Speaker Travel for WordCamps

WordCamps are locally focused WordPress conferences that bring together local communities and celebrate the cool stuff they’ve done with WordPress in the last year. In many cases, it can be exciting to bring in visiting speakers from out of town to shake things up.

Speaking at a WordCamp is considered a volunteer contribution to the WordPress project, just like submitting a patch to core, answering questions in the support forums, or organizing a meetup (or a WordCamp!), as evidenced by the icons on WordPress.org profiles. Just as developers donate hours of time they could have been billing clients instead of writing patches for core or working in the support forums, if someone chooses to travel to speak at a WordCamp, the expectation is that they’ll cover their own expenses.

In such situations, there are more cost-effective means to involve remote speakers in events. Many WordCamps have used Skype and Google hangouts to include out-of-town speakers without incurring travel costs if they don’t have a local expert to speak on a topic the community really wants to hear about.

For many WordPress professionals, traveling to speak at a conference is a legitimate business expense, and presenting at a WordCamp can raise the speaker’s profile in the community and promote their business. Events like SXSW, DrupalCon, and Open Source Bridge do not cover speaker travel, and following those examples has seemed to serve WordCamps quite well.

WordCamps are locally-focused, so there’s an inherent disconnect between paying for people from out of town to speak at a WordCamp and that emphasis on local community. Local experts are assets to their communities all year round, whereas visiting speakers don’t typically serve as ongoing resources once they have returned to their home cities.

We have experimented this year at WordCamp SF with a program that will provide travel assistance to more than 50 contributors and attendees so they can participate in the event, with assistance based on a combination of involvement in the WordPress project and financial need. Once we assess the results of this experiment, we hope we can work out a program to help overcome financial barriers to participation in WordCamps. That said, a WordCamp’s primary focus is on connecting local community and lifting up local experts, rather than blowing our budgets on flying people around the world when technology can get them there so much faster.

If you have a suggestion that will further the conversation on this topic, please share your thoughts in the comments. I will plan to discuss this issue with contributors at the WordPress community summit at the end of October; that discussion will include WordCamp and meetup organizers from around the world as well as data from the travel assistance program.