For speakers, see the companion post, 10 tips for making the most of your WordCamp speaking opportunity. You may find some of the tips for attendees here to be helpful in your preparation.
You’re planning to attend WordCamp Toronto this year, have a ticket and now you’re thinking that a bit of preparation would be a good idea. Congratulations! You’re going to get a lot more out of the event with that in mind.
Even if you have attended a WordCamp, most of us just show up and wing it. Don’t. You’ve started to think about it so here are some tips from my experience at tech gatherings for OS launches to product introductions to user conferences such as WordCamp.
The first tip is to state the obvious. The more time spent reviewing and evaluating session choices and getting organized for WordCamp, the better the experience and more useful the content will be for you. Admittedly, speakers vary widely in the quality of their presentation descriptions. The casual nature of the event means that the schedule and descriptions are useful but only to a modest extent. The experience and reputation of speakers is more valuable intel but costly in terms of the effort to research the speakers and their topics. Having said that, it is a good place to start.
Broadly speaking, the speakers from established WordPress shops and agencies are the safer picks. They have more at stake, are more professional in approach and have more experience from which to draw. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that they’re the best speakers. Not by a long shot. And remember, your mileage may vary.
At most conferences and most definitely at WordCamp’s, there are popular speakers that you really want to see and hear. Listen to the gossip onsite, ask people who they like and trust your instincts.
In the same vein, there are those opportunities where the topic is less important than the speaker. These are the people whose ideas and opinions are insightful and their presentations entertaining. They can make the event come alive for you if you can identify them and work them into your session schedule.
Sometimes, you just follow the crowd to find a really good speaker.
Let’s assume that you’ve made a plan and some provision for late choices and hot speakers. You’re in a session. What’s next?
One thing is essential to understand and appreciate. Knowledge you don’t document and then apply is knowledge quickly and, usually, irretrievably lost. Make notes. When you get home, work on those notes. Get the decks. Try out the ideas, techniques and so on. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Sure, you may be scoping out something and casual prep without notes is OK but don’t expect more than an interesting and, perhaps, even stimulating session. In 2 weeks, 90% will be gone.
I’m obsessive about making notes. Not only does it make the knowledge far more likely to be applied, I believe I understand it better because I’ve organized it on the fly. I annotate the content as I document it and, during the slower or less interesting parts, check out ideas, products and companies and note what I find. This is part of a methodology of work that I’ve developed over a number of years and professions and not just something I do at conferences like WordCamp.
Find what level of note-taking suits you but take some notes if only to see if doing so enhances both the value and enjoyment of the experience.
(I acknowledge that recent research has suggested that digital notetaking by students doesn’t necessarily enhance the learning process. I think that taking notes robotically is of limited value—perhaps even counter-productive.)
I’ll conclude these tips with a few comments on the people who make WordCamp such a wonderful opportunity and experience.
Most speakers are willing to answer questions in email after the weekend if there wasn’t an opportunity to ask during or at the end of a presentation.
The more thoughtful your question, the more responsive the answer tends to be.
When you ask a question, it makes a big difference if you provide the speaker with the context; namely, how the issue or problem arose and what you tried to do.
Asking a question during a presentation is usually OK. If it isn’t, you’ll find out quickly. The more experienced the speaker, the more likely your question will be answered without affecting the flow of the presentation. The best speakers treat good in-session questions as a form of instant feedback and respond appropriately.
If you thought presentation was worthwhile, a tweet is a nice way to say thank you and can yield unexpected dividends—try it and see.
Finally, don’t forget the WordCamp organizers. It’s a lot of work largely unseen and unheralded. They’re essential to the success of WordCamp and its amazing that they do this.
Yes, I’m one of the organizers and refer here to my colleagues who have made more significant contributions than mine.