A friendly young woman helped me check-in at University Center’s front desk. As I signed my receipt and accepted a room key, a fellow conference goer did the same.

The friendly young woman asked, “So, umm, this says you’re both here for WordCamp Chicago. That’s exciting. What is it?”

WordCamp Is For Everyone

You know you’re in a crowd of WordPress users when everyone is incredibly nice. Beyond Midwest nice. I’m talking near-Canadian levels of courtesy and earnest interest in your total well being. This notorious niceness is amplified when you attend a WordCamp.

These are annual conferences for anyone interested in WordPress to listen, talk and participate in sessions around a variety of WordPress-related topics. There are marketing consultants, moms and pops, hardcore developers, hobbyists, and everyone in between. WordCamp is a gathering of the tribes fueled by a line for free coffee. You can totally cut in, it’s no problem at all.

Despite a diversity of skill levels and relationships to WordPress, everyone at WordCamp is, at their core, a WordPress user. We come together to learn. This year, I picked sessions around three interest areas: marketing, design and project management.

Better Planning, Better Marketing

Do you have a content calendar for your business? Many people don’t, or so many wouldn’t have shown up for Mike Hale’s excellent introduction to content marketing.

Do you know how successful your website is? Many people don’t, as shown by the full room for Yesenia Sotelo’s walk-through of Google Analytics.

Planning and data analysis are important to successfully, efficiently and enjoyably communicate with customers. Think of content calendars as the map for every item your business publishes in a year. Analyze website traffic and visitor behavior data to see how those items contributed to your goals. Use that knowledge to make your next content calendar (or revise the current one).

Top 2 Things From Mike’s Talk

Get the slides from Content Calendars for WordPress: Tips and Tools.

Top 2 Things from Yesenia’s Talk

  • Don’t worry about everything in Google Analytics. Focus on how people found you, how long they stayed, how many found you and how many leave immediately after finding you.
  • Download a free dashboard for Google Analytics designed to quickly inform you on just these key points.

Sharper Thinking, Better Design

They say people don’t read anymore. I think people read the same (or even more), you just have five seconds or less to convince them to read your site.

Ross Johnson delved deep into the human brain to help designers make the most of those five seconds. And Sara Cannon presented a great primer on using icon fonts to make beautiful, artful websites without relying on image files.

Top 2 Things from Ross’ Talk

  • Judgments (fight or flight/stay or leave) start in the brain centers for emotion and instinct.
  • Lessons from cognitive ease: Familiar (even trendy) designs feel good. Easy to use websites are trusted.

Learn more about Designing for the First Five Seconds from Ross’ slides.

Top 2 Things from Sara’s Talk

  • Want a fast website? You must make sacrifices. Choose wisely between awesomeness and speed.
  • Use icon fonts. Remember Wingdings? Like that, but with better icons used to beautifully illustrate buttons, navigation and other places you’d ordinarily need an image file.

Sara’s slides have a ton of great pictures and screenshots to illustrate the latest developments. Smart Design: Icon Fonts, SVG, and the Mobile Influence.

More Confidence, Better Projects

Everyone is a project manager. Sure, graphic designers and web developers get artsy titles, but doing any thing in business takes a few of the same core skills.

Becky Davis compared project management to herding cats. And we’re all cats on some level. Getting project buy-in, cooperation and sign-off require serious organization skills and patience. Hilary Fosdal illuminated the dark corners of client communication to help everyone work with no regrets.

Top 2 Things from Becky’s Talk

  • Don’t assume your project partners understand why you’re doing something. Or that you understand them.
  • Explain your process and communication tools during the initial discovery (get-to-know-you) phase.

Check out Becky’s slides to go deep in the true way of the cat herder.

Top 2 Things from Hilary’s Talk

  • It’s your job to persuade people you’re the best choice. Live out your positioning statement.
  • Don’t present options to solve a problem. Show one amazing solution with 100% confidence.

As the conference wound down on Sunday, the center quieted. Freshening rain sprinkled the pavement as folks checked out and slipped off. I remembered the friendly young woman from check-in and trying to explain WordCamp with my fellow conference goer.

“It’s, um, a conference about WordPress, a website platform. Sort of. And uh…”

We couldn’t explain it in a sentence because WordCamp Chicago is magical. It’s rich with supportive voices and seconds-new ideas. WordCamps hum with the future of the Internet. You should come.

photo credit: nitram242 via photopin cc