David Coveney

What it’s Like to Present and Attend at WordCamp UK

Over the weekend just gone I made two planned presentations at WordCamp UK 2009 down in Cardiff.  I also threw in a quick 45 minutes of show and tell on the Caribou Theme that runs this site and is available for download from Spectacula.

I also got to mix with some very interesting, talented and cool people that know a heck of a lot of stuff about what we’re working with.  In this conference were, potentially, the next generation of web creators.  People who will make things happen.  And this year, more than last, there was a real buzz at the potential of WordPress, its markets, and its uses.

Presenting at WordCamps

Presentation

Presentation

I’ve never actually done a formal presentation in front of more than about ten people before in my life, and even then only perhaps four five in my life.  I’m a techie – I would do technical discussions and demos, but never with Powerpoint and a laser pointer.  I did do an unconference show and tell at Barcamp Liverpool last year where about twenty to thirty people turned up, but that wasn’t planned… it just kind of happened.

But I could also appreciate the benefits of putting myself out there in front of a room full of my peers.  So in a fit of enthusiasm I volunteered for two presentations – WordPress in the Enterprise, and WordPress for News and Media.  I expect one or even both might be dropped by the organisers.  I have no history or background in public speaking.

Both got accepted.

Damn!

But it had some great potential too.  I could play with approaches and actually ‘test’ the results.  So what did I learn?  Read on:

1. L-Shaped Rooms are Tricky

The main room for the event turned out to be L-shaped… or, a better description, V-shaped, with the presented at the bottom of the V.  At this event three rooms were in operation, a large L-shaped room with up to 150 people, a medium sized rectangular room for up to 70 people, and a small boardroom type for about 15 people.

I had expected my first presentation on the Enterprise to be the tricky one – it’s not a fascinating subject.  But it was in the medium sized room, and it proved very easy to get engagement with the audience.  In the L-shaped room you’re trying to look in two different directions.  It’s almost impossible.

2. Consider an Assistant for Demos

One can work the computer, the other can talk.  Saves awkward silences, and it’s something I’m going to try in a future talk.

3. Get in Early

I did one of the first, and the very last, formal presentations of the event.  I noticed that in the first everyone was wide awake and very enthusiastic.  By the end of the conference people were flagging.  Getting and keeping attention becomes trickier at this stage.  You also have the advantage that nobody ever wonders off from the conference at the very beginning – it’ll never be fuller!

4. Start Funny

In the Enterprise talk I started with a humorous quote and in the News & Media I started with a pithy quote.  The funny one got the mood lifted and people in a cheerful mood.  It gave me a chance to relax and settle into the presentation.

5. It’s a Great Audience

I was dealing with fellow geeks.  People in the same situation as me.  It was, frankly, the best audience I can imagine.  The few presentations I’ve done before have been up in front of a board of hardened and cynical directors, or senior management, or people who have tough deadlines to meet.  This was a whole lot more relaxed.  Nobody’s going to consider firing you because of a minor mistake.

6. Get Engagement

I noticed that speakers who asked for shows of hands, asked questions of the audience and so on generally had a better applause at the end than those who didn’t.  It doesn’t take much to engage your audience, but I’ll admit that it’s trickier when you can only look directly at half of them at any one point.

7. Be Prepared

At conferences opportunities come up.  Have business cards, listen to people, smile a lot.

8. Freebies

You can’t believe how the mood of a room lifts when you hand out gifts.  Good gifts though.  I remember the really rubbish calculators we got given in my ICI Systems days.  What geek in the world needs a calculator?  So I handed out the penknives we had made for Spectacu.la and they went down a treat.

9. Matt

I finally met Matt Mullenweg at the weekend.  I’d promised him a beer months ago in reconciliation following our (now seemingly minor) argument over WordPress’s take on the GPL.  So I bought him a pear cider and had a good chat.  He’s an affable chap, easy going, says ‘awesome’ a lot (but he’s American, so that’s normal) and has clearly listened to the concerns of WP developers about how they’ll make any money.

Funny hat tho’ ;-)

Summary

An ace time, basically.  I’d like to say hi to everyone I met, but I’m scared of missing someone – so instead, let’s just say I look forward to chatting and, hopefully, working with some of you in the not so distant future.

Here’s to WordCamp UK 2010!