Lessons I Learned from Giving My First WordCamp Talk
I don’t mean to brag, but I am a really good public speaker. I think that comes from loving
attention people, so from pretty much the moment my professional career began, I’ve made presentations at conferences. But recently, I gave my first WordCamp talk at WordCamp Birmingham (AL not UK–I mean, we branded it #wpyall, for cryin’ out loud), and it was a completely different monster than previous presentations.
WordCamps are ultra-casual, friendly, and totally community driven and volunteer led. I spoke in the Blogging track of the Camp, and my presentation was about owning your soft skills and creating opportunities with them. Over the course of the WordCamp and through giving the talk itself, I learned a few fantastic lessons that I think y’all may find useful (or at the very least, interesting).
Speaking at WordCamp is All About Helping Other People
At many conferences, the presentations you give are about you. Your research and your accomplishments. That’s not the case at a WordCamp. WordCamps are about togetherness, friends, and opening up the community. So when you speak, you need to find that through-line that answers the question, “how does this make the WordPress community better?”
When I told folks what my topic was, many of them came in because the idea of gaining confidence in themselves and their abilities was a hot topic–many new WordPress users aren’t confident simply because they’re new to the ecosystem. Maybe they’re new freelancers or transitioning careers or just introverts who don’t really know how to sell themselves well. So I made sure that I spoke to those people and tried to show them how I actually did the things I was talking about.
While I used myself as an example, I made sure that the point of the talk–and the takeaways from it–were focused on my audience.
Being Honest Goes a Long Way
I had an number of people approach me during the day and after my talk, asking about different things, both about my talk, my experiences, and WordPress in general. I talked with people who were ranged from having only a few weeks-to-months of WordPress experience, folks who needed new themes or were transitioning to freelancing, and even folks who had heard of WordPress and just wanted to check out WP and see if it was the right fit for them and their projects.
Now, I say this in reference to my talk because a lot of these conversations took place afterward: I apparently came across very open and easy to approach. During my talk, I had built up their trust and my credibility, which made them come up to me seeking advice–or simply to reach out.
That means I not only succeeded at my goal of being a useful part of the WC community, but also that I had a responsibility to these people who looked to me as a source of help. (Admittedly, this perspective might have come from my years of helping college students who approached me after class in much the same way.)
Being Candid Goes a Long Way
Along those same lines, there’s a distinction I want to make. Being honest is one thing–you’re telling the truth. You’re helping people by giving them real information. Being candid, however, means that you’re giving them straight-forward, pragmatic, realistic info/advice. I mean, sometimes WordPress might not be the answer or Divi might not be the best choice (at which point I would direct you to Extra! Hah! #onlyhalfkidding).
When you’re up-front with people, the chance they’ll come back to you (and your brand) increases exponentially. Instead of seeing me as a salesman for Divi or rep from Elegant Themes (though I did get a lot of “Hey, you’re the Divi guy!” across the weekend), they will saw me as a resource that invited bunches of “hey, what do you think about this…” kinds of questions. Sometimes, you brand and product will be the solution–sometimes it won’t. Like I said, that may even mean not using WordPress.
But if you interact with these people with candor, you are building trust. If you apply that to your first WordCamp talk (or the millionth!), too, you’ll gain far more than a customer. You’ll have a supporter–and most likely a friend.
Bring Any Adapters You Need
We live in the age of dongles. Thanks to Apple (mainly), adapters are everywhere because changes are good that your computer won’t be able to connect natively. For me, I brought a slew of USB -> USB-C, but totally didn’t think about picking up an HDMI -> USB-C. So I borrowed one, but that was pure luck.
The organizer had one, but it was in use already. Argh! What could I do? Luckily, we had a secondary one. Multiple speakers needed the dongles, and we were not prepared for that. We learned our lesson.
I can be kind of disorganized, so this one taught me to be prepared. This might have been my first WordCamp talk, but it wasn’t my first conference. I should have known better. Despite having my presentation on a flash drive, I didn’t even think about grabbing the adapter that would connect me to the projector. For someone who doesn’t like to rely on others, guess who’s headed to Amazon soon to put another gadget in his nerdbag?
Your Talk Does Not Have to Be a Tech Talk
Yes, WordCamp is a tech conference. Technically. But the talks aren’t always technology based. Mine wasn’t. Many weren’t. I spoke about so-called soft skills. It was a hard talk to classify because it could have fit into our Business track or the Blogging track (and even in the Developer track, honestly). We fell on the Blogger track because that’s where most of my personal experience has come from.
I was scared going in. And I really thought my talk wasn’t going to fit in. It wasn’t about SEO or blogging strategies or even WordPress itself. But the talk went over really well because I addressed a WordPress-adjacent topic. The audience could then take the content of my talk and put it into play with their blogs, freelancing, development, social interaction, networking, and everything else.
But it absolutely was not a tech talk. So if you’re looking to give your first WordCamp talk, lean into your strengths–if that’s writing or networking or sculpting WordPress logos out of clay, if you think people would be able to benefit from your knowledge, throw a proposal at a Camp.
So…Ready to Give Your First WordCamp Talk?
It’s daunting, I will give you that. But once you get past the fright and intimidation of it, it becomes a really amazing experience. For me, giving my first WordCamp talk has solidified my already-firm belief that the WordPress community is where I belong, that I made the right choice in switching careers.
Many of you are probably in the same boat as me: you love WordPress and the people who use it. And you might or might not make a living at it. The beauty of WordCamps is truly that there is someone with that same exact story. You just have to tell yours so y’all can connect.
So take a look back at what I wrote above, take a deep breath, and start writing that proposal for your first WordCamp talk. And if not that, then at least grab a ticket to the WordCamp nearest you. That’s a great first step.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get ready for WordCamp US.
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