For many years of my life, I was terrified of public speaking. Stage fright to the level of getting sick and not leaving the bathroom for a week was what I faced if I knew I’d have to make a presentation at an event in front of strangers.
Fast forward a little further. It’s 2017, and I’m on the main stage of WordCamp Madrid – the biggest WordPress event in Spain – in front of a crowd talking about topics I’m passionate about (the open web, net neutrality, or the IndieWeb) and enjoying myself like never before. Nervous, of course. But having a good time.
What happened between one scene and the other? I discovered why giving talks at a WordCamp is unique. And now I want to explain it to you.
I’ve already told you about the different ways to be part of your local WordPress community and even a guide with tips on how to get more out of WordCamps. Those multi-day events where volunteers organize a fantastic schedule with talks of all kinds, coffee, food, and lots of networking to keep learning and meeting wonderful people.
But there’s one point I want to go into in more detail: the speakers at these events. And why one of them should be you. Yes, yes, you. “But I don’t have anything to tell,” you will say. Yes, you do. Believe me.
Why be a speaker at a WordCamp?
Speakers at WordCamps don’t get paid. Let’s make this clear from the start in case of any doubt. Volunteers organize the whole event, and that’s the philosophy. So? Just as we don’t pay anyone to upload a bug fix to WordPress code, giving talks is another, less technical, way of giving back to the project many of us live from WordPress. We’re helping to keep it going.
When you prepare a talk, you’re working on your own expertise on the topic. You may know a lot about something, but you still want to reinforce some concepts, go over things you took for granted to explain them better, and continuously improve your skills: the technical and less technical.
Of course, getting on stage at a WordCamp, whether there are 15 people in front of you or 700, is a way of gaining visibility and positioning yourself as a reference on a subject. In the eyes of many, you will be the person to contact if they need to talk about a topic. And you can transform those contacts into ideas, projects, and business.
In addition, the speakers are often invited to a thank-you dinner with the other organizers and sponsors so that they can network with each other in a more relaxed way than in the hustle and bustle of the event.
And above all, I lost my fear of public speaking precisely because the audience is so appreciative. It’s a pleasant environment where people support you, thank you for sharing your knowledge, and you know that no one is waiting for you at the exit to criticize you on social media because you’ve made it not worth the money they’ve paid for their ticket.
“But I’ve already told you, I have nothing to share”
If you’ve learned something today, you can teach it tomorrow to someone else who is in the same situation as you. If you’ve had a project, a client, a website, or an experience where you’ve learned how to do something, you can explain it to your past self. Make it simple. You can start with this.
If there’s a topic that you are passionate about and you want to take advantage of the excuse of giving a presentation to dig deeper, what better plan? Write down ideas, collect links, read articles, personally try out solutions…The process of learning and then explaining is fascinating.
And another important thing: it’s just as important to lose the fear of putting a microphone in front of you as it is to remove the taboo of answering “I don’t know”. Sometimes after the talks, there’s time for questions, and we’re afraid that we’ll be caught and won’t know how to answer. You know, it’s OK. “Thank you very much. Good question. I don’t really know how to answer it right now. We can look into it later or if anyone here has something to contribute…”. And you don’t have to blush.
We can all contribute what we can contribute. And the more we all collaborate, the more knowledge we share. And that’s very powerful.
Opportunities to start now
If it’s your first time speaking in public, start with something small, almost familiar, like a local meetup. But if you’ve really just come to convince yourself that a WordCamp is waiting for you… I would recommend taking a look at the official list of events for this year and look for the one closest to you.
If you also think you can make a meaningful impact or want your message to help as many people as possible: WordCamp Europe awaits you! The call for speakers is open until the first week of February.
In Athens, about 3,000 people are expected (although not all of them will be there to see you, don’t worry). The content team of the event has defined the vision of what they want to see on stage: interesting content for those who usually spend more time in the halls, more interactive talks with the audience, and a more diverse schedule with new voices that need to be heard. And two themes: WordPress now and WordPress tomorrow.
In the call for speakers, you have a lot of fascinating topics to inspire you (and a lot more information) but if you have your own fresh and original idea… don’t hesitate and sign up!
In addition, there is also a mentoring program for speakers to help you prepare your talk and a speaker support program to put you in contact with companies that collaborate with under-represented groups and with difficulties financing their travel and stay at the event.
Are you ready to submit your talk to WordCamp? If you get selected, it’ll be awesome. If you don’t, that’s OK. There’s always another chance, and you can enjoy the event in another way… as an attendee…or even as a volunteer! I’ll see you in Athens!