Organizer Best Practices: How to address panic

Organizing community events is fun, but not always relaxing. Every WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. organizer has experienced the atmospheric shift on their team, from casual and breezy at the beginning… to focused and pressured as the event date approaches. When mentoring organizers, I find myself frequently sharing techniques that can help lead a team through the “storm” of those last few months of WordCamp organizing (or really, any storm at all) — so I thought it might be helpful to document that information in our team blog. Here we go!

Recognize “stressed” behaviors

Many of the people on your team will respond to “the event is just around the corner!” stress with a tendency toward one of the following:

  1. Panic
  2. Withdraw/go silent
  3. Lose flexibility/get combative

In this month’s edition of the Organizer Best Practices series, we’ll talk about that first stress response: panic. Next month, I’ll share some ways to reactivate organizers who have withdrawn or stopped communicating; and then in October, we’ll talk through what to do when a previously relaxed or easy-going person suddenly becomes argumentative or inflexible. 

Addressing panic

WordCamp organizers generally dream big and take risks, which is how our events stay fresh and keep innovating. Yay! Combining those behaviors with hard deadlines and actual money… can lead to some scary moments, though! If you see someone (or your whole team — it’s contagious) start to panic, you’re not lost, but you need to act fast.

  1. Stay calm. You can’t help the team make rational decisions if you’re also panicking. Your job as a leader is to keep your cool so that other people can, too. It’s totally OK to say, “OK, I don’t want to panic right now, so I’m going to ask some questions/think this through/ask someone for help.”
  2. Analyze the risks. What are we afraid might happen? How likely is that outcome? What is the worst that could happen, and what’s the best that could happen? This activity also allows you to contextualize the situation. Very few conference organizing “disasters” end in physical harm, loss of life, or even long-term consequences.
  3. Gather data. You make your best decisions when you have all the facts. When you come to the end of the risk analysis process, you will probably have collected at least one or two “I don’t know”s. Get as much information as you can, before the team has to act. If it takes a while to get the information you need, and you don’t have to make a decision right away, that’s a feature — not a bug. Slowing down will usually result in calming down.
  4. Identify your options. This is best done after you’ve gathered all the data, but you can identify some “if… then” options while you’re waiting for answers to questions. Rarely are you restricted to one possible option — even if your list of options includes things you absolutely don’t want to do, include those “definite no”s in your list. Knowing what you have the power to do (cancel the event), even if you choose not to (please don’t, I bet we can find a solution), is empowering and will bring people out of their fearful mindset. 

Help your team build their skills

In your work as a leader, try not to swoop in and solve people’s panic for them. Once you think you’ve got a handle on this process, try to bring your team with you through the steps as well, so this can start to come more easily to everyone. That way, if you’re not around for some reason, another organizer can spot the signs of panic in other people and help!

Connect with the Global Community Team

Remember that this team has a huge group of experienced community leaders and event organizers. It is very rare for a WordCamp team to run into a situation that no other WordCamp organizer has faced in the past, so don’t be ashamed or shy — ask for advice or help!

There are office hours in the #community-events channel in the WordPress.org Slack 4 days a week, but lots of organizers hang out in that channel ready to help (we really love to help). You can also reach out via this contact form, or ask your mentor for help. 

Ideas

Do you have any tips for addressing panic or keeping calm in an emergency? Share them in a comment on this post! 

#organizer-best-practices