New handbook page for WordCamp Organizers: WordCamp Speaker Selection (for content AND diversity)

This is a new page created by the #WPDiversity group for the WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. Handbook – WordCamp Speaker Selection

How you choose the speakers for your WordCamp matters!

WordCamps are a big part of community building. It is often a place where new members start to interact and actively take part in the project. Speaker representation will affect how attendees and future speakers feel about your event. If speakers or attendees feel outnumbered or not represented, they are less likely to engage with the event and less likely to return next year.

Choosing the speaker lineup for your WordCamp is a big deal. It’s one of the main attractions of the conference. It’s also one of the main elements that people will notice and comment on.

You have quite a few factors to consider when selecting your WordCamp speakers:

  • Interesting mix of topics that will make for an engaging and cohesive event
  • Topics and speakers that will draw a crowd and generate ticket sales
  • Percentage of local speakers vs out of town speakers
  • Ratio of male speakers vs women / non-binary / other genders
  • How the demographics of your region compare to those of your event’s speakers, organizers, and attendees. Ensuring you have a significant mix of different underrepresented groups: races, ethnicities, sexualities, physical abilities, neurological abilities, cultures, class, caste, countries, age, etc.
  • A balance of fresh, new voices vs seasoned speakers
  • Reflective of your WordCamp’s audience: Developers, designers, implementers, users, spoken languages, attendees from different regions, etc.

Read more about all of the considerations and the recommended method to select speakers:

Selecting Speakers based on name alone can cause unexpected problems

It’s important to have a speaker selection process that is inclusive and equitable.

When speakers are selected based on their names and reputation, this deprioritizes diversity and prevents the inclusion of new voices (people from well-represented and under-represented groups alike). This results in a lack of equity and opportunity for fresh, lesser-known speakers.

By repeatedly featuring familiar voices and perspectives, the events become repetitive and don’t offer fresh insights, engage the audience in new ways, or represent who is in the audience.

By embracing a diverse range of speakers (this will vary based on the demographics of your region) — including new and experienced speakers — WordCamps can offer a rich tapestry of ideas, expertise, and experiences, creating a dynamic and enriching event.

When attendees see people speaking with whom they identify, they tend to feel more included, inspired, and encouraged by the end of the event.

A fully blind selection process doesn’t get ideal results either!

What is a fully blind speaker selection process? The identities of the potential speakers are concealed throughout the evaluation and selection process. In this approach, the focus is primarily on titles and pitches/proposals.

With a fully blind selection process, diversity is not prioritized at all. When diversity is prioritized, organizers make specific choices to ensure that a lineup contains a diverse group of individuals. Blind selection removes that ability.

While you may think a blind selection is more fair, there are other biases that come into play with fully blind selection approach:

  • Seasoned speakers who have been doing the WordCamp circuit for a while already know how to write great pitches and will be more likely to be accepted to speak based on their pitch/proposal alone. People who are newer may not have pitches that are as well-written and will be less likely to be considered.
  • People for whom the language spoken at the WordCamp is not their first language, or who have a disability that affects how they write, will be unlikely to be considered. Their proposal may appear to the curators that they are coming from someone careless who is not taking the opportunity seriously, and may therefore be rejected on those grounds outright. However, how someone writes and how someone speaks are not equal, and these voices can bring enriching perspectives to the event.

Why Your Speaker Selection Process Matters

  • A mix of voices — experienced and new speakers, well-represented and under-represented, a mix of different identities and cultures — is a better, more interesting WordCamp!
  • Bringing in more underrepresented voices will make for an interesting topic lineup: 1. It can bring in completely new topics. 2. It can also bring in topics that have been done many times before, but from completely new perspectives. Even experts on the topic will be likely to learn something new.
  • Many people — both well-represented and under-represented — look to the diversity of the speaker lineup to decide if they will attend. Not having a diverse lineup can hurt ticket sales. 
  • When people see themselves represented on stage, they are more interested in attending. (Not all minorities are visible, but even invisible minorities can contribute to people feeling represented.) Higher attendance equals more ticket sales.
  • Who is represented on stage will impact your community. Want more diversity in your local community? Have more diversity on your stage!
  • Want more diversity in your MeetupMeetup Meetup groups are locally-organized groups that get together for face-to-face events on a regular basis (commonly once a month). Learn more about Meetups in our Meetup Organizer Handbook. and WordCamp’s leadership team? The people speaking on stage are more likely to be asked to become organizers and leaders, or may even step up themselves. The same holds true for those in the audience who feel represented by who is speaking on stage.
  • If the speaker lineup is not diverse, the community will notice and address the lack of inclusivity publicly
  • There shouldn’t need to be a reason. More diverse speaker lineups are just the right thing to do.

The recommended method to select speakers:

Before Speaker Selection Begins

  1. Read Building A Diverse Speaker Roster on how to generate more applications from people of underrepresented identities → a very important step!
  2. Plan to do the speaker selection as early as possible. People from underrepresented groups may need time to plan in advance for getting reimbursed for travel expenses by their employer or by a sponsor, or raising/saving the funds themselves. Also, a late confirmation that one has been selected as a speaker can also lead to some groups of people per se being discouraged from applying.
  3. Define your WordCamp’s attendee personas: developer, designer, implementer, user, spoken languages, attendees from different regions, etc.
  4. Define what numeric ratios you are aiming for each of your underrepresented groups in your speaker lineup. For example:
    • 50% women / non-binary / other genders speakers
    • 60% local speakers
    • 60% who speak _________ language
    • etc.
  5. If possible, assemble a diverse speaker outreach team. A diverse outreach team will help you reach more underrepresented networks as well help potential speaker applicants feel valued, and not feel as much like they are being tokenized.
  6. Workshop how outreach is phrased. Always begin with the value that the person can bring to the event — be it their skills or experience. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you are prioritizing diversity, and their presence will mean a lot to attendees like them. 
  7. Start speaker outreach as soon as applications are announced.This is an active process; you cannot wait for underrepresented speakers to reach out to you! Never ask an applicant to apply in a way that makes them think they will definitely be selected. Not being selected after thinking it is a certainty is even harder to take.

Speaker Selection Process

This method has several rounds. At least one “blind” round and at least one “with names” round. In this way, you can work on the joint goals of both content AND diversity.

Blind Round

  1. Remove names and companies from speaker submissions
  2. Rank the submissions
    • A suggested quick method:
      • Rank from 1 to 10 on whether each member of the speaker selection team likes the topic and abstract description. The goal is to see what talk submissions have the most universal interest.
    • A suggested multi-faceted method:
      • Relevance (1-5 Points): How relevant is the proposed topic to the WordPress community and the theme of the event? Is it something that attendees would be interested in and benefit from?
      • Originality (1-5 Points): Does the proposal present a unique perspective or fresh insight on the topic? Does it offer something new that hasn’t been covered at previous WordCamps?
      • Clarity (1-5 Points): Is the proposal clearly written and well-structured? Does it clearly explain what the speaker will talk about and what attendees will learn?
      • Speaker Knowledge (1-5 Points): Based on the proposal, does the speaker appear to have a strong understanding of the topic? Do they present well-researched points and sound arguments?
      • Engagement (1-5 Points): Does the proposal include elements that will engage the audience, such as interactive activities, real-world examples, or compelling storytelling?
      • Each proposal can be scored on these five criteria by multiple reviewers. The scores from all reviewers are then averaged to get a final score for each proposal. Proposals with the highest scores are selected for the next round of the selection process.
  3. Save a copy of this ranking

With Names Round

  1. Think about how the demographics of your region compare to those of your event’s speakers, organizers, and attendees. What underrepresented groups do you want to ensure are represented in your speaker lineup? (Examples: genders, races, ethnicities, sexualities, physical abilities, neurological abilities, cultures, class, caste, countries, age, spoken languages, attendees from different regions, etc.?)
  2. Do another round looking at the names and the companies of the speaker applicants
  3. Look at the program for diversity of all types:
    • Local vs out of town
    • New speakers vs seasoned speakers
    • Male speakers vs women / non-binary / other genders
    • Well-represented vs how you defined your under-represented voices in previous steps above

Final Rounds

  1. Ensure you have topics that interest all attendee personas, and that represent the community
  2. Review it again to see if you need to alter the content to achieve the joint goals of content and diversity

Keep reminding the team that everyone has something worth sharing. It is not the goal to have as many marquee names as possible. It’s okay to have some big names, but that is not the only priority. The goal is to make sure all voices are heard!

After the Speaker Selection Process

  1. Make sure that everyone has received an acceptance or rejection email before anyone in the speaker lineup is announced publicly. No one wants to hear the news online before getting the news privately first.
  1. If you had publicly announced in your speaker outreach process that you were actively seeking a diverse range of voices at your Camp, consider the negative effect on those from underrepresented groups who were not accepted. Therefore, when sending a rejection email, it is important to provide a clear explanation for the decision along with some encouraging words, such as:
    • We had many apply with this topic and we could only accept one. We would love to see you speak on this at our Meetup. (Then actually provide direct details and instructions on how to make that happen.)
    • This topic did not fit into our programming this year, but we loved it and hope that you apply again next year.
    • Your topic sounded great but it did not comply with the WordCamp guidelines re: (specify guidelines, such as no advertising).

      If an applicant who was rejected asks why, always make sure to respond and explain.
  2. When announcing the lineup to the public, make sure to distribute underrepresented speakers evenly throughout your serialized announcements. Placing them all at the end, even accidentally, can communicate a less accurate percentage toward the start of the announcements.

    Better yet, if you can, announce all of the speakers at once. If your lineup is not finished yet when the first announcement is set to go out, and the first announcement would not be a good representation of the diversity of the lineup, it is better to hold off on the first announcement.

    Publishing your full speaker lineup still allows you to do social announcements in thoughtful/even batches, but also is a transparent way to display your attention to diversity and inclusion.

Thank you to @juliarosia, @kcristiano, @katiejrichards, @simo70, @coachbirgit@nevma, @nukaga @martatorre, @nuriarai, and a few others for contributing to the handbook page!

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