, as an organizer, having organized many in-person events, there’s always a connection with your co-organizers. Certainly if you’re running a larger event, such as a WordCamp, for example, you build up this rapport and you build up this relationship that on the day of delivering the event often it’s, it’s, it’s tiring. There are, yeah, there are moments of challenges, but there are just wonderful moments as well. But you experience all of those things together as a team. What I took away from WordFest live, which was a genuine surprise to me was we managed to create that same experience. We managed to create that same shared experience as we were delivering the event. I’ll never forget sitting here, I think I was in about hour 36 of because I’d been up some time before the event and I was sitting there and just the silence that was actually happening as a bunch of organizers, we all knew how, what we were experiencing in that moment. And it was just a real special time. We use various tools to deliver it. And one of the key secret ingredients for us as organizers was Discord. So having an open audio Discord channel for us to be able to just simply be able to speak to one another as we needed in that moment, it worked incredibly well for us.
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