I was talking with someone the other day who asked how they might get started speaking at WordCamps. Now to be clear – WordCamps don't pay speakers.
They don't cover hotel or travel costs. Sometimes (and only sometimes) they create a special line for you at registration, so you don't have to stand in line. And they do give you a free ticket to a WordCamp that may be sold out. So that's good news.
I say all this because some of you may also have an interest in speaking at a WordCamp. But maybe you don't know how it all works and you've wanted the inside scoop. Well I don't know and can't speak for everyone else, but I can tell you my story and my observations. And I can caution you on what not to do (which sometimes is even more helpful).
Do Not Apply Across the Country
WordCamps are regional events. They're localized to provide more than just education. They provide great networking. So if you're just getting started, don't apply somewhere far away. First, it will cost you. Second, unless you're already word-famous, no one will know you. Third, relationship building, while possible, will be harder with people far from you.
The first year all I did was apply at WordCamps that were within 2 hours driving time. San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles all were great places to start for me.
Do Not Pick Your Product as a Topic
WordCamps are educational, but not places where you do a lot of selling. So no one will be getting up and spending 45 minutes talking about their product. Or rather, I should say, that shouldn't be happening. So just because you found this WordPress thing to be a cool space with a lot of growth, don't try to turn a speaking engagement into a long infomercial. No bueno.
The first year all I did was talk about how to get started with WordPress. It's a simple topic and a lot of the presenters want to cover more complicated topics. So this was an easy one to get started with.
Do Not Suck (Watch the Clock)
Ok, I jest. But seriously, make sure you're talking about something you know and have some depth with. People will ask questions and standing there with a glazed look on your face will be awkward for everyone. Also, if you are given 30, 45 or 60 minutes, end on time or early. Respect the schedule because there's a lot of stuff going around. Oh, and don't be boring. People will talk to the organizers and let them know you were great, if you were. Use that to help you open doors.
These days I cover three or four topics, but all of them are in my wheelhouse. And I've learned that respecting the clock is key. Just last week in Miami I was told (because we were already running late) – “you have 30 minutes, can you do it in 30?”
Do you really think that was a question? It wasn't. It was a polite request. My time? About 29 minutes. Could I have elaborated more with 35? Sure. But that wasn't the point. The point was to work within the constraints so that you remove one more thing from the organizers plates. They're volunteers too. And they don't want to waste minutes figuring out more hoops to get the program back on schedule.
Do Not Wing It
I know WordCamps are casual affairs and you don't have to be a professional speaker to talk. But know what you want to share. Wrap it in a story. Make it interesting. And practice it. When you're up there winging it, you'll find that you take more time than you thought (or speed thru the whole thing in 5 minutes). When you're up there winging it, you'll leave more people confused, rather than educated. So stay focused. And practice.
For each talk I give, I work on a new slide deck – even if my material will be very similar to another talk I've already given. I make tiny tweaks all the time (to see if it works better or worse). I also practice my intros and segues. I'm someone who speaks at conferences and in public about 25-30 times a year. And I still put in hours before every presentation. Just. Don't. Wing. It.
WordCamps are for Partners, not Leads
Now others may have a different take than I do, but I find that what I love most about speaking at a WordCamp is the time I get with other speakers and sponsors. Whether thru events, or just the natural connection because of the roles, I get to spend time with some seriously cool people. And those people become people I can send customers to.
I make partners at WordCamps. Partners I can send work to. Partners that may route folks my way (though you know I say no a lot).
So if you're applying to speak so that you can get a stack of cards that represent leads, you may be doing it wrong. Apply to connect. Apply to educate. Apply to give back. And apply if you have something you think the WordPress community might really like to hear. But don't apply because you see this as an “investment” to lots of deals. The organizers can smell it and you'll get boxed out fast.