My First WordCamp Talk

On Saturday I had the great pleasure of speaking at WordCamp Vancouver. It was my first time speaking at a WordCamp, and my first time ever really speaking about anything at length. I really, really didn’t want to bomb this, because the idea of talking WordPress and geek in general with a bunch of likeminded folks is awesome and I wanted to kind of mitigate the possibility of a discouraging first experience.

So I picked the brain of friend, coworker and amazing speaker, Zack Tollman, and got a few tips.

The biggest takeaways were preparedness and practice.

  • Really researching and knowing the material rather than winging it.
  • Actually going through your talk a few times so that you know where your problem areas are before you get to them.

He also recommended Confessions of a Public Speaker [Scott Burkun], which turned out to be a fantastic read. Because of Zack’s advice and the added info from Scott, I actually ended up doing a bunch of mental preparation about the approach I wanted to take before I finally dove in on the presentation itself.

When I did dive into the presentation, I decided to try and get as many of my thoughts down and organized before worrying about a slide. For this I used an outlining tool, WorkFlowy, and ended up creating the entire talk this way. It did become difficult to transfer this data in the way I wanted for my article and slides after the talk, but other than that it was perfect. I may explore different outline options directly in WordPress for the next one.

After completing a decent draft of the talk, I then gave it a few practice runs to make sure things were feeling right. At this point I was able to remove material that didn’t flow and sharpen a few points that were getting lost. Once I started to feel satisfied that the stuff was working, I dove into Keynote land to create the slides.

Keynote ended up working out so much more awesome than I thought it would. I think next time I’ll leave myself with a lot more time to create the slides as I think I could have been more efficient and creative at the same time. Being able to use my iPhone as a Keynote remote was an added benefit, though the presenter notes ended up being a bit of a crutch.

I went through the full presentation a couple more times after the slides were created. This enabled me to figure out where I needed notes and to take out some stuff that was still feeling forced. I ended up not doing a full run through in the morning before my talk in favor of an extra hour of sleep, but I think that was one of those good decisions.

At first I wasn’t sure about being first on the schedule, but I think that played to my benefit. I was able to sneak into the room alone, walk around and kind of get a feel for how people saw the front and how it felt to say a few words. The tech setup was great, so I really didn’t have much to worry about.

The talk itself went well. I was less nervous than expected, though any time I lost track of my thoughts and tried to cheat with the presenter notes I felt it. The reaction from everybody throughout the talk was wonderful and I was surprised many times at how well less obvious humor got across. Everything went super fast and I was on the last set of slides before I knew it. I only forgot a few things, but nothing that hurt any of the points I was making. And the Q&A session went perfect. We had some really good questions and I find a lot of comfort in that back and forth discussion.

My overall thought on the next talk is to move prep time back by at least a week. I’d love to be in a place where the last week is less about slide prep or content creation and more about practicing the talk itself. I think I’ll try to find an alternative to the presenter notes in Keynote Remote. The iPhone was a perfect slide switcher, but the small screen is too distracting when you want to take a quick look. Depending on the room, a piece of paper with a few notes would have probably turned out better.

And that’s it. Eating my own dog food and documenting myself.

Anybody that was there – thanks a ton for sharing that experience with me and for the positive reaction throughout. I had a blast.

And now, a bunch of tweets from awesome people! Thanks, #wcyvr!

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