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!

Comments

Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 1:44 PM

Andrea_R says:

Sounds like you had a great time! I’m going to store up your tips as I’ve only done a couple presentations myself, for non techies, and one day I want to do a wordcamp.

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Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Joe says:

Hi Dave. Nice article (I found it via Twitter). I was on your table right at the start of WordCamp – I was one of the minority with old-fashioned pen and paper rather than a laptop. It was good to meet you and find out what you’re up to.

These are very useful notes, so thanks for sharing them. I wouldn’t have guessed you’re inexperienced at presenting – you seemed very relaxed and confident in the news and media talk, though I missed the other one.

I agree that it was an excellent weekend, though I had to leave during the lengthy chat about the future of WordCamp at the end. There were some really useful presentations, and good sharing of ideas.

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Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 4:01 PM

Bill says:

Joe, pen and paper was a good choice. I made a concious decision to leave my laptop in my room and didn’t regret it at all. I’ll be doing this more often in future.

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Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 4:10 PM

Dave says:

Hey Joe – sometimes pen and paper works best – you can doodle, draw lines between items and so on. Best tool for the job and all that! If I could afford a nice and high powered tablet PC then I’d be in heaven, but I can’t, so I’m not ;-)

Glad I sounded relaxed and confident, but I remember trying to use a laser pointer on a graph and I just couldn’t keep it steady. Very nervous, but I hide it well!

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Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 3:52 PM

Johan Dahlstrom says:

Thank you for great presentations! It was inspiring to see and hear from someone that actually have done enterprise projects with WP!

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Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 4:12 PM

Dave says:

I think there’s some very good things going to come out of this WordCamp. Last year’s got things rolling… this year there was something exciting going on.

I’ll be in touch to discuss the ideas we were covering over dinner :-)

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Posted: 20 July, 2009 at 3:59 PM

Bill says:

Dave, many thanks for sharing your experiences as a presenter at WordCamp. All too often we focus on what the audience took away from the conference. It is nice to hear how it was to be a presenter. I’ll definitely be having a think about ideas for presentations ahead of next year.

I thoroughly enjoyed your first presentation on WordPress in the enterprise. In some ways this set the tone of the weekend and certainly got a number of people thinking. Unfortunately the pull of the Unified Dashboard was too strong and I missed your second talk.

Many thanks :)

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Posted: 22 July, 2009 at 8:49 AM

Tony Scott says:

Many thanks for your sessions (and penknives!) at WordCamp UK.

Point taken about L (or V) shaped room – will try and avoid that in 2010!

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Posted: 22 July, 2009 at 10:41 AM

Dave says:

I think you just got a little unlucky with the room or the way the hotel chose to do it. In a ‘conference’ style setting the room without using the L could probably accommodate all 150 people, but by having people at tables (which is my preference as a guest, if not as a speaker) you really do lose a lot of space.

My favourite would be a proper theatre with a biiiig screen and a bit of desk space for everyone. But they tend towards expensive. They’re often not usually in city centres unless you can get something with a university. I shall make enquiries for Liverpool for next year and see if I can find something cool yet affordable.

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Posted: 21 July, 2010 at 10:22 PM

Oliver Nielsen says:

Good post! I presented at WordCamp Copenhagen back in May, which was my first time doing so. I’m sure next time will be better, even though it went okay for a first time WordCamp talker like me. I talked about SEO in WordPress and in general, from my typical pragmatic viewpoint: Dismiss all the seo-make-believe and talk about creating an structuring great content that Google and human readers till both want to read and love.

Did Matt wear a hat? Sounds funny, post a link;-)

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Posted: 31 July, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Dave says:

Hey Oliver – thanks for dropping by. That was way back in 2009… I’ll try and dig out a pic of Matt in a Hat and post it some time :o)

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