Keeping WordCamps classy: A call for speaker reviews

WordCamp Los Angeles 2013

You've heard Ron Burgundy tell San Diego to stay classy. Fortunately, it's not something we have to do at WordCamps most of the time, because everyone naturally keeps WordCamps classy.

But that's not always the case.

WordCamp Los Angeles 2013

I just came back from WordCamp Los Angeles 2013, which was incredible. Amazing. Awesome. Spectacular. The first time organizers did an incredible job and it was so smooth and well put together that you wouldn't have known it was their first time.

In a case or two, my friends and I (see the photo above) sat back listening to a speaker who struggled to “get it.” By get it, I simply mean, they misunderstood what makes WordCamps so incredible.

It's not the speaker. It's not the topics. It's not the food. It's not the location.

What makes WordCamps so incredible is how much “giving back” happens.

It's the thread that holds everything from speakers and talks to genius bars to after parties together.

You see people give back when you see out of town guests fly in from far away (on their own dime) to share insights with the local community, or when you see locals share tips on what they've been learning. You can see it when people answer questions for hours – without renumeration. And you see it when people burn hours prepping a party, posting signs and handing out parking vouchers, all so others can have a great time.

These are volunteer events. For the community. By the community.

Speaker Guidelines

So as my friends and I sat back and listened to a presenter or two share more about themselves than their material, it got me wondering. How can we better protect WordCamps from this?

Already, we have some wonderful guidelines for organizers about selecting speakers.

  • Keep a mix of local and outside talent
  • Make sure everyone embraces GPL
  • Make sure they know their stuff

These are helpful and a great start. If you look on most speaker submission pages, like the one for the upcoming Orlando camp, you also see more text that gives these guidelines.

  • Your talk needs to be connected to the community. It can be front end, back end, blogging, freelance related, but it needs to be for the community.
  • You have to know how to spell WordPress (notice the capital P).
  • You have to be prepared (like have your slides done in advance).

Again, great foundations. But my favorite one is the one I'm most focused on today. Here's the text most of us use on WordCamp pages:

  • Your session is not primarily to promote your own theme, plugin or business. If your session is to detail how you used WordPress code to build some really great aspect of your theme, plugin or business, and you’d like to present that as a sort of case study, go ahead and submit your session, but know that we’re not going to allow for a sales pitch at any point.

If you're pitching, you're missing the point of what the event is all about.

Speaker Ratings

I'll admit that my first thought was that we should have a blacklist. If you get on it, you have to work hard to get off it. But more importantly, a central black list would protect all our events to make sure people who were pitching themselves would be ousted, once and for all.

After all, I once had someone ask me how I got on the “WordCamp Speaking Circuit,” as if something like that existed. I explained every event was local. There was no circuit. And while I've spoken at 9 events this year, the first two years I spoke at WordCamps, I only applied to those that were within 100 miles of my home.

When I explained that speaking was predominantly a localized event and that being invited other spots might take a few years to materialize, if at all, I heard the normal, “that's too long and too much work.” And that seems like a good enough bar to keep WordCamps classy.

But in a call with Andrea Middleton, she quickly highlighted all the ways that a national blacklist wouldn't be a great idea. She's one smart cookie.

The more we spoke, the more I came around to the idea of speaker ratings. It's a natural feedback loop, which is how a lot of what we do works.

A Call for Speaker Reviews


If we had a centralized place to capture speaker reviews for every session, at every camp, we could easily close the loop on speaker performances so that people who spend too much time talking about themselves will be noticed.

If we rate speakers on the overall experience, on their content, and their delivery, we can provide feedback that helps speakers get better – by going deeper or learning to deliver more effectively.

If we highlight was we loved, as well as what left us frustrated or confused us, we can help people adjust their topics and cover them more effectively.

Of course, Reaktiv Studios just released a plugin for ratings, so it might not be much work at all. But it would mean some work to get every camp and talk loaded into a system so that we could collect the feedback.

What do you think? You up for it?

Photo Credit to Adam Silver | Silver Lining Photography