1 Sep 2013

1 Sep 2013

WordCamp Miami 2013 Feedback

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Category: Blog, WordCamps

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Although WordCamp Miami happened in early April, the feedback forms weren’t sent until almost four months later. As a WordCamp organizer, I would normally say that you should send the typical WordCamp feedback form anytime from the very hour the camp ends to 1-2 weeks later. Four months is normally too long and admittingly myself and the organizers of WordCamp Miami let this fall through the cracks, and next year we’ll be formally asking for feedback closer to the event’s closing.

But putting aside the “better late than never” logic, it was actually INTERESTING to see what stuck in people’s minds months later. And personally, at least this time around, i’m much more interested in that. Months later the feelings you have for an event are what really matter and what i think primarily direct to ever going to that event again in the future. It’s easy to remember that “the lunch line was slow” a week after the conference, but what thoughts and memories stay with you if you think about the event again in half a year? If it’s overall good feelings, than mission accomplished.

So, although this feedback is late, i still think it warrants consideration and sharing. Not to mention we did get emails, personal notes, message via social media, and tons of direct commentry weeks after the event. Personally, i had eight people approach me at WordCamp San Francisco in late July and told me how much they enjoyed the event (and that was without my prompting!).

Overall Thoughts

When asked “How would you rate your WordCamp Miami experience overall?” this was the breakdown:

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  • Very satisfied 49.23%
  • Satisfied 41.54%
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied (“meh…”) 6.15%
  • Dissatisfied 3.08%
  • Very dissatisfied 0%

First off, i’m very happy about the results overall. Nearly everyone who fill out the survey was at least satisfied with the event. Close to half of everyone was VERY satisfied. It’s really a testimony to the hard work everyone – from organizers to the volunteers – put into the event.

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Naturally, your eye and mind tends to wonder about that percentage of those who either were “meh, it as ok” to “not satisfied dude”. Combined, that is still almost 1 out of 10 surveyed. 1 out of 10 for an event organizer DOES seem to be alot. But before I ponder on that too much, I tend to remember two things from past experience: (1) Understand that not everyone fills out feedback forms (especially in our case, it was a minority compared with total attendance) – i’ve gotten a wave of overall positive feedback about WordCamp Miami at meetups and other events., and according to them they didn’t bother to fill out the feedback form; (2) The vast majority of those who were dissatisfied listed a single reason (or two) why. We’ll get into that in a bit.

Overall, i’m happy with the reactions i’ve gotten and with the numbers in the survey, but it should be interesting if and how these numbers change in 2014. I’m not one to set too many goals but wouldn’t mind seeing the very satisfied numbers higher – but you can’t please everyone (510+ people) all the time. After all, the true test of a good event is usually repeat attendees. WordCamp Miami sells out every year, and much of that is in thanks to repeat attendees.

What was the best part of WordCamp Miami?

Survey takers got to choose one answer:

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I ask this question mainly to ensure that the popularity of responses match up with the goals set out by the WordCamp Miami committee, and this didn’t disappoint. Sessions and networking in my mind are the two main reasons for meetups or social events. I would even wager that networking for some trumps the sessions (some people already know alot of what is presented, and the majority of the raw information could be available on the web already). WordCamp Miami focus has been on knowledge and networking, so i’m glad these topped the list. We had an extended lunch this year, planned an after-party that was more tuned towards networking, and had an ice cream social on Sunday – all of these added to what many commented was a BETTER networking event than in the past.

This was a one-choice question, so not surprising for those who couldn’t decide picked “all of the above”. I’m glad live streaming was selected by a few, since it was our first year of it.

Popular Tracks

Because we asked for this feedback months afterwards, we didn’t break this down by speakers but instead went for tracks.

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This feedback has to be taken with a certain amount of salt for a number of reasons. Firstly, it would seem that BuddyCamp was the least popular. However, one has to remember that BuddyCamp was limited to about 100 tickets (attendance was closer to 90) and i highly doubt most people who attended BuddyCamp filled out this survey (partly confirming by analyzing the feedback). I did an informal talk with many right after BuddyCamp and got some great responses. Speakers, organizers, and close friends who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me what sucked and what was great overall gave it two thumbs up. I still get emails and questions about if we are planning one next year. So i still out hold that BuddyCamp Miami was one of the biggest highlights.

Our beginner’s workshops were also limited attendance, so i wouldn’t expect these to be as “popular” as the tracks available to the general attendance. Also, since these are pointed towards perhaps the crowd with the biggest and most diverse kinds of questions, it doesn’t surprise me that this was on the bottom half of the list. A workshop or group of sessions could have been fine, but if for some reason your question was answered (reasonable or not), then you tend to be as satisfied.

However one cannot deny that the business tracks for WordCamp Miami 2013 were, by our survey at least, the most popular of the event. Amazing too that this was a track on a Sunday (most did attend Sunday, but not everyone…. we counted close to 400 on Sunday vs. the 500+ on Saturday). While this doesn’t necessarily mean that a Business track for our next WordCamp is a shoe-in, it does give the committee something to ponder.

The responses to this question, in part, confirms a trend i’ve been seeing in the past few WordCamps in Miami – while the beginner’s and users tracks were once the most popular – it appears that our audience is “growing” beyond the very basic or newbie sessions.

“Coolest Things” About WordCamp Miami

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No surprises that everyone liked the t-shirts. And even with some slowdowns in the line for lunch, it still managed to get the next highest positive feedback. Don’t feel bad for the shotglasses though – I wouldn’t expect a very specialized WordCamp souvenir to be among the coolest things about WordCamp Miami. People keep asking us if we have extras.

The item i’m most pleased about are the collectors cards, which i’ll talk about in a future post. We actually got some specific NEGATIVE comments about those but glad to see the vast majority thought they were one of the coolest things about the event.

After Party

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We had a survey question asking about the after-party. Majority said it was ok, with awesome being the next popular response. But we did have some comments in the feedback form with some critical comments about it – mostly focused on the food and venue’s service. I feel these comments as not the end of the world, but warrant the attention of organizers and something to consider when we plan 2014.

While there was legitimate speed bumps in our after party, you could say some of it was caused by situations nobody saw coming. For example, there was some confusion that the RAFFLE tickets given to everyone in their bags on Saturday morning were actually the DRINK TICKETS. This is one of those things you couldn’t guess people would mistake (they clearly looked like raffle tickets, and we announced they were raffle tickets on Saturday), but they did. I would hope that people wouldn’t think we were giving drink tickets to those without checking their ages, but oh well. So some complaints were related to the fact that the after-party venue wasn’t taking “the drink tickets”. I’m sure any event organizers would tend to sympathize with these “didn’t see THAT coming” situations.

Another lesson learned: As an event organizer, it’s important to stress to those coming to the after-party what the food arrangements are. We stated to the crowd (and it was even on the physical invites that everyone got in their bags I believe) that we weren’t doing dinner, just some appetizers. Some however thought that there was dinner being served.

There was a comment or two about the venue’s location (there wasn’t other bars or restaurants within a short walking distance, although most did arrive by party bus or car) but if you have ever tried to find a venue to host a party in Miami, you don’t have luxuries to always pick what is nearby.

But again, it might seem alot, but the above comments were only hinted by a handful of people. Considering previous WordCamp Miami after party locations were in bars, this year’s was a big improvement. It was a record turnout and the dance-off (with the iPad being the grand prize) seemed to go over well. I think alot of people had a great time.

Speakers

8629440025_a19b535b28_bMost of the feedback of the speakers was positive. A number of speakers were mentioned specifically, and I plan to pass these comments to the speakers directly. Alot of times in the past, we’ve gotten comments that it was difficult for some attendees to know in advance what the speaker was going to cover and to what level (beginner, advanced) the talk would be aimed toward. This year we got fewer of these responses, so this was a big improvement. I think what helped this year was clearer session titles (speakers like to get cute sometimes, but we stressed to keep things descriptive) and more in depth speaker descriptions.

Food

8630538934_792602f2c5_bAs you can see from the above, alot of people liked the food we presented at WordCamp Miami. The BBQ lunch was the most popular, followed by the ice cream on Sunday. This year, instead of providing a free lunch for ALL days, we brought in food trucks on Sunday with fair warning to everyone at the event that these would be paid (not included in the ticket cost). We got zero negative responses on this, which makes us glad. For a $35-$40 ticket, it’s hard to provide full meals for all three days. I think the food truck costs were reasonable.

However, one mistake to learn from with food is to plan ahead for large crowds. We thought those catering lunches were professional who would handle large crowds. While they WERE professional, things did go slowly (lucky for us we gave plenty of time for lunch). We resolved that if we were do this again, we would make a few simple changes. For the lunch, have food items ready to go instead of serving each guest one-on-one. Keep the menu options small (1 or 2 choices). This would have worked best for the food trucks on Sunday. Any comments about the food trucks or BBQ were focused on the speed of the lines or not having enough people to serve the crowd. “The food itself was awesome and the BBQ was the best lunch i’ve ever had a tech event.” wrote one fan.

Registration

Happy to report we didn’t get a single bad comment on our registration process, which has always been a little thorn in our sides (processing hundreds of people in the span of about 30 minutes is a challenge). I credit this to having the best volunteer team ever for a WordCamp. :) There was a Thursday night where our core organizers spent hours putting together of those Bluehost blue bags… and as much hard work that was it really turned out well. Everything – your t-shirt, program, lanyrd, shot glass, collectors cards, etc. in one bad so you didn’t have to spend time assembling it yourself. Firmly believe that simply checking off names and handing out the bags in a quick fashion was what kept the registration process moving quickly.

Misc. Constructive Criticism

I covered most of the “what do you not want us to do next time” question in the feedback above, but there was a few random comments that stood out. Some comment will be closer than others, but i feel i would share a little just to see what kind of things one gets back. “Your volunteers didn’t know where the bathrooms were” was one comment. “Internet connection was deplorable” is another (we were able to broadcast live streaming so i don’t remember University of Miami’s Internet failing, but I supposed it was possible – which again is a reminder to WordCamp organizers to never guarantee wireless).

There was also comments regarding seating. A few sessions on Saturday in a particular track (user track) were beyond full and overflowing. We had overflow rooms for just that problem if it came up, but for some reason this wasn’t fully realized by some of the attendees even after repeat announcements (and honestly being there in person is better than watching the live stream on a larger projector). While it’s not the end of the world if people choose a secondary sessions to attend, i can understand the frustration or disappointment if you were looking forward to being there in person for a session. We’ll be doing some things differently to hopefully improve the experience in the future, such as determining which sessions will be the most popular and placing them in larger rooms. Of course, we want to thank those who were understanding and did use the overflow rooms or moved to other sessions (and perhaps learned something new in the process). Again, the majority of sessions were fine.

“WordCamp Miami Was Awesome!”

8630529098_dd88783cac_bIt’s easy to lose focus on how “great” an event can be once you read the “please don’t do this again” list. While the responses to “what did you like and want to see next year” list wasn’t as educational, it was still really cool to read the responses:

“I was a speaker. Unequivocally: keep doing that venue for the speakers’ dinner. That place was amazing.”

“Kept it going & expand the curriculum.”

“It was a well thought out event. Thanks to all that brought it to us.”

“The great speakers and awesome networking.”

“The collector cards were a cool way to get people interacting with each other. I hope you continue to innovate with techniques for facilitating networking at the event.”

“Continue to be well organized.”

“I liked the collectors cards. I suggest building on that next year – maybe not exactly the same but something similar!”

“Invite Chris Lema. :)” (Gee, I wonder who wrote that?)

WordCamp Miami 2014: 5th Year Anniversary

Next year will be our 5th WordCamp in Miami and we have interesting tricks up our sleeves. With what we have learned in 2013 and ADDING to that the feedback from our attendees (both giving us things to work and giving us praise) i can’t wait to start planning for WordCamp Miami 2014. We’ve already had people asking the general dates to start travel plans (and I love it when people do that). We don’t have dates yet but keep your calendars open February to April 2014.

Again, regardless if you were there in person or viewed the live stream: thanks for supporting WordCamp Miami.

Note: Unless otherwise stated, photo credits belong to Alex Harris.