A WordCampers Guide To Asking Questions At Conferences

It’s that season again. In a month, a large number of WordPress folks will migrate to WordCamp US (being held this year in Nashville). and other events (i’ll be attending WordCamp Orlando in early November for example). So I thought it would be a timely reminder of how to ask questions at a WordCamp.

There are two times questions are asked at a WordCamp that i’m particularly focused on: (1) at the end of a talk, before the speaker leaves the scheduled time off stage and (2) During the “State of the Word” at WordCamp US where Matt Mullenweg typically takes questions from the audience. This advice applies to both, might apply to other times, some might not be applicable for other situations.

  1. Keep it short. I think this is the #1 rule, regardless what you do. Most questions do NOT require a complex backstory or history… and if they do, then being live in front of an audience with only a few minutes left for questions isn’t the time to ask perhaps. What i find to be effective many times: Ask a question that might get you close to an answer (or pick something easy to respond to) and THEN you can ask the speaker if you send them a longer version in printed form. Maybe. But keep your question short if nothing else then to be considerate of other people’s time.
  2. Prepare in advance. I think some of the more awkward questions are from people that think of questions on the spot. Which is fine, but not everyone can do this. Put your refined question on a card Рthat would allow you to be as articulate as possible.
  3. Don’t make it about you. Ask the question in a way others listening can benefit. You’ve heard this before: someone asks a question that there’s no way any other person (at least in the room) would have that same exact problem. Some go as far as basically asking for tech support in their “question”. Stop yourself and ask – can i ask this after the talk or at another time?
  4. I’ve seen people try to fit in as much questions as they can (“my second question is…. my follow up question is….”). Sometimes this is logical, other times it looks selfish to be honest. Speakers and others asking for questions are most times expecting ONE question per speaker. Sometimes that’s all they can focus on honestly.
  5. Allow others to ask a question. If nobody else has questions and there’s time, then perhaps ask your additional one.

I care deeply about audience participation during WordCamps. But there are some respectful and logical boundaries.

I would highly encourage WordCamps to adopt the practice of having the speaker be available in a location (such as the happiness bar or a private room) to answer additional, perhaps more private questions where the person asking has the opportunity to ask a little longer, more personal question.

David Bisset

David is a full-time freelancer who specializes in WordPress (and BuddyPress) for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. Organizer of WordCamp Miami for 5+ years.