During a discussion over on the WP UK Community Slack channels I was asked by Jenny Wong “I would like to know what drives you to be a WordCamp Speaker?” After a little discussion after I thought this would make a really good blog post – so here goes!
My WordCamp Speaking
I thought it would be a good idea to give you a little background on my WordCamp speaking. It all started back in 2014 when I was encouraged to speak at WordCamp Sheffield, a one-day WordCamp organised by Kimb Jones and others. I spoke about Customising the WordPress admin for clients and the talk went very well. I was very nervous before hand but I was made to feel very welcome and comfortable and it passed without incident!
This was good as I gained confidence and then wanted to speak at more WordCamps. We’ll come onto that later. I have since been on to speak at a number of WordCamps, all of the talks I gave you can see on my WordCamps speaker page.
A Little Background
For 12 years I was a teacher (secondary school teaching Geography and Computing). Every day I was stood in front of hundreds of children delivering lessons and talking to groups of people. Many people see this instantly meaning that you are comfortable at public speaking and maybe it helps. Well perhaps it helps, but speaking in front of 30 secondary school children, once a week for 39 weeks is a lot different than speaking in front of 50 – 100 peers.
When I was teaching, apart from the first few lessons of the year, the classes you teach are not like speaking to strangers at all. In fact you know your pupils and classes so well, it is like speaking to your family, friends and close colleagues. Obviously professional etiquette is essential and maintained at all times but speaking to a room full of strangers who potentially know a lot more about the topic you are speaking about that you do is a whole different ball game.
To sum up here what I guess I am saying is that although teaching can’t do any harm in terms of preparing you to speak in front of others, I am not sure if is quite the benefit that some others see it is.
Why Speak at a WordCamp?
For me there are 3 key reasons why I like to speak at WordCamps. Let me outline each for you below:
1. Professional Development
When I was teaching I always wanted to be one step ahead of the audience. I wanted to know that little bit more which gives you that little bit more credibility. That said there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” when asked a question, an answer which I gave many times as long as you follow that up at some point in the future. May the follow-up is “did you every find out about that?” or perhaps it is “Remember you asked me […], well I found out […]”.
I always feel that to deliver something, specifically a more technical talk, I want to make sure that I understand the topic that I am speaking about as much as I can. Whilst doing research on a topic, this means that I am going to be learning a lot about what I am speaking about. I am going to gain a more in depth knowledge of the subject that I would have if I had not spoken and this makes you more knowledgeable and better at it. That has got to be a good thing and helps your professional development.
Of course, you don’t have to be an expert in the field you speak on, in fact WordCamp session are more about your story (with WordPress) than they are about your skills. But going that extra always helps both your talk and you.
Along with your own research, you also get the opportunity to have lots of expertise in the WordPress community ask you questions, both at the end of your talk and throughout the conference. These conversations with others allow you to learn so much, which, perhaps you might not have got the opportunity to do so if you had not have spoken.
For those that perhaps have a fear of public speaking this is perhaps hard to understand, but I enjoy speaking at these events. You should always enjoy something you do as a choice, as if you don’t then what is the point. I guess the teacher in me wants to pass on my knowledge and experience to others with a view to helping them in some form or another.
For me this is more of an added benefit from speaking rather than a motivation for speaking. When you speak people see you and the sort of skills you have got. Back in September 2014 I spoke at WordCamp London meet-up. It was perhaps (partly) because of this event that I finally started doing some work for Keith Devon on a freelance basis. 2 years later we both formed Highrise Digital, a WordPress development agency. I am not saying it was solely because I spoke, but speaking does help people know who you are and what you do which can’t be a bad thing.
What is Holding you Back?
For most people the answer to this is “fear of public speaking” and believe me I understand where you are coming from. If this feels like you, then feel free to catch me for a drink at WordCamp London, or any other time we may be in the same place and I can tell you about my experiences with speaking in public. It may help (or not!) you get started with speaking yourself.
If you have not yet spoken at your local WordPress user group (I help run WordPress Cumbria) then I would certainly recommend you do that to get you started. These are often smaller groups of people, usually people you perhaps know a little better which can be a little easier than speaking in front of complete strangers.
If you want to take a look at the talks that I have given at WordCamps and WordPress meet-ups then take a look at my speaking page. Look forward to seeing you at the next WordCamp or WordPress meet-up – perhaps as a speaker yourself?