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What’s Involved for a Speaker at a WordCamp Event

Mark Jaquith, Lorelle VanFossen and Aaron Brazell at WordCamp San FranciscoOne of the greatest honors in my professional life is being asked to speak or keynote at a WordCamp or related event. I speak at professional conferences all the time, but there is something precious and wonderful about a WordPress Community event. I love attending them as well as actively participating in them. I’ve helped many WordCamps move from a spark of an idea to a fully-fledged conference with hundreds of attendees, and I continue to support and encourage them in all forms.

I was asked recently to participate in a discussion on what is involved in bringing a speaker to a WordCamp, from the event’s perspective as well as the speakers. Here are the tips I have for both parties.

WordCamps from the Speaker’s Perspective

Presenting a program at WordCamp Israel 2007Attending a WordCamp as a contributor, present, sponsor, or keynote is a privilege in my mind. For me, it’s a chance to be a part of the crowd, to be around people who think like me and are passionate about something I’m passionate about. Unlike most of the other events I attend and speak at, a WordCamp is a reunion.

When you are asked to speak at a WordCamp, realize that you are one in hundreds of people they could have asked. It’s humbling and ego-inflating, but it is also a responsibility. You aren’t talking to people who have no clue what you are talking about. You will be facing people who probably know more than you, so your job will be to help them see it in a new way, to open their minds to the possibilities, to spark their enthusiasm, and tap into the passion. It’s a tough job, so if they come calling, don’t take it for granted. It’s a privilege.

It makes sense to consider asking for them to cover your expenses and ask for compensation but you can’t. It’s in the guidelines for WordCamps that speakers are not compensated. They can be reimbursed, but they cannot be paid directly.

What can they reimburse you for? WordCamps can offer to cover the exact costs of transportation and lodging in full or part. That’s it.

Let’s look at the ROI of speaking at a WordCamp to see if this offsets the benefits and costs.

Signing a WordCamp Dallas t-shirt as a gift to the City of FriscoThe costs associated with speaking at a WordCamp are the transportation, lodging, and hours spent traveling as well as preparing your presentation. Depending upon your presentation, there may be some added costs associated with that. Depending upon the location and costs associated with travel and lodging there, the total amount of direct expenses associated with speaking at a WordCamp could range from USD $300 to $1800 (traveling a great distance) and total 10 to 40 hours (prep and travel).

What are the benefits of speaking at a WordCamp?

  1. Sing to the Choir: You have an opportunity to connect with like minds.
  2. Job Opportunities: There are potential customers of all kinds at a WordCamp.
  3. Sponsor Connections: There are often some powerful sponsors you can connect with and get to know at a WordCamp.
  4. Find Developers: If you have a project, long term or short, the WordPress experts at a WordCamp are often open to new work.
  5. Learn More About WordPress: I know it’s a duh, but I often have to warn WordCamp speakers that they aren’t the only WordPress experts in the house.
  6. Learn More About the WordPress Community: There are more sides to the WordPress Community than many assume, both from within the company as well as from within the diverse web publishing culture of WordPress fans. This is the chance to get to see all the different faces and sides of WordPress and Automattic.
  7. Meet WordPress Core Developers: Knowing the people who push the buttons that make WordPress is exciting. It’s a chance to say thank you and also an opportunity to peek behind the curtain through their eyes.
  8. Meet with Other Potential Clients Outside of the Event: A good marketer and business person will make appointments to meet others outside of the event, taking advantage of being in proximity.
  9. Build Your Resume and Reputation: Speaking at a WordCamp is great for the resume but also good for increasing your visibility as a WordPress expert.
  10. Self-Promotion by Association: By promoting the event on your site and social media networks, you are enhancing your reputation by association. Many WordCamps feature some of the top experts in the world, and having your name next to theirs ain’t bad for business.
  11. Push Yourself: Because a WordCamp audience is an audience of experts, you can’t slack with your presentations. This is the time to push yourself to think up new ideas and concepts in how you present your material.
  12. Gives You a Chance to See a New Part of the World: We all dream of traveling and exploring new places, and a WordCamp is no exception. I usually plan a day before and/or after to see the local sights, often asking local WordPress fans to guide me, which is even more fun.
  13. Give Back: WordPress is free, and while the premium market is growing, never forget that the majority of the WordPress platform, Plugins, Themes, and code you use every day to keep your sites alive were built by people who gave of their time, money, and energy freely. How much is that worth? Consider participation in a WordCamp as a way to give back and say thank you.
WordCamp Portland 2008, taking over the streets of downtown Portland, Oregon, with the Fairy Blogmother

WordCamp Portland 2008, taking over the streets of downtown Portland, Oregon, with the Fairy Blogmother

How much is all this worth? Personally, thousands and thousands of dollars. In a two day conference, I get a year’s worth of learning about how WordPress works and how to push its limits, the type of lessons not found in traditional education. I connect with the experts and call them friends. There is no price I can put on that. Can you?

When agreeing to speak at a WordCamp, I ask them to cover my airfare and request that I stay with someone in their home and not in a hotel. This keeps me out of the hotels that I despise, lowers the costs, lowers the expenses of the WordCamp, and enhances my experience “with the locals.” If a hotel is required, I do ask that the costs of lodging be covered. I cover all other expenses, which can add up quickly with taxis and other transportation, food, wifi and Internet connections, and presentation expenses, not to mention the hours away from work that are lost. If the event is close enough to my home in the Pacific Northwest, I do not ask for any reimbursement and cover all the expenses. I think this is fair as I gain far more than the costs associated with the event.

Speakers from a WordCamp Perspective

When considering a speaker for your WordCamp, pull from your local pool first. The magic of a WordCamp is to get local people to show off their expertise and build network connections within your community. Long distance rock stars are great but when they are gone, they are gone. The locals are easier to connect with afterwards.

While I’m told repeatedly that no one will show unless you get a Matt Mullenweg, Lorelle VanFossen, Jane Wells, Mark Jaquith, or other WordPress rock stars, this isn’t true. WordCamps will fill up just because they are WordPress events if this is your first or second year. If it is your third or sixth year, then consider the rock stars to bring in new energy and participants.

If you bring in a local speaker, consider covering their lodging expenses if necessary for their convenience. Other than that, the rewards and benefits of their participation in the event will surely outweigh any form of compensation, which isn’t allowed anyway.

If you bring in a speaker from further afield, plan to cover their transportation and lodging costs. If possible, ask them if they would be willing to stay with someone rather than in a hotel to save money. Some will say yes, but others like the privacy of a hotel.

Meeting with sponsors at WordCamp IsraelIf you cannot find money in the budget directly, seek out sponsors for the individual speakers as many sponsors enjoy contributing at that more direct and personal level. This will help offset the costs of the speaker, too.

Add benefit to their attendance as a speaker, especially if the event is not covering all their costs, by making a point of introducing them to other key speakers, participants and sponsors. Plan a speakers and sponsors dinner or social time to give speakers one-on-one access to the key leaders of the event and further their networking opportunities.

Assign speakers to the WordPress Genius Lounge (not Genius Bar as that is trademarked by Apple) for specific hours and/or time immediately after their presentation so they are at a specific spot at a specific promoted time to answer questions and continue the conversation.

Keep speakers informed during the weeks leading up to the event with all the promotional information they need, updated schedules, lists of presentation equipment provided or required for them to supply, special events and activities associated with or related to the event during the time of their stay, information on local sightseeing and popular restaurants and social activities, and cultural and current event information that will help them connect with their audience if they are unfamiliar with the area.

Speakers will need someone to pick them up at the airport and deliver them to their lodging and the event. Assign one or more volunteers to the speakers to help them with transportation, food, guides, and other last minute requests and needs. They like it when they know which person to turn to if they do need help. Also, make sure you have asked them about any special needs such as accessibility, food restrictions, etc., so you can accommodate those needs in advance as much as possible.

WordCamp Netherlands with Liz Strauss, speakers dinnerSome WordCamps feel obliged to give the speakers a gift or two. This is not a requirement, and often appreciated by the speaker who has gone out of their way, often at great cost and time, to be there. However, choose a gift with some common sense. I’m often given bottles of local wine. I can’t take these on the plane and I don’t drink, so I end up giving it to someone at the hotel or another participant at the event, a bonus for them, a nuisance for me. Heavy items are also not welcome for those flying due to the growing restrictions on luggage. If you choose to give them something of weight like a coffee table book of the area, wine, or otherwise, volunteer to ship it to them so they don’t have to carry it on the plane. By the way, local sightseeing books and guides are always welcome mailed to the speaker before the event so they have some familiarity with the area before they arrive.

Remember that your speakers are your most powerful promotional tool for the event, this year and for upcoming years. They reach out to their audience to share their enjoyment of the event in addition to their presentation usually published on their site as well as on Facebook, WordPress.tv, SlideShare, and other social services. When the next event arises, they may help promote it, whether or not they attend. The better their experience, the more likely you are to get good exposure and coverage from them.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

6 Comments

  1. Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle
    Speaking to all those WordPress experts would be pretty daunting.
    You would certainly have to know your material.

    Congratulations on being asked to speak.

    • Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Thank you. I’ve been asked to speak at WordCamps since 2007, so I’ve been around the block a few times. :D You don’t have to just know your material, you have to present it in a way that is fresh and exciting for the audience as they are starting to become jaded. It’s a great honor, as I mentioned in the article, and very, very hard work that no one should take for granted.

  2. Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Hi L
    “…you have to present it in a way that is fresh and exciting…”

    I saw a presentation by Matt Cutts some time ago on why Google loves WordPress and I couldn’t believe how interesting he made it.

    He even made SEO sound exciting. LOL

  3. Adrian
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    I love wordpress! I look forward to attending one of your conferences.

  4. jessepetersen
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I got my first invite. Thanks for writing this excellent piece, Lorelle.

    • Posted April 4, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Excellent, Jesse! That’s fantastic and way past overdue! You are a web guru!


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