So, you want to run a Drupal Camp. Here's what you should know.
I’ve been running events since college, for work and for fun, and for groups of 3 to 3,000. You’d think there’d be a difference, but the amount of energy it takes to run an event, surprisingly, is the same. It’s crazy how well these things scale.
Regardless of size, an event planner goes through a very predictable flow from event conception to event end.
We started planning Texas Camp in September of 2017. Knowing we were going to organize the event again for 2018, we scrambled to finalize the venue and update the sticker. By the time BADCamp rolled around, we had shiny new Texas Camp stickers to distribute at the nation’s largest gathering of Drupal people - all potential camp attendees.
Because we knew when companies do their budget planning, we were ready with a brand new sponsor prospectus by December. By the second week, a cheerful call to sponsor was in many Drupal company inboxes.
We worked to get the website launched in January, so attendees could plan ahead and to get everyone excited. Let me tell you this - when building a spankin’ new React + Drupal site, plan for extra time.
By the time we did launch in February, we had missed a few big camps, but still had plenty of time to get the word out on the call for sessions.
From February to April, we worked hard to get the word out about all the different ways people could get involved with camp. Sponsorship, speaking, volunteering, or simply just attending. Early-bird tickets were on sale and the sessions submissions were trickling in.
Texas Camp organizers attended DrupalCon Nashville and spread the good word of Texas Camp to anyone who would spare a few minutes. Those who promised to submit sessions were gifted a Texas Camp sticker, along with lavish promises of fame and glory.
Because we want Texas Camp to be known as an inclusive camp, we reached out to different groups, including the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion group, to help get the word out to a broader, and more diverse, audience. I’d like to think our efforts here helped us pick up more diverse speakers than we might have gotten through our usual channels.
At the end of April, the craziness began. Although I am a seasoned session selection overseer, this was my first time actively participating in the selection as a team. It’s not an easy task, not only considering the length of time it takes to read sessions!
We had a few mandates: no repeat speakers, diverse topics, variety in experience levels, and oh yeah, the selection was done fully blind to the presenter. All personally identifiable information (pronouns, speaker names, company names, etc) was all painstakingly struck from the submission pile.
At the end of the two-week selection process, the team gathered and made the final selection. Some speakers with multiple sessions had been ranked high enough to make the session cut, so the better of the two, or the session with most topical conflict with other highly ranked sessions, were made into backups.
After session selection, things started moving really fast. We had one week to confirm speakers and another week to make a schedule. Once that newsletter went out announcing the final schedule, the official countdown to Texas Camp had begun.
Week 4: Guess what you’ll need and order everything. This gives you enough time to re-order if anything goes wrong. It’s too early for real attendance numbers, so any amount you order is the best guess.
Week 3: Things will start to arrive. Your office will be filled with an insane number of soda flats and bizarre equipment. We had a silver 4-foot metal trough we had to explain on a few client calls. Speakers will begin canceling. New sponsors will appear out of the woodwork - which is a GREAT thing. Last minute sponsors allowed us to blow the budget on breakfast tacos!
Week 2: You’ve printed everything you can think to print and pray the sizes match and the colors turn out right. The final “Texas Camp is next week!” notice has gone out to attendees. Speakers are thoroughly annoyed at the number of reminders to RSVP we’ve sent.
Week 1: The blessed “eye of the storm”. The week before the event. It’s too late to do anything meaningful. All you can do is hope you’ve done enough ahead of time and remembered everything. Especially if the week of ends in a 3-day weekend for Memorial Day. An unexplained spike in registrations. It looks like we’ll hit 150!
The week of: It’s time for final inventory audits, calling and confirming with all the venues and updating catering counts with vendors. Always add more vegan meals than you have data for! Rally the organizing team and caravan the soda flats and registration supplies to the venue.
Make eye contact and remind each other that you can do it and that there will be coffee in the morning. Charge the iPads. Remember to print the special diet food tents for the morning.
During camp: Have a stupid amount of fun. See people you haven’t seen in a year. Celebrate the CMS that drew us all together. So many people, at Texas Camp we nearly hit 200! Eat an inordinate amount of food. Watch some amazing talks. Sing karaoke.
After camp: Go home. Swear to never do it again. Take a vacation. Get a sunburn. Reconsider.
The week after camp: Begin researching venues for the next year.