The Art of Speaking at a WordCamp

Last month I spoke at WordCamp Los Angeles. Though I had given the same talk before, this time felt much more successful. Not only was I more relaxed, I learned a lot from the first time around.

It got me thinking about what public speaking tips and tricks could be applied to giving WordCamp talks, but I’m in no way an expert, so learn by trial and error. I wanted to start thinking more about how to get better at this type of speaking, so I asked several of my WordPress friends for their best advice.

Speaking at a WordCamp is a great way to connect to the community and get your name and brand out there. That said, it can be truly terrifying. I do believe any WordPresser can stand up and present at a WordCamp.

The advice I got back from my WordPress friends was incredibly helpful for me. So, I wanted to share what I learned with you.

Relax

My friend Chris Flannagan is a back-end developer for Modern Tribe. His advice for WordCamp speakers is to “Relax, sit down, prop your feet up and kick back.” I’m not sure I’m going to literally take his advice, and put my feet on the desk while I talk like he does.

But, I agree strongly with his goal of making the talk “feel more conversational than a lecture.” I definitely think that for many the more conversational a talk is, the better. But it depends on you and what works best for you.

“You’re not a professional speaker and that’s OK. Don’t compare yourself to those that are and use this as a learning experience. Some speakers are very academic, some are very charismatic, etc. Embrace the style that works best for you,” said Chris Wiegman, Developer for University of Florida Health.

Use Stories To Build Connections

Giving a presentation is about more than providing information, it’s about convincing people they can do what you are teaching. Telling a relatable story is the easiest way to create that connection.

“It’s important that I add stories where people can identify themselves and not see me as ‘he is a lot better than me’ because my main goal is to connect with people,” said Maxime Jobin, Co-founder at SatelliteWP.

This advice is applicable beyond speaking. Personalizing any marketing effort is going to make it more efficient. Too often small companies try to mimic larger ones, which can mean a lack of humanity. This is a huge mistake because people connect with personalities.

I actually gave a whole WordCamp talk about how stories made us human and what this means for how we talk about our business.

You Have Something To Share

I hear from many people that they would like to speak at WordCamps, but don’t have anything to share. Most of the time, this attitude arises from undervaluing what you already know.

“Anyone and everyone should apply to speak at WordCamps. I think it’s easy to think that the people on the podium are more experienced, but the reality is that they just know a lot about something you don’t. You know a lot about something else, and should get up there and talk about it,” Christie Chirinos, Caldera Labs, makers of Caldera Forms.

I really believe that teaching is an essential part of learning. That’s why I write so much and like giving WordCamp talks. My friend Carl Alexander gave a great WordCamp talk about teaching everything you know.

“But how often have you done something and someone asked you to explain it? How well could do it? I know that, before I started teaching everything I know, it wasn’t always easy for me to explain why I did things a certain way. I would just say something along the lines of “Well, I did it this way and it worked,” said Alexander, WordPress developer and teacher.

Know What You’re Going To Talk About

Everyone has something to share, probably many things. But, a good WordCamp talk should be incredibly focused.

“Have a clear objective that your listeners will learn from your talk. It should be ONE sentence. They’re only going to remember one thing about your talk, so make sure everything you say focuses on that one result.” said Matt Cromwell, Head of Support at WordImpress/GiveWP.

Making sure you know exactly what you are going to teach and really focus on knowing the material. Several people I spoke to said that having confidence in the subject is what let them make their talks feel natural and conversational.

“My best talks are the ones I have done without notes. So know your subject well enough that you can just naturally “talk” about your subject. I try to do lots of research ahead of time,” said Lauren Prentice Jeffcoat the WPML Customer Support and documentation and Training Specialist at OnTheGoSystems.

Some people need to prepare a lot for a talk. If that’s the case, then going somewhere to focus just on the researching and preparing the talk goes a long way.

“Last time I had to prepare a WordCamp talk, I had to drive over to Starbucks to remove family distractions, grab a meal and drink, and pop open Evernote and a browser on my laptop. I was there for several hours. I was working with a familiar topic but I needed that time to structure it in a logical way to fit within a 40-minute presentation. I usually had hours to present content-first design concepts within a college course,” said Dawn Pedersen, WordPress designer and visual artist, Painted By Dawn.

Just make sure not to seem like you’re reciting a stored monologue or speech. Preparation doesn’t mean you can’t be conversational.

“I’ll offer up that I think practicing is important. Some people may be more comfortable ‘winging it’ but I truly feel that practicing can help you add clarity to your main points – sure, you may have done good by going in cold, but like anything else, you have opportunity to make it sizzle with practice! There’s a misconception that practicing means ‘memorizing.’ You can’t really memorize written words word-for-word out loud, unless it’s a speech. People respond to a more natural conversational tone, and memorizing ‘lines’ breaks this,” said Alison Knott, Graphic designer at Eraserhead.

What Works For You?

The one thing I learned talking to people is everyone is different — they have different ways of planning a talk and feeling comfortable giving that talk. I like that common thread in this discussion as it boils down to “be you and be comfortable being you.”

If you’re experienced with WordCamp talks or public speaking in general, be sure to share your tips in the comments. And if you’ve never spoken at a WordCamp, there are going to be a lot of them next year, so make sure you apply to a few.

Josh is a WordPress developer and educator. He is Founder/ Lead Developer/ Space Astronaut Grade 3 for Caldera Labs, makers of awesome WordPress tools including Caldera Forms — a drag and drop, responsive WordPress form builder. He teaches WordPress development at Caldera Learn.

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