Going The Extra Mile For Conference Speakers

Recently i had some conversations about how conferences treat their speakers and volunteers. Most of the people – who were either speakers themselves or organizers – agree that the vast majority of all the tech conference they’ve seen treat speakers well. Very few (out of the dozens i’ve attended, maybe one or two) may could have given speakers more attention – either because of inexperience or because of planning problems.

All conference organizers – whether they have paid for their speakers, covered their travel expenses, or (as in the case of community conferences) have had speakers volunteer – usually treat their speakers very well. But I’ve gathered some suggestions that might make them REALLY feel special – and it usually doesn’t cost much or anything at all.

  • Have a dedicated speaker coordinators during the event. Probably a no-brainer since you have someone BEFORE the event accepting applications and communicating with the speakers – but making their lives easier by having one (or sometimes two, if it’s a big conference) dedicated volunteers there to greet the speakers in the morning makes speakers feel right at home. Coordinators ensure that speakers speaking in the morning are there a little early (hopefully) and have whatever they need in terms of fuel (coffee, for example) or cords/equipment. Coordinators might want to give out their contact info to speakers prior to the event in case speakers get lost on the way or there’s an emergency (one WordCamp, we had someone stuck in traffic for the day so we needed to move talks around… another speaker vomited that morning so we had to get our backup speaker ready, etc.)
  • Don’t make speakers wait for food. I’ve been to many conferences where there are long lines for lunch or crowded seating areas. Usually attendees make due, but it wouldn’t cost anything to give speakers a heads up or a head start to get them early access before the lines or crowds start. We did this at one WordCamp and we got alot of thanks from the speakers (the lines were longer at that WordCamp, something we fixed the following year). Not all speakers will accept the invite, but it’s nice to know you’re thinking of them. It’s the least you could do, and i’ve appreciated it when i was given the courtesy.
  • Refreshments. Along the same line as the above suggestion, have some water bottles for attendees available. I usually place a supply in the speaker’s room, near the podium. Have the “Room MC” ensure that the speaker has a bottle of water if they want it
  • Giving speakers full information on speaker/VIP dinners. It’s not surprising for medium or larger conferences to have a dinner for the speakers and pay for it. Sometimes smaller conferences aren’t as lucky. Either way, it’s best to give all your speakers the complete scenario prior to them coming down. Not just if the cost is being covered, but what food is being served. Provide gulten-free, vegetation options, etc. if possible. Personally, I would avoid areas that might make some speakers feel uncomfortable (like certain bars and nightclubs).
  • Don’t be afraid to check with speakers on spelling of their names on conference programs, posters, and website. Yes, i’ve seen conference speaker’s names and titles spelled incorrectly. It happens. Proofread, but in the past some speakers have appreciated the input or the fact they are seeing their name on something that will be available in print at the event.
  • Emails. I personally have speakers on their OWN mailing list (MailChimp) so they get any announcements all at once – quickly and easily. Sending a “Thank You” follow up email (along with a link to ask them to fill out a survey about the experience and the event) is also a great way of showing your appreciation after the conference. I’ve been guilty of sending too many emails, so don’t overdo it.
  • Speaker Lounge or Area. Give speakers a quiet area prior to them speaking so they can get their thoughts together and make sure everything is in order (slides, etc.)
  • Internet. If you can, provide a private internet connection just for speakers so that the general public internet won’t interfere with their presentation. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but especially if you are at a college, university, or paid conference hall there’s a chance they can provide this.

Take these as only suggestions, but doing these things will lead to speakers feeling THAT much more appreciated.  Sometimes organizers are crazy trying to keep the conference going in an organized fashion, but the above tips don’t really take that much more time or cost.

Any easy or low-cost suggestions and reminders for organizers that could help them further show their appreciation to their speakers?

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WordCamp Miami 2015: Sessions & Tracks

We have a lot of new things, refinements, and classic traditions planned for WordCamp Miami 2015 on May 29-31st.

But what has me excited most is our changes to our sessions and our session tracks. We are making some minor refinements (“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”) in several key areas. In a few areas, we are hitting a reset button. For a couple of things we’re going to be trying something new and fresh – this is particularly true with a single track. Although this is going to be exciting for attendees, if you are planning to submit an application to speak at WordCamp Miami this year, you might want to give this a careful read.

(Please note that plans can change, with some details in flux due to venue and personal confirmations… and everything below is my viewpoints only and not representative of anyone else).

Quick Look At Session Highlights of 2014

Before we talk about 2015, I just wanted to mention some of my personal highlights of last year in terms of speakers and sessions.

-WordCamp Miami’s first-time podcast panel with the top podcasters represented: Dradcast, WordPress Weekly, WP Girlie Show, Apply Filters, and Matt Report.
Business of WordPress panel with Syed Balkhi, Cory Miller, Carl Hancock, and Karim Marucchi.
BuddyCamp Miami 2014
– 14 year old Anna Tuttle giving an awesome presentation on Saturday. Read her description about her experience.



“How To” Track

This year we will be adding a new format of a track we are calling “how to”. This track will be focused on users walking into the room and walking out in that same hour with actionable insights and knowledge. Although there will be abstract and motivational talks at WordCamp Miami, they really won’t be in this track. This track will focus on getting things done – a mini-workshop with step by step instructions… steps you can go home that night and do hopefully on your own. Experienced speakers will be hand selected and slides will be formatted in such a way where users can use them as a resource. Additional techniques and technologies will be used, and we will share with you more about this as we get closer to the event.

One session in this track, as an example, might be focused on installing and using “Google Analytics on your WordPress blog”. An attendee will walk into the room knowing almost nothing about analytics… and walking out with knowledge and materials to be able to install and use the basic settings of that plugin on their own (perhaps even going into another room and trying it right at the conference or heading toward the happiness bar if they need further assistance). Session topics will be deliberately small in scope, but just the right size so an attendee can leave WordCamp that day saying to themselves “I know now how to do X” with physical materials they can refer to (and being able to follow up on that knowledge with the local WordPress meetups).

It sounds simplistic and maybe obvious when it’s put into words like the above, but we can’t wait to show it in action. I’m describing it here for the benefit for those who might want to participate and submit speaker applications. Once we have things in place, there will be a few surprises that will make it more interactive and instructional for the attendees and speakers. You’ll just have to be there to find out what we REALLY have planned.



Developer Topics

WordCamp Miami has always had a developer track on it’s main day – but primarily presenting talks meant (more or less) for general developer audiences. Which makes sense – WordCamps tend to attract all kinds of developers with various levels of experience. Wouldn’t it be great for developers if they actually got into some deeper topics? How about more insight into PHP and other topics maybe not directly related to WordPress? We are going to make such pushes for developers this year. And we have some nice things in early planning that I think you’ll like.

What’s more important – we think Miami is ready for more serious developer talks and conferences. According to feedback from local meetups and other sources, more and more advanced topics are being desired (and less of the very early or beginning level topics).

If you are a developer, WordCamp Miami would love to see topics that you are passionate about even if it doesn’t pertain to a wide variety of developers. Expert topics wanted.

We are also looking for general PHP developers – not necessarily strict WordPress developers.

Hallway Tracks

We’ve decided to officially unofficially welcome networking/hallway tracks into WordCamp Miami. More on this soon, but don’t worry about applying for these with speaker applications.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 12.23.41

We Mean Business

Business talks will be back this year, but we will be aiming toward providing those in attendance with knowledge, slides, videos, documents, and links for many talks. Materials one can take home or to work the next day and start using. Think more “this is what you need and how you do it” format than anything else. Also, don’t think a schedule of random tracks… think more of this being a cohesive plan from beginning to end (you don’t want to miss any early sessions).

Kids: Workshops and Beyond

WordCamp Miami 2014's Workshop For Kids brought 30+ kids and one of the biggest highlights of the event.

Our WordCamp for Kids last year was a first for us and a HUGE success (read the highlights here). Except it back this year based on demand, but we are also bringing something else for young ones to WordCamp Miami 2015. One of our biggest goals at WCMIA is diversity – and diversity includes young ones. They are the next generation of bloggers, developers, and coders.

What we got planned currently is going to knock your socks off.

BuddyCamp Miami III

The third BuddyCamp Miami was announced already for May 29th – we couldn’t wait. We hope to have a solid speaker lineup this year. And to go along with our developer topics mention, it looks like this year’s BuddyCamp Miami might be more developer focused and have a more limited attendee maximum than previous years. We really don’t want people just to come and listen to talks, but actually CHAT with developers and contributors one-on-one to learn and improve their development and design skills with BuddyPress and bbPress. So speakers: be warned!

Speakers: Sign Up

I hope the above has gotten you a little bit excited (or at least curious) about what we are planning in May. To make any of this a success, we are going to need the help and support of a number of people – some experienced speakers, and others that will be speaking for the first time. If you have a desire to speak about ANY subject this year, please reach out to us. WordCamp Miami is a great environment for those wanting to speak at their first WordCamp.

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