tl;dr: Speaker events help you thank speakers for volunteering; after-parties help attendees make connections. All attendees should be welcome and feel comfortable at WordCamp after-parties.
Almost every WordCamps has at least two parties: a speakers’ event and an afterparty.
It is common, but not required to plan some sort of speakers’ dinner or reception. This gives the speakers a chance to talk to each other, and the local organizers, away from the bustle of the full crowd. Since speakers are usually “on” when around a big crowd, these smaller get-togethers offer speakers a chance to relax and not have to answer questions for a little bit.
Some WordCamps plan this event for the night before WordCamp begins. This has the benefit of allowing people to meet each other before the craziness of WordCamp starts. The downside is that speakers are usually working on their presentations and/or tired from travel, so they may want to leave early, or have trouble concentrating. Other WordCamps do a speakers’ event after everything is over, so no one has any more presentation stress to worry about. This works well in terms of everyone being relaxed, but if you have many out of town speakers, chances are some of them will want to fly out right after your event, so if you plan a speaker’s dinner or reception for after things wrap up, be sure to tell the speakers in advance. A third option is to do a quick dinner or happy hour before the general afterparty starts, while everyone else is out to dinner. This also works well, and combines the best of both other approaches. You just need to be careful not to linger so long over the speaker event that you’re all late to the afterparty. 🙂
Some speakers’ dinners are fully catered affairs or complete dinners at a restaurant; some are pizza and beer at an organizer’s house; some are drinks at a local bar. The speakers aren’t coming to your WordCamp for the food. It’s a nice thing to have if you can get it (especially if you can get it donated or sponsored), but a nice, relatively quiet space that people can talk without raising their voices is of higher value.
Every WordCamp has an afterparty. Again, the format (and budget associated with it) is up to the individual organizing team to decide. Most afterparties include drinks, music, and appetizers/finger food of some sort. Afterparties are held in a variety of places: the actual venue, a bar, another event space, someone’s large office space, a backyard…you name it. Make sure there’s room for everyone, enough bathrooms, and that you won’t be breaking any fire codes by having everyone there. Here are the most common types of afterparty.
If you have no budget, pick a bar within walking distance of the venue, and just tell people to head over there. Talk to the bar manager in advance and see if there’s anything they can do for you. Tell them how many people you’re likely to send their way, and ask if they will offer the first drink free (many will, and use drink tickets to this end if you guarantee that they will make a certain amount in beverage sales over the course of the night) or if they can give your group happy hour pricing or drink specials.
Pro: Doesn’t cost you anything, no liability if someone drinks too much and gets hurt, and people will not get drunk as fast if they are paying for their own drinks. Sad, but true.
Con: If there’s not a good place in walking distance, you will lose people between the end of the event and the afterparty.
Verdict: Perfectly acceptable.
If you have some money left over, but not much, then a good way to go is to follow the same plan as with a cash bar, but put down some money against a tab, so the first x drinks are free, and it’s a cash bar after that. You can work with drink tickets, also, and have the bar collect tickets and charge you based on how many they received (you would distribute them at WordCamp).
Pro: Not as expensive as an open bar, but provides a little bit of social lubrication on the WordCamp budget.
Con: Costs money, attendee disappointment if the tab closes unexpectedly.
Verdict: A good compromise between saving money and promoting a good time.
An open bar is usually only feasible if you have a lot of money from somewhere and no place better to put it (rarely the case), or a sponsor has specifically asked if they could provide the bar for an afterparty. In this case, you might have the party at a bar or in a private space (the same event space, another event space, or an office).
Pro: Everyone likes free drinks. After a few, people start dancing crazy and bursting into song, which is fun. Then again, that means they’re not continuing as many conversations as before.
Con: People become inebriated more quickly when there’s an open bar, you may need a liquor permit (if you are not at a bar), you will need additional event insurance, and you should plan to provide taxis for anyone not safe to drive home.
Verdict: Will make you very popular, but is very expensive and carries some risk so requires extra planning.
Tip: Here is a quiz on this article. Read quizzes page if you have any questions about quizzes and how to navigate them.