As conferences have moved online to fight the spread of Coronavirus WordCamp Santa Clarita was one of the early WordPress events to try this new format. Here are my thoughts on how I could have improved my session for a distributed audience.
Cooking Looks Easier On Television
I grew up watching a lot of cable TV. One of my favorite tropes is that chef toiling over a cutting board passing fresh ingredients into spotless glass bowls. Ten minutes later pulling a flawless meal out of an oven.
Everything scripted and budgeted for time. A distributed conference is actually a lot like those cooking shows. No audience just a conversation with a camera.
Give Yourself Plenty Of Time To Prepare
Back in 2017 Chris Lema shared his process with me for preparing one of his standout conference sessions.
No matter how small or big the talk he would be ready to present two weeks early and rehearse a few days before. At my best I’m ready a week before. However, after a few talks I’ve found the closer I apply his advice the better things go.
My Usual Process
Before I submit my proposal for consideration I narrow down possible topics. Usually something I could present with no preparation whatsoever with anyone.
Next, I draft the proposal from beginning to end. Being sure not to cover too much or not enough for the time slot.
After I’ve submitted a proposal and before its accepted I’ll gather additional research materials and start taking detailed notes. I flow it into a nearly complete draft and consider possible additions or items that may need to be removed.
Once I’m approved to speak I start refining the final script and build out a slideshow and have everything done 14 days prior.
Well, a remote conference is a lot different from speaking at a podium in front of a poorly lit slide projection.
I Should Have Ditched My Slide Presentation
A good slide presentation is always valuable but lets be honest…When’s the last time we’ve watched a Powerpoint for fun on social media?
If I had this talk again I’d take a queue from those cooking shows and prepare each step in advance and present them to the audience step by step.
I’d probably still start and end with a slide presentation but at each point I’d jump into my WordPress templates and build the code live. Then, when it breaks… and it will. Just pull a working example out of the oven.
When it comes to code watching someone make errors live is just as valuable as seeing it work perfectly. It gives our audience a rare look into our problem solving process and developer workflow.
Unfortunately the conference speakers all experienced at least a three minute delay with their audience. With no faces directly asking questions or responding in real time I missed an major opportunity in my talk… Where should we place the code? Yup, Its like I pulled bread out of an oven without mixing the ingredients together.
It wasn’t until the question and answer session that I realized I never mentioned WP_Query loops belong in a Child Theme’s template. If I were presenting the files live rather than slides the audience would have seen me open and close files moving content around and testing the results live! There would have been errors, it could have been glorious.
Don’t Panic! Success is in the oven, just off camera. 😉