A WordCampers Guide To Asking Questions At Conferences

Update: I updated this in December 2018. See below.

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 – that 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. But respect the fact that this isn’t about you – so one question might be all you should have at that time. 

Update: After WordCamp US 2018 I decided to add an additional section here more targeted toward organizers. Although the State of the Word was what I had in mind when adding the brief items, this can apply to any setup where questions are being asked to a speaker.

  1. Before questions are asked, the speaker or a volunteer should kindly remind the audience about keeping questions brief (sometimes even stating amount of seconds is good) and the amount of time in general there is for questions. Speakers should be reminding to repeat the question (helps confirm they understand the question, and great for video recordings or the live stream). Reminders are nice.
  2. Assuming there is a microphone involved: after someone asks their question either (1) the microphone should be given or handed back to a volunteer or (2) a volunteer should gently (but firmly) escort the asker away from the microphone. This more easily prevents askers from asking multiple questions and taking more time than would normally be allowed.
  3. A volunteer should be physically present to where the person is asking the question (for example next to the provided microphone). Before the asker speaks (or while the asker is waiting on the previous question to be answered) volunteers can give a quick reminder to the asker (or perhaps give them any last minute tips). Just like volunteers remind speakers about time, these volunteers can also remind askers to limit their time or “wrap it up”. Heck, even time cards might work here too.
  4. If there’s an insistent asker, the most polite way I can think of would be to ask them to continue with the question afterwards (most time a private room or the Happiness Bar is a good place, or even promising to replay to a Slack ping or email – whatever is best for the speaker).
  5. Explore the possibility of asking questions to be submitted in writing ahead of time, perhaps with the volunteer(s) reading them. This for me i’m lukewarm on because as a speaker I would connect better if i saw the person as they were asking (their body language, facial expresses, etc. is something i would appreciate). Plus it also brings up a “why didn’t get my question picked” scenario. Some questions during talks are submitted via an app and this can be explored (this covers also those watching on a live stream) – just make sure you make it fully accessible for anyone (even those without ability to use an app) to ask question.
  6. Remember that at the end of the day, most people are civil human beings. Sometimes people let the spotlight or the fact they are asking a “prominent” person a question in front of a large audience. They get nervous. Many nervous people talk alot (like I am right now). Reminders usually work in most situations. But in order to have as much diversity in the participation as possible, it’s important to have an orderly process. Someone asking a long question isn’t just disrespectful to the speaker but also to the audience and others who might want to ask a question.

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.

Special Folks And Highlights of WordCamp Miami 2015

We recently just announced our 8th WordCamp Miami, scheduled for February 19th-21st 2016. We moved the event back to earlier in the year (we kept sliding later and later into the year – and many people loved it before when they could escape their cold homes and come down to Florida).

I usually write a followup post about the previous WordCamps, but my summer schedule was slammed. I wanted to showcase some of the highlights from WordCamp Miami 2015 and also shine a light on people that helped out. I’m not talking about the wonderful organizers or volunteers (if i was, this article wouldn’t be talking about anyone else and it would be huge… every organizer and volunteer rocked WCMIA 2015 but for the sake of giving others a fair chance let’s go past that) but BESIDES THEM some people TRULY really stepped up. And that’s cool, because mostly it’s people that came from great distances. Also a note that it’s not just me highlighting events and people, but many of these were backed up by our post-event feedback.

Pie on Saturday

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Oh god… the pie. WordCamp Miami has always been known for it’s food but thanks to Justin Sainton we had a break on Saturday afternoon and the pies were there for the taking. Justin approached WCMIA with the idea – and the offer to pay for the majority of the sweet, sweet sugar containers.

The attention and the feedback afterwards rivals our traditional ice cream social – so that’s high praises right there.

So thanks to Justin for a great idea and (depending on how our budget goes this year) might be a standard of a new tradition.

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A highlight of WCMIA – according to our feedback – was not really an event itself but our badges. If you attended WordCamps before and attended WCMIA 2015 this year, you notice that the custom badges we had were different that we’ve had in years past. They were made of a material that you would commonly see in outdoor signage… it was actually was the result of quite a bit of experimentation from a local set of printers. They were practically indestructible and water proof.



All of our sponsors should be greatly thanked for their support of WordCamp Miami. ServerPress though came through in a way that wasn’t talked about in any official or public way. Leaving some details out – WCMIA had a last minute LARGE addition to it’s budget and if it wasn’t for ServerPress and Marc Benzakein it would have been more of a headache for the planning committee. ServerPress isn’t like those big huge companies that can throw out money for any sponsorships – and someone like me (a freelancer) can really appreciate that. So thanks to them and Marc. Also Marc was able to give a great presentation at our pre-WordCamp party on that Thursday night about how to get the most from WordCamps.

Speaker Cards

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Once again we got some great feedback about the WordCamp Miami speaker cards, a tradition we started back in 2013. They started off of as a way to encourage attendees to meet new people and network (prizes would depend on people having collected certain cards), but we have had people over the years treat them as business cards from the speakers too. For 2016, i’m hoping to see if there’s a way we can make this more interesting (suggestions are welcome – just ping me on Twitter).

Chris Lema / Crowd Favorite

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Chris Lema has always been a great supporter of WordCamp Miami, but credit to him for giving two presentations on that weekend. But even bigger thanks to Crowd Favorite (which Chris also works at) by being the primary sponsor for our Ice Cream social on Sunday – we even had a poll for the most popular ice cream flavors. This ice cream isn’t normal ice cream – it’s from Chill’n and is Nitrogen frozen cream… the website explains the process and what makes this superior to the stuff you buy in the store… but trust me in that it’s pretty much the Lexus (or BMW?) of ice creams. It’s gotten to the point where people ask us if we’re still doing our ice cream socials on Sunday when they purchase their tickets. I don’t think we’ll be doing anything different for Sunday treats anytime soon.

Biggest and Best Workshops Ever

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WordCamp Miami has been a three day event for some time, but we grew to a point where we had our first three workshop day on the Friday before the main weekend. Check the schedule to know about everyone involved. And while it’s somewhat unfair in my mind to call out specfic people – everyone was appreciated – but some of our longest supporters we also present and deserve a mention. Thanks to SiteGround for helping out with the beginner’s workshop and thanks to John James Jacoby for his always constant support of BuddyCamp. I’m also proud to say our front-end developers workshop had very high marks from our post-event feedback and was the first workshop to sell out.

Pre-WordCamp Festivities

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We also got good feedback from the approximately 100 people who managed to make it to Miami Ad School. While enjoying the food, half of us watched or participated in some soccer matches. We want to thank Miami Ad School for the space (for free!) and allowing us to make lots of noise.

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FIU (Our Venue)

It wouldn’t be a good list without mentioning FIU and the various people that worked with us. We had to quickly get our heads wrapped around a new venue like FIU, and we are working together now for a better experience in Feb 2016.


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As i feared, i always tend to leave people out so I wanted to quickly mention two people not officially part of the organization/volunteer collective that helped us out:

Michelle Schulp helped out with creating My Little Pony stickers (to my knowledge the first MLP stickers at a WordCamp). You can see a picture of the sticker on my wife’s badge above.

Pascal Depuhl is a local photographer, filmmaker and marketer. He also teaches photographers how to transition from still photography into shooting video. He had a WordCamp Miami “photo booth” setup at the event where many took advantage of allowing him to record and produce a brief video of them. It was impressive, and we are planning on bringing that back to the next WordCamp Miami in a bigger and better way.

Photos From WordCamp Tampa 2015

Be a Part of Something Bigger: Get Involved with WordPress

Here’s the slides from today’s talk at WordCamp Tampa.

Be a Part of Something Bigger: Get Involved with WordPress from David Bisset

WordCamp Miami Quilt

Andrea Rennick has been making quilts for me, and I had to show off the pictures here.

There are two quilts and i’m trying to decide what to do with them. One has the potential to be a grand prize of sorts during WordCamp Miami 2015.

Enjoy the photos. I know I did.