tl;dr: Get innovative looking for a venue! Try hard to find a free one; expensive venues mean lots of fundraising work. Find the venue and *then* set your date, not the other way around.
Once you’re approved as an organizer and have gotten a team together, all of you should start looking for a venue. You will not be added to the WordCamp Central calendar without a confirmed venue, so don’t pick dates first. Do identify dates of major sporting events, other tech conferences, etc. so that you can avoid them, but ultimately, finding the right venue (at the right price) trumps just about everything. Explore a number of options before you decide.
Free is Best
Getting a donated venue (vs. renting space) can mean the difference between not worrying about money and suddenly having to come up $50,000. You know what? Your WordCamp should not cost $50,000. As we like to say in the #wordpress-dev channel, if you have a budget that high because of venue selection, “you’re doing it wrong.” There are a number of potential venues that can be had for free:
- Colleges and universities
- Public schools
- Public libraries
- City buildings
- Public event halls
- Corporate offices
The trick is that you need to get someone from that venue excited about WordCamp and onto your organizing team. Calling a college and asking them to donate an auditorium and a handful of rooms will almost always get you transferred to their conference or facilities manager, who will want to charge you. A faculty member, department head, or staff member who says, “I want to host this event as part of my program,” is a different story. Cold-calling and retail rates are not your friends.
If you can’t get a free venue, look for something as inexpensive as possible, so you can focus on your event’s content rather than fundraising. Always ask for discounts and try to negotiate. The worst that can happen is they say no. The WordPress Foundation is a non-profit; ask if they offer a non-profit discount, as many venues do (and in some cases, like schools, will only rent to non-profits).
Avoid at All Costs
And we do mean all costs, because they will nickel-and-dime you for everything from outlets to tablecloths and will lock you in to their expensive catering contractors. Unless you have a connection from one of these venues that wants to come on as a venue sponsor, these types of facilities should be avoided:
- Conference/convention centers
- Professional event spaces
Basically, if the space is their business, they won’t want to give it away unless there’s someone there that is in love with WordPress. Long shot, but it’s been done: offering to redo their website on WordPress might get you a trade.
Going for something with a little more character, like a community performance space, a museum, or a restaurant can make your WordCamp unique, that’s for sure. If you can do it on the cheap, great. But don’t pick an unusual venue for its own sake. People come to WordCamp to learn, meet people, and make connections, not to say “I got to go to this cool venue.” Unusual venues also tend to require more legwork to get things like A/V set up, so make sure you are able to get those things covered before you commit.
Choosing a Venue
There are a number of things aside from cost that you should take into consideration while making your venue selection.
- Capacity. Will the venue hold the number of people you think will want to come? Is it too small? Too big? It’s better to sell out than to pay for unused space.
- Audio-Visual. Does the venue come pre-wired for presentations with projectors tied to presenter podiums, microphones, etc? Are there additional charges for using this equipment? Can you supplement with your own (like to tap into the projector with a video cable to record the presentation screen)? Do they provide support staff? Are you required to use their staff?
- Reviews. Check to see if previous users of the venue have reviewed it on yelp.com or the like. Ask the venue coordinator if they would be willing to put you in touch with a former customer or two so you could ask about their experience at the venue.
- Internet access. Do they have ethernet? Wifi? How much bandwidth? How many access points? You will need to make sure you have internet access for your presenters at minimum. It’s desirable to have wifi for attendees, but if everything else is ideal, you can get by without it. Just tell your attendees to focus on the people and the event happening around them instead of on the Twitter feed for a change.
- Cell phone reception. You’ll want to be able to get calls and send messages as needed to speakers, volunteers, etc on the day of the event. If your venue is a dead zone, that will be a problem. Phone coverage is more important than wifi, because a large share of attendees have either evdo/mifi and/or a smartphone, and can access the internet over a cell signal. If your event is going to have over 400 people, it’s worth calling AT&T and/or Verizon and having them do a site check to see if they might want to boost coverage there. They don’t like it when lots of bloggers start twittering about the poor iPhone reception. :)
- Setup/breakdown timing. When will they let you in to set up? How long will you have to get people out of the venue and clear out?
- Insurance. Does the venue provide event insurance? If not, you need to get it on your own.
- Pricing. If you didn’t get a free venue, ask when their non-peak rates are. You can often save significantly by holding your event during a slow booking time.
- Catering. Are you allowed to bring in food/beverage, or will they require you to use their caterers? What about if you get food/beverage donations from sponsors?
- Kitchen. Are there refrigeration/food preparation facilities you can use?
- Restrooms. How many are there, and how far are they from your rooms? How often are they cleaned/serviced?
- Temperature. Air conditioning? Heat? Ask what temperature they try to keep the space.
- Noise. Ask about traffic noise, noise from adjacent buildings/floors, upcoming construction.
- Parking/transit. Speaking of traffic, is there parking available? Is it free or paid? Is there a mass transit line nearby, so you can encourage people not to drive?
- Accessibility. Are all spaces wheelchair accessible?
Do a walkthrough of the space before deciding for sure. Where would you set up registration? Will people be easily able to move from one session to another? Is there room for extras like a job board or genius bar?
Once you’ve decided on the best space, compare their open dates with your choices and pick a date that works for both sides. Book the venue, and have WordCamp Central put your WordCamp on the main schedule. Yay!
Past WordCamp Organizers: What kinds of venues have worked/not worked for you? Anything you wish you’d thought to ask before you made the commitment? Let us know in the comments.