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Well, now that I have your attention, check out something we’re doing at our meetupMeetupMeetup 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. to broaden our speaker pool.
I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we’ve had a WordPress meetup since sometime in 2011. The coreCoreCore is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. organizers have pretty much stayed the same, but attendees have come and gone over the years. The size has stayed pretty consistent, varying from 4 or 5 people to 20-25 people in an evening, depending on the topic, etc.
The speakers tend to be the organizers, or one of several regular attenders. We ask people to speak, we work with them, and sometimes it works and they speak. Once.
To make a long story short, after a few years I got tired of hearing ourselves speak.
Then one week it was Brian Richards’ (@rzen) turn to talk, and it turned out he had to be on the road. So he recorded his talk, and I simply played it from my laptop to the giant TV in our venue. It worked flawlessly, though we couldn’t ask questions at the end. Brian even turned to his right and looked right at me sitting next to the TV to hand it off at the end, it was perfect.
That’s when I thought “Why can’t we have remote people do this over a live Hangout or something?”
Option 1: Live Remote Guests
I didn’t do much about it until some months later when we were talking about WordPress frameworks and WP Rig and someone said “Man, wouldn’t be cool if we could get someone like Morten Rand-Hendrickson to speak at our meetup?”. So I pulled out my phone, pinged Morten on LinkedIn and said “Hey man, would you be willing to do a short presentation about WP Rig for our meetup over Hangouts?” And he said “Why sure!”.
So, a couple weeks later Morten talked about WP Rig, all the way from Vancouver.
Then someone asked about Membership plugins, so I reached out to Jason Coleman from Paid Memberships Pro and Pippin Williamson from Restrict Content Pro. Pippin said “I don’t really run RCP anymore, you want Ashley Gibson”. So I contacted Ashley. Everyone involved said they’d love to take part.
Rather than spread the topic out over 2 weeks, I had Ashley and Jason on at the same time. It was a bit more of an interview than presentation, but great stuff was shared. I recorded it, and it’s on our YouTube channel. Check it out here:
Ashley is in the UK, and Jason is in Pennsylvania. I quickly realized that I never really had to feel stuck finding a speaker again. As long as I plan well, the entire global WordPress community is available to our meetup (more on that below). AccessibilityAccessibilityAccessibility (commonly shortened to a11y) refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accessibility) talks, technology talks, business talks, design talks, all right there for the asking. Of course some people will say no, but there are enough people in the WordPress world that SOMEONE will say yes to just about any topic.
Important: don’t just go after people who are well-known. There are plenty of people who are really excellent at what they do who aren’t “internet famous.” These people will almost certainly bring new perspectives and information that will be extra valuable and thought-provoking for your group, because they may not have published it before.
Here are some tips on how to make this work smoothly.
Try to stay booked 2 months out. This should be true whether you’re digital or not, people are more likely to be available if you ask before they’ve had time to fill up their calendar.
Place the speaker’s needs first. If they say no, say thank you and move on. If it’s REALLY important to you, explain that it’s important and ask if there’s anything you can do to make it easier or more comfortable. Sometimes they’ll say yes, sometimes no. Always walk away after that second no.
Once you have a speaker lined up, make it clear to attendees that the speaker will be remote or recorded.
Have the right tech stack in your venue. Projectors are great, but rarely have speakers. We use a giant TV with speakers built in, so we’re good. If you use a projector, get some computer speakers and plug them into the presentation laptop.
If you do more than a little talking to the presenter, try to get a microphone, you’ll sound WAY better. A catch is that the mic will also want to record the TV and you end up with double audio. See point 5.
Try to use real recording software. I use Screenflow. It gave me a video channel and two audio channels, one from the hangout and one from my mic. So even though my mic recorded the TV also I was able to clean it up with some tedious editing. If you’re SURE you can remember, you can turn your mic on and off when using and not using. I would forget, I’m sure if it.
Once it’s recorded and cleaned up, publish it! Put it on your meetup blog, or meetup.com. It could go on YouTube, or even WordPress.tv. It’s not just for WordCampWordCampWordCamps 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. talks, it for any valid WordPress teaching video. Now you’re not only getting the very best people in their field to talk to your local group, you’re adding to the global knowledge pool.
When You’re Ready To Speak
One of the purposes of a local meetup is to help people become more comfortable speaking in front of others, potentially so they could speak at a WordCamp. But what if you want to practice, and don’t live near a meetup? I have it on good authority that if you contact a meetup organizer and offer to speak at their meetup, they’ll say YES before you can finish your sentence. Generally.
If you live far from any meetup, contact a friend on the internet who goes to one and ask to be connected to the meetup organizer. They’ll vet you the same way they would anyone who wants to speak, but I promise you there will be no end of places you can do this.
If you need lots of practice, do it at multiple meetupsMeetupMeetup 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.. While I recommended recording above, most don’t, so the chances of someone getting tired of your message are really low.
Option 2: WordPress.tv Episodes
WordPress.tv is an under-rated treasure of the WordPress community. There are thousands of really excellent talks on hundreds of topics. Filtering through there can help you find people that you’ve never heard of delivering valuable information.
Here are some benefits of using WordPress.tv:
Avoid all the hazards of a live presentation: computer crashes, batteries dying, etc.
Scheduling with the speaker is not an issue
You already have permission to use the video
You can know exactly what will be covered
You can know exactly how long the talk will be
What about questions?
An advantage of a live talk is that the crowd can ask questions afterward. With a WordPress.tv talk you lose that benefit. One option is to do a hybrid. Let the speaker know you’re going to play their video, and ask if they’d be willing to be online at the end for questions, whether in video or even just SlackSlackSlack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform https://slack.com/. The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at https://make.wordpress.org/chat/..
We live in a digital world, where incredibly knowledgeable people are mere seconds away at any time. The WordPress community tends to be very giving as long as you don’t abuse it. If you’re finding yourself without a speaker, or need some variety in your speaker pool, reach beyond your local meetup and tap that potential. You may be surprised at how willing people are to help you.
Community Event Supporters, Program Supporters, and Program Managers are a team of people from all over the world who support WordPress community events. They mentor, review applications, interview lead organizers, and generally keep events moving.