All over the world people are getting together to talk about WordPress. Developers, designers, bloggers, writers, small-business owners, software engineers, system admins, mobile developers, BuddyPress developers, SEO experts, consultants, people ranging from absolute beginners to WordPress ninjas, and everyone in between—pretty much anyone who has anything to do with WordPress is coming to volunteer-organized events called WordCamps.
In March, I travelled to Utrecht, where I was lucky enough to attend WordCamp Netherlands51. For two days (plus the speakers’ dinner on Friday evening) everything was about WordPress. This article is about how the weekend went.
What Is A WordCamp?
The first WordCamp2 was organized in 2006 by Matt Mullenweg in San Francisco. Today, San Francisco remains the biggest WordCamp in the world, but there have been hundreds all over the world. The number is currently in the hundreds3 but will no doubt reach the thousands. They’re a great opportunity for local communities to get together and talk WordPress, and for overseas visitors to drop in and make connections outside of their locale.
Why Attend A WordCamp?
There are plenty of reasons to attend a WordCamp. Here are just a few:
- Get together with people who love WordPress as much as you do.
- The event is aimed at anyone who uses WordPress, so there are sessions for all levels.
- Make connections with people in your country and from overseas.
- Learn from people.
- Teach people.
- Socialize with awesome WordPress people.
- Meet the people you’ve been working with over the Internet.
Presenting At WordCamp
WordCamp Netherlands was the first one I presented at. I was nervous about it, but not too nervous to submit a proposal… two proposals, in fact! And both were accepted. Here are some info and thoughts on putting together a pitch and presentation.
How to Pitch
When you’re pitching to speak, find out how that particular WordCamp wants proposals to be submitted. Every WordCamp has its preferred method for submissions. For example:
- WordCamp Netherlands51 asks speakers to submit proposals via email,
- WordCamp Edinburgh6 uses a planning wiki,
- WordCamp Milan7 uses a Web form,
- WordCamp Austin8 has a voting system.
What To Pitch?
I couldn’t decide what to pitch, so I pitched two articles. One was about running a WordPress startup, with knowledge gleaned from WordPress business owners. The second was about writing documentation, which is what I do every day, so it’s an area I’ve learned a lot about.
Here is my best advice for pitching a presentation to a WordCamp:
- Talk about what you know.
- Use it as an opportunity to pass on knowledge from your own experience.
- Don’t just jump on the latest fad.
- Be clear about your target audience. You don’t want to end up on a developer track when your presentation is really for beginners.
- Look at what’s been done before for inspiration.
Remember that WordCamp is a forum for sharing what you know and helping out others in the community. This makes it a very friendly place to give a presentation.
Writing the Presentation
You pitched your presentation; you did a little victory dance when it was accepted; now it’s time to get down to writing. This could mean writing out what you’re going to say or making some notes or just preparing some slides. Here are some tips from my own experience of writing a WordCamp presentation:
- Figure out your key message.
And make sure that your audience walks away with that message. Return to that message a few times to make sure it sticks in people’s brains.
- Don’t jam too much stuff in there.
People have a limited attention span, and when you’re listening to talks about WordPress all day, losing concentration from time to time is easy.
- Don’t be afraid to use notes.
I’m retro, so I have my notes on papers, but plenty of people were reading from iPads. You might not even need them, but having notes on hand is really useful in case you lose your train of thought.
I practiced one of my presentations and it came in at 17 minutes—I had to speak for 40! Figure out where to add or remove material. Ask someone to listen and give feedback.
- Think of a narrative.
People like stories, and taking them on a journey through your presentation is a great way to keep them on board.
- Work out the timing.
Don’t forget to ask the organizers how long you’ve got to speak, and how long for questions! Also, find out the A/V requirements.
If you’re as lucky as I am, then you have a very talented designer9 for a friend who will turn all of your slides into a beautiful presentation. If you’re not as lucky as I am, then you’ll be breaking out PowerPoint or Keynote to put your slides together. The slides at WordCamp Netherlands were varied, ranging from plain white presentations with bullet points to stylish designs to code-heavy pages. Some thoughts on slides:
- Don’t let slides stress you out. They’re nice to have, but not essential. Not everyone who speaks has them.
- Aim for consistency in fonts, colors, images size and tone.
- Think about whether to have one point or a lot of different things on each slide. Both are fine, but again, aim for consistency.
- Judicious randomness can be excellent. Bjorn Wijers’ slides (below) had no bearing on what he was talking about, but everyone thought they were wonderful.
- Check out the search results for “WordCamp” on SlideShare10 for inspiration.
- Sign up for SlideShare11, and tweet your slides after you’ve presented.
WordCamp Netherlands 2012
To say that Utrecht is beautiful is an understatement. A canal winds through the center of the city, past buildings that date to the Middle Ages. Everyone rides around on bikes, with us folks from overseas constantly wandering into cycling lanes into the paths of bemused locals. For the weekend of WordCamp Netherlands, the weather was gorgeous. People sat outside of bars and restaurants drinking, eating and enjoying the beginning of summer.
Not us, though. The WordPress crew (all 189 of us) were holed up in Seats to Meet13—an event venue tucked in the back of a labyrinthine shopping mall. The video below, made by Automattic’s “Happiness Engineer,” Karim Osman1714, gives you an idea of the atmosphere over the weekend. (Cookies for anyone who can name all of the people in the video.)
We arrived nice and early at Seats to Meet. It wasn’t the easiest place to find, especially when you go with a Dutch guy who’s been twice before but gets lost easily. And some of us who’d been to the speakers’ dinner the night before (i.e. me) were feeling a bit fragile. However, all was made good when we got through the door and were presented with… SWAG!
Lots of lovely swag.
The day was opened by WordCamp Netherlands organizer Remkus de Vries16, who welcomed everyone to Utrecht and opened the conference. Then, Karim Osman1714 (Happiness Engineer at Automattic) gave a presentation about wordpress.com. Unsurprisingly, because the conference was in the Netherlands, Karim presented in Dutch. This gave me an opportunity to duck outside to work on my slides. Contrary to how organized everyone appears on stage, few presenters were not behind their laptops at some point tweaking their slides.
When Karim had finished, Isaac Keyet18, the mobile projects lead at Automattic, talked about “WordPress Is Mobile.” Unsurprisingly, the recent responsive redesign here at Smashing Magazine got a mention, as Isaac talked about how to design for WordPress and how to work with WordPress on the go.
BuddyPress in 2012
Isaac was followed by BuddyPress core developer Paul Gibbs. Paul talked about what’s in store for BuddyPress in 2012. He also looked at some innovative uses of BuddyPress, such as RockHaq21, a music review website for students, and social media guide Social Media Examiner22.
Here are some things we can expect from BuddyPress 1.6:
- Activity for website administrators;
- Database queries to be reduced by 25% to 50% on directory views;
- Group forum integration with bbPress 2.1;
- Greater control over profile field visibility;
- Better SEO by eliminating duplicate content URLs;
- The BuddyBar will be removed;
- Reorganized admin screens with shiny new icons, courtesy of Ben Dunkle.
Here’s Paul talking about his presentation and about what he gets out of attending WordCamps:
WordPress in 2012
After we’d had our fill of the exciting things in store for BuddyPress, Andrew Nacin24, a WordPress core developer, took to the stage to talk about WordPress in 2012. Here are a few of the things we can look forward to.
Small targeted improvements for WordPress 3.4, including:
- Multisite improvements;
- Faster theme browsing;
- Improved tablet support;
- Custom header changes.
And for WordPress 3.5 and beyond:
- Big changes to internationalization and localization25 (lots of happiness around this), making it easier for plugins to be translated;
- Twenty Twelve theme;
- Better media handling;
- Faster and easier updates;
- Improved developer APIs;
- Better experience when searching for themes;
- Better performance and speed.
I grabbed Nacin for a few minutes to talk to him about WordPress, WordPress contributions and WordCamps:
Day 1: Afternoon
After an excellent lunch, the main keynote track broke off into parallel sessions. The sessions were in a mixture of English and Dutch, meaning that those of us who had travelled from the UK (and even the US) were able to attend a lot of sessions. Here are some of the presentations:
- Erno Hannick talked about attracting clients to your hub;
- Elles de Border talked about mobile applications26;
- Roy Huiskes presented about SEO for beginners;
- Bas van der Lans talked WordPress basics for entrepreneurs;
- Coen Jacobs did the first of his three presentations, “WordPress Core Contributions27”;
- Remkus de Vries talked about “Genesis Tips and Tricks”;
- Bjorn Wijers presented on using WordPress as a CMS for your intranet;
- Roger Mostert talked about WordPress website maintenance28;
- Luc De Brouwer talked about WordPress plugin development29;
- Marko Heijnen talked about hacking WordPress30;
- Joost de Valk and Roy Huiskes closed the day with an SEO website review.
After the presentations, everyone went into Utrecht, where the rest of the evening played out in a pub. There was, of course, much more talk of WordPress, along with socializing and trying out the local food. I went home early because I was presenting the next day and didn’t want to be too bleary-eyed.
The next morning, we’d all lost an hour. The clocks went forward by one hour overnight, a change forgotten by Bowe Frankema who was supposed to be speaking at 10:40. This led to a concerned-looking Remkus grabbing me to ask whether I could give my presentation earlier. Of course, I could, but it meant that I had to give Tammie Lister’s excellent talk on “Designing for Humans with BuddyPress” less attention than it deserved. Tammie talked about how to use concepts from psychology in the design process and how this can be done with BuddyPress. Here are her slides32:
Then it was my turn! My first WordCamp presentation, and I’d been thrust into the keynote track.
Presenting at WordCamp
You’ve written your presentation, made your slides (or gotten someone to make them for you); you’ve socialized, had fun, listened to talks, asked questions and generally hung out. Now it’s time to take the stage yourself and talk about WordPress. It’s a pretty nerve-wracking moment—especially the first time! Here are my tips:
- Take your time.
I have a tendency to talk fast when I’m nervous, and my Irish accent can make it even worse. Slowing down and enunciating properly ensures that everyone can follow along. This is particularly important when speaking to an audience whose first language is not English.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and encourage interaction.
This builds a rapport with the audience. You can take it even further. One of the most fun WordCamp presentations I’ve been to was given by Dave Coveney33 at WordCamp Portsmouth and involved counting bags of skittles. Informative and delicious!
- Be confident!
If you’re talking at WordCamp, then you feel that you’ve become an expert in a certain area of WordPress. Don’t be afraid to let that confidence shine through.
- Relax and enjoy yourself.
By and large, WordPress people are a friendly bunch. People attend WordCamps to learn from experts, and so they’re there to take in what you have to say. It’s definitely one of the most relaxed and friendliest forums I’ve ever spoken in.
- Don’t be afraid to go live.
Some speakers will give live demos of software or coding techniques. It’s always a risk because technology has a habit of going wrong when you really don’t want it to; but if you can get your live demo to work, it can be really impressive.
Fun for developers
By the time I finished my presentation, Bowe had arrived. He gave a fun presentation34 on the Infinity Theming Engine35, which was spattered with pop-culture references and amusing anecdotes. As the presentation progressed, people were already starting to download Infinity.
After Bowe, Andrew Nacin took to the stage for the second time. The developers present had been waiting with bated breath for his presentation on wp_query. While much of it went over my head, people were getting excited. This photo of Luc de Brouwer pretty much captures how much the developers were enjoying themselves:
Here’s Nacin’s presentation, which everyone enjoyed so much:
After the presentation, there was plenty of time for Q&A. Nacin was joined on stage by WordPress core developer Jon Cave, and the two tag-teamed their way through the rest of the developers’ questions.
Day 2: Afternoon
The afternoon kicked off with a presentation by happytables41 founder Noel Tock, who talked about customizing the WordPress admin area42. I had a chance to speak with Noel about his presentation, his reasons for attending WordCamps and his advice for WordCamp n00bs.
As with Day 1, the presentations broke off into parallel sessions. Here’s a breakdown of what went on:
- Robert van Eekhout talked about “WordPress in Business43”;
- Coen Jacobs talked about version control44;
- Tom Hermans talked about responsive Web design45;
- Rogier Mostert talked about WordPress and Facebook46;
- I talked about writing documentation47;
- Remkus de Vries covered 10 things you don’t know about WordPress;
- Coen Jacobs completed his WordCamp hat trick by talking about custom post types48;
- Andrew Killen talked about performance optimization49;
- Joost de Valk, Daan Kortenback and Bjorn Wijers did a Q&A about plugin development;
- Bas va der Lans talked about WordPress for advertising agencies;
- Rogier Mostert completed his WordPress hat trick by talking about how to create a successful WordPress website50.
By the end of the day, we were all pretty exhausted from talking about WordPress for two days solid. But I still had time to grab Remkus de Vries51, organizer of WordCamp Netherlands, to ask him a few questions about running a WordCamp.
So, the weekend had come to an end, but a hardcore group remained in Utrecht and closed off the weekend in traditional style: with a steak called “The Challenge” and some liquid-nitrogen fondue:
Daan Kortenbach, Karim Osman, Andrew Nacin and Jon Cave dipping delicious things into liquid nitrogen.
What I Learned From WordCamp
I didn’t go to Utrecht just to hang out and eat liquid-nitrogen-dipped cake (as important as that was). WordCamp is about learning about WordPress and about making connections in the community. So, here are some things I learned from my trip to WordCamp Netherlands:
- The WordPress community is made up of people from extremely diverse backgrounds, all of whom coalesce around one thing: WordPress. I would not likely have met such diverse people in my day-to-day life.
- Some exciting things are coming for WordPress in the next year.
- Internationalization and localization should be essential parts of a WordPress developer’s workflow.
- WordPress people like to get behind a cause. There was a lot of talk of helping out Adoptr52.
- No matter how much time you spend chatting with the people you work with on Skype and Twitter, it’s nothing like meeting them and chatting face to face.
What Everyone Else Said
Below are links to a few of the other blog posts produced by people who attended WordCamp Netherlands in March. You should check out their experiences, too.
- Coen Jacobs does a recap of WordCamp Netherlands 201253.
- Paul Gibbs worries about getting hit by cyclists54.
- Tammie Lister shares her enjoyment of getting together with other BuddyPress folks55.
Organizing a WordCamp: Q&A With Zé
All of this talk of WordCamps might have inspired you to think about running one yourself. Running a successful WordCamp takes time, commitment and energy, as well as a good deal of cooperation from WordPress Central56.
Question: What does becoming a WordCamp organizer involve?
Zé: The first thing to realize is that organizing a WordCamp is an entirely voluntary effort, much like helping in the support forums or contributing to WordPress itself. Also, the most common misconception is that a single person can organize a WordCamp. It’s impossible, actually, and it takes a whole team, typically between five to ten people, preferably from the local community. That’s why the best way both to practice one’s organizing skills and to become aware of people who might be good teammates for organizing a WordCamp is to start by organizing meet-ups. The scope is smaller and thus makes for a perfect training ground, not to mention the fact that it builds a strong local community, which is always the first step towards a successful WordCamp.
Teams are approved by the WordPress Foundation, not only to guarantee inclusion and transparency, but also to give organizers a helping hand with any aspect of the event, including handling the money, thereby minimizing the risk (and headaches) for the WordCamp organizers.
Question: How would a potential organizer get started?
- Visit the “Should You Be an Organizer?59” section of the WordCamp website to make sure you understand the process.
- Submit your application online60.
- The Foundation will get back to you with an answer, either approving or denying your event, or recommending that you start your own meet-up group.
- Whatever happens, a dialogue will be started, which ensures the organizer has everything they need to start planning or to prepare a new application.
Question: What’s the worst thing a WordCamp organizer can do?
Zé: I’ll mention two:
- The single most misunderstood fact about WordCamps is that they’re not traditional events in the usual sense. We all go to conferences, workshops and seminars, most of them profit-driven or at least with a strong commercial aspect to them (as in showcasing vendors, for instance). This can be a difficult concept to communicate sometimes: WordCamps are gatherings of WordPress enthusiasts, and sponsoring them means an opportunity for companies to give back to the community. Organizers sometimes get caught up in the stress of organizing an event, especially as its date approaches, and sometimes will forget that companies pitching their products or services is completely against the spirit of WordPress’ GPL.
- We all want bigger and better events, of course, but it’s too easy to lose track of the fact that a WordCamp needn’t be a monumental event with hundreds of participants and with a budget of tens of thousands of dollars. It is not necessary to cover every WordPress-related subject on the planet or to fly in rock-star speakers, because the main benefit of the event, aside from the learning aspect, is building strong local communities.
Question: What’s the most important advice you give to WordCamp organizers?
Zé: It is my experience that you have to juggle a great number of variables when organizing a WordCamp, and sometimes it can be despairing. However, it is also my conviction that, given the peculiarities and strength of the WordPress community, you only need to ask for help. It’ll happen if you ask, very often from places and people who will surprise and delight you. Keep in mind that the Foundation can go a long way in supporting your event, and it’s always a good idea to err on the side of too much dialogue, rather than not enough.
Question: What can an organizer do to make sure a WordCamp runs smoothly?
- Be public and transparent.
- Gather a kick-ass team.
- Talk to the Foundation, often.
- Ask for help whenever you need it.
- Make back-up plans.
- Make back-up plans for the back-up plans.
- You’d be surprised at how the tiniest of details can jeopardize a great event.
- First and foremost, have fun. You’re part of the WordPress community—what can possibly go wrong?
- WordCamp Central61
- “What to Expect63”
- “Become an Organizer64”
- “WordCamp Planning: A Guide for Organizers65”
Posts about WordCamps:
- “WordCampNYC Finances (or, Ode to WordCamp Organizers)66,” Steve Bruner
- “Planning a WordCamp67,” Tony Perez (WordCamp San Diego’s organizer)
- “Developers, Users and WordCamp Tracks68,” Evan Solomon
- “Gaurav Singh on Organizing WordCamp Jabalpur 201169,” Devil’s Workshop
Have you attended a WordCamp? Or maybe you’re planning to go to one this year. We’d love to hear about your experience.
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