How NOT to network at a WordCamp (or anywhere for that matter)

I recently visited WordCamp Nashik. Since I was on a panel discussion, I got a ID card with “SPEAKER” written on it. All this is fancy nonsense but that’s how it is at most conferences I guess.

On reaching the venue, I ran into Kapil Gonge, an old friend from where I previously worked. He was one of the co-founders of rtCamp, a place where I was introduced to WordPress. He moved along  a few years ago and started his own design and branding agency called PugMarker. I too moved along and joined some friends doing WordPress stuff.

We had planned to meet in Pune a few times but that never materialised and strangely, the both of us, who are now residents of Pune ended up meeting in Nashik.

In the morning, I was feeling a bit under the weather and Kapil had some fruits in his parked scooter. We walked along talking about life, open-source and in general everything that makes a conversation fun but usually very hard to remember after they end.

Watching us was someone who I think was drinking a beverage. He walked upto us and introduced himself. He looked up my ID badge that read “Speaker” and I suspect, that led him to start a conversation with us, because he opened with “Oh, so you are speaking here!”

Now, wait – until this moment, this is exactly how you should introduce yourself at a WordCamp to strangers. Say “Hi”, shake their hands, introduce yourself with your name and ask about the other person. I have had hundreds of such conversations and many people I met in this fashion at WordCamps are now very good friends.

But the man with the beverage did not stop introducing himself. He dropped few names, he dropped hints about how much money he makes, probably desperate for us to think of him in some reverential manner. The problem was my friend Kapil and I, love open-source for it’s irreverent nature. So this one sided conversation was not going anywhere.

But the man with the beverage never stopped. He continued talking about his businesses, trying to impress two guys who were quickly regretting they had chosen to take a break in the parking area.

Kapil and I exchanged knowing glances and tried to interject into this monologue of self promotion unsuccessfully a couple of times. Then I started to just counter him for the sake of it and made some sarcastic joke or two, thinking maybe he will find us not worthy of his time and leave.

No, luck! :-/

But finally, his attention moved to Kapil. He asked him what he did and as Kapil answered, he interrupted. Kapil then added about his work, that he helps people out with marketing, branding and design but speaks a lot less. I think Kapil was LOLing inside a lot while saying that.

Beverage guy refused to take the hint and suggested Kapil would never make money! Okay, that was enough – Kapil and I just walked away, not really bothering to continue the conversation or even wishing to keep up the pretence of coming across as polite.

Both of us were chuckling about the character we had just ran into.

All day we spent avoiding him and watching with a smile when others interacted with him and walked away dazed. Most of them with that look that say “What did I get myself into?”

I am not sure who this person was or what he was trying to do! Maybe he got bad advice, maybe he was having a bad day.

But it was a classic case of how NOT to introduce yourself at a WordCamp.

Talking involves listening

A lot of self-marketing literature will focus on things like elevator pitch and selling yourself. Honestly, if you want to pitch yourself, ideally do not come to WordCamps. Such conferences have other developers and designers around not venture capitalists or angel investors. Save your pitch for people who have money to invest, not who are making money as freelancers or run small businesses around web development.

So what works at WordCamps?

Talking works. But talking also means listening or letting the other person talk. Most open-source enthusiasts I have met usually feel more confident talking about their work than about themselves.

So ask about their work.

Some Do’s

  1. Introduce yourself in a single sentence – a more than one sentence introduction is usually a pitch. Something simple as “Hi, I am <yourname>, I design websites, what do you do?” is perfectly fine.
  2. Ask about their work. If someone replies I design websites or I code plugins, ask them about their products or their favourite themes.
  3. If you are new to WordPress and talking to someone who has worked on it for many years, do ask “How do I go about being an expert at WordPress?” – trust me, you will get a lot more helpful advice and many fruitful discussions by simple asking how to go about things rather than second guessing or dropping hints.

Finally

What ever you do, never tell someone how much money you make or that you make more money than the person you are speaking with. You are almost always are going to come across as an absolute jerk!

See you around at a WordCamp soon! (hint 🙂 )

Image Credits

Want more?

Get my latest blog posts in your inbox as soon as I hit publish.

Fear of public speaking and WordCamp Bhopal

A couple of days ago, the WordPress community in Bhopal conducted its first ever WordCamp.

This WordCamp was organised by students and mostly from LNCT Bhopal. It was a short one day event and I came across some very hardworking and enthusiastic students who were exploring WordPress.

Saurabh and I  visited from Yapapaya. We both had a lot of useful and interesting interactions with several students.

For me, WordCamp Bhopal was special because it was the first time I stood on a stage solo and spoke. The previous time was WordCamp Pune but it was mainly as a moderator and I think I managed to be just about passable there.

The Fear, the shyness!

I suffer from extreme anxiety when it comes to speaking in public. So say there are more than two or three people in a room, I tend to clam up and not be very talkative or expressive for that matter. It takes me a long time to get comfortable and I suffer from extreme shyness which makes me simply prefer to not speak out or speak up in some cases.

I have a very strong case of anxiety and stress when I have to speak in front of people. I remember from childhood, I would dread being made to try out for elocution competitions, I would dread poetry recitations often to the point of becoming physically sick.

I would not be able to think clearly, nor collect my thoughts most times, and usually it ended up with disaster and the disinterested teacher marking me out as student not to spend too much time over.

I always loved to write and I felt more comfortable laying out my thoughts on paper or on a screen later. This fear of speaking in public is a constant companion, and pretty ironic when you think of it – because much of my career is about interacting with communities.

I thought that was how it would be all my life, and then I took a dive.

The Dive

WordCamp Bhopal was announced and the organisers were looking for a speaker. Since I had spoken to the organisers a few times, I knew there would be many students attending. Students still having doubts and possibly looking for ideas about their career choices. I felt “Why Choose a career in open-source?” would be a decent topic in this scenario. I applied as a speaker and got approved.

Thanks to the WordPress community, I have learned to speak out and speak up in public bit by bit. In a moment of confidence I applied. Then I sat contemplating what I had got myself into.

WordCamp in Bhopal

On WordCamp Bhopal day, I prepared well. My fellow travellers from Yapapaya, Ganesh and Saurabh helped with expert advice, tips and design magic. My slides were minimalistic and I knew I wanted to keep things simple and easy to execute. I knew what I had to say. I prepared over and over again but I was still stuck on having a good opening.

I knew that when I was nervous and froze on stage – it was usually following a bad start. If I started well, managed to keep calm for the first few minutes, I would feel less anxious and I could breathe a bit easier and basically manage to speak without sounding like Mr. Monosyllable.

Back in Bhopal, on reaching the venue early morning, I had an auspicious sighting of the [ya] papaya tree, that was outside the guest house of the college campus.

The event began with registrations and some familiar faces to me from Mumbai and Pune squatted on some stairs waiting for things to begin. The second from left with the white t-shirt is Vachan Kudmule.

A few almost by now mandatory delays to every WordCamp the event started. Then there was a nasty technical difficulty that had cropped up. The venue’s projector was not working.  I am sure the organisers were very anxious.

But the Batman in disguise, Vachan Kudmule had magically produced a backup projector from his utility belt. Jokes apart for Vachan to carry a projector when he was not even going to speak, shows he is insanely thoughtful.

Soon my session was up. I almost started to feel sick by then. I busily looked at my notes on my phone all the while, trying to tune out everything. Then I looked around and saw some in the audience a bit uninterested. I think many were hungry as things were delayed and by the time I was to talk it was lunch time.

I walked onto the stage, heart pounding. Alexander Gounder threw me a stress ball so I would keep calm. I walked up the steps to the stage and threw the ball back to Alex. All this was not planned and completely non-sensical.
I looked again at all the slightly bored and hungry faces. All those faces row after row.

I suddenly realised I was not as nervous as I had imagined. I was not feeling giddy or sick. Just my hands had gone cold and I was almost shivering. You’ll be fine I told myself and asked the crowd “Every one who is present at WordCamp Bhopal stand up”

Everyone did. I followed up with questions like “Who is still a student here?” and “Who is below the age of 25?” – I asked them to stand up each time instead of raising their hands.

Then I blurted, “Wow, I had never felt so powerful before.”

There was a bit of laughter going around the audience. For once they were not laughing at me, they were laughing at my silly introduction.

The rest flowed a lot more naturally. I asked questions during my talk, I got some applause too and at the end a few questions were posed to me. When I walked off, I thought I might have done okay.

But few people said, I had done a pretty decent job. I was suddenly feeling very bashful and confident.

The fear has been conquered. I have made a lot of progress since I have been involved with WordPress communities and this seemed about right.

I even put on hat after a while and posed like a thug. I am still walking around with a bit of swagger. And I have WordCamp Bhopal to thank for that. 🙂

My Slides

My slides are pretty useless by themselves as much of the content in them are single sentences.

Here is a list of some folks who were attended WordCamp Bhopal and blogged about it.

WordCamp Pune and withdrawal symptoms!

WordCamp Pune is done! I am having withdrawal symptoms. I would love to write a lot of things about WordCamp Pune but it would be fair to say, that since it took place last weekend, I am still high on #WCPune koolaid.

This is not a WordCamp critique. I am not writing about awesome sessions. I am not writing about what a WordCamp should be or not be about.

I am writing a good snapshot of my experiences at this WordCamp. So someday I can go back and read through the entire two-three days of magic that is called WordCamps.

WordCamp for me started a week before. I work remotely from Mumbai for rtCamp which is based in Pune. So I planned a full week in Pune that would end with WordCamp. Glad I did that!

A lot of the volunteers, organisers and even speakers were good friends of mine. I was a speaker at this WordCamp too. So as we came closer to the weekend, I was filled with excitement. An example of that is the tweet below.

Friday

I had been talking to Mahangu Weerasinghe from Automattic for a while on Twitter and at times exchanged emails about work culture, FOSS culture and culture of South Asia in general.

He was part of the Automattic team who flew down (should I say up since he flew northwards into India?) to Pune for the WordCamp. Mahangu along with Jeremy Herve and Aminul Sajib (Aminul is shy and quite, but writes really well at this blog) visited our office on Friday.

While they visited rtCamp, I think Jeremy might have been most amused with the local culture and customs. He was game enough to try out new food and ended up eating Pithla- Bhakari for lunch.

Automatticians_at_rtCamp

After somemore chat about work culture and ISPs in India, Automatticians left rtCamp (hopefully with fond memories) to co-work at their hotel.

Foundation Day (Saturday)

I left on time, well I could have left earlier but I thought maybe being a Saturday there would not be too much traffic. Was I right?

No I was not!

I reached ThoughtWorks office where the Foundation Day for WordCamp Pune was being conducted! These were mainly workshops for people new to WordPress but people not new to WordPress would also enjoy.

I must say the ThoughtWorks guys are really cool. I found their entire staff polite, thoughtful and friendly. This I encountered with everyone from their security guards to the folks who were co-ordinating with WordCamp organisers.

Here is tweet by Praveen (from Woo and now Automattic) at ThoughtWorks office.

After a few sessions of WordPress fun in the morning, Mahangu asked where we could see some interesting places around. I recommended Aga Khan Palace. Actually, I recommended the palace for two reasons.

One. Mahatma Gandhi was under house arrest at Aga Khan Palace and his wife died while they were held at the palace. His secretary too died in Pune.

It would be easy for anyone to relate to Gandhi’s history as just about everyone in the world knows about Mahatma Gandhi.

Two. Because I too wanted to visit this place for a long time. I had gone there as a kid but did not really remember much.

Luckily, the place was nearby and Mahangu and Jeremy were hopefully happy to have visited Aga Khan Palace along with me. I added some historical context to some things for Mahangu and Jeremy.

One funny yet slightly embarrassing incident at Aga Khan Palace was that the tickets are priced differently for Indians and non-Indians. I knew this was an Indian tradition for sorts at tourist places. Mahangu hinted that it is often the same in Sri Lanka. I joked to them that they charge more to non-Indians as part a colonisation tax.

That said, it was very humbling to visit this place and walk the same hallways through which Mahatma Gandhi and many other luminaries of the freedom struggle did. Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba died at the Aga Khan Palace and it has her Samadhi. Samadhi is a sort of a memorial. It was simple, peaceful and sober just like it should have been.

The trip to Aga Khan palace was something I was happy to do. I am not sure how much it added to the experience of Pune for Mahangu and Jeremy, but I hope it did a little bit atleast.

Hidden Place found!

After the history tour of sorts, we made our way back to the Hotel where Mahangu and Jeremy were staying. Aminul and Rahul joined us at the Hotel and we made our way to a nearby pub. It was happy hours (I think!) and the five of us had Brun-Kheema and Beer! This pub is called the “Hidden Place”. Aminul has some interesting things to say about finding the Hidden place.

After some beer and some more – Rahul and I headed back to rtCamp office and did some work. Actually he worked, I caught up with some emails. Then in the evening we went shopping with Topher DeRossia.

He is of HeroPress fame. Topher was extremely humble about the fact that the HeroPress community had sent him all the way to Pune. I think he as bit shy and a little overwhelmed with his first trip to India. Actually later I found out that it was his first trip outside North America.

Topher was wonderful and very accessible to every single person who approached him and asked him about WordPress. He is deeply respectful of the community he represents and is perfect as the curator of HeroPress (he did tell me that he never edits or curates an essay!)

I was invited for the speaker dinner as I was part of a panel discussion that was planned. I met far too many cool people at the dinner to list them down here one by one.

A lot of us were actually very tired by the end of it. I met Saurabh Shukla who was clearly tired and devoid of sleep. He mentioned he was very nervous and excited about the next day (actually something in Hindi which I cannot re-print here). I could relate very well to what he exactly meant. 🙂

WordCamp Day!

Sunday arrived and I quickly travelled around 8 am to Modern College which was the venue for WordCamp Pune. As rtCamp were sponsors, I got busy with some colleagues setting up our sponsor table.

The sponsor tables outside the auditorium were an awesome hit. Many walked upto these sponsors and started discussions, conversations which were a great deal of fun.

It is always a great privilege to talk to people about your work, about open-source and WordPress by extension (something I will write more about towards the end of this post). 

Mumbai Express

I met familiar faces from Mumbai. Alex who has been lead organiser of WordCamp Mumbai for two years, Sanat who is now the lead organiser for 2016, Vachan, Sahil, Raj, Thomson, Ajay and others. All of us should really have posed for a photo but I guess we did not take one. 🙁

Though at the selfie booth Alex and I got ourselves some new headgear.

I won’t talk about WordCamp Pune’s multi-tracks. It can be confusing sometime and some good natured fun was had at the overlapping sessions.

Organisers

The organisers were fantastic. Some of them were my colleagues and ex-colleagues. Some I did not know as well before WordCamp. Organisers like Sheeba, Premanshu, Ganesh and countless other volunteers were simply awesome. The numbers overwhelmed them a bit but they kept slogging at it with a smile and always making everyone feel very welcomed.

Remember these are people whose jobs are NOT to organise events, they are doing this often for the first time in their lives and often it’s thankless work.

I am glad that some of us who volunteered in Mumbai saw some stress points and joined in moving stuff and microphones around at times without being asked or waiting to be asked.

This is how it should be at a WordCamps. When you see a hassled organiser (belive me all of them are ) ask them if you can help out with something, direct traffic in certain directions, or just help move stuff from one place to another.

So thanks again all of you guys who made WordCamp Pune possible.

I spoke

I am incredibly shy as a person. I am very inward looking and don’t really like standing on a soapbox except when I am blogging I guess. But thanks to Saurabh Shukla, who suggested I moderate a panel discussion, I ended up speaking with a microphone in front of thousands of people. No, in reality there were just over over 150 but it felt like thousands :-D.

I overcame my fear of public speaking a big deal. That was enough of a personal takeaway for me. Thank you for this Saurabh!

Privilege!

I am privileged to work with a company like rtCamp and work in the WordPress ecosystem. I am not really the best geek around or the best mind around for that matter at these places. I have been lucky at times to be in the right place at the right time and with the right people. Much of it is just plain dumb luck.

So really talking about how products are built, services function, talking about career options to students and just out of college kids is really nothing short of a great privilege. Also every conversation has the potential to teach you something new if you really open yourself to it.

After party and back home!

I had a great time catching up with the organisers again at the after-party. There was drinking and merriment and posing for photos all over. Early on Monday morning, I travelled back to Mumbai with Sanat and Sahil.

Now I am having WordCamp withdrawal symptoms. This happens every time there is a WordCamp but I am happy in the knowledge that I will be part of another one soon in Mumbai.

More power to WordCamps!

WordCamp Season in Mumbai

Are you a WordPress user, fan, enthusiast, developer, designer? Are you interested in finding out more about WordPress in general?

Do you want to meet WordPress experts from around the world, around India and most importantly Mumbai?

If you are find saying “yes” to any of the questions above you might want to check out WordCamp Mumbai 2015 that takes place on March 7 & 8, 2015.

Yes I am a co-organiser at WordCamp.

Check these links out:

Speakers | Schedule | Buy Ticket

What is a WordCamp?

WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress.

What I took away as Organizer of WordCamp Mumbai 2014!

Last weekend was a culmination of months of preparation for WordCamp Mumbai. There were days when I was was extremely sure of it’s success and there were certain days, I had tremendous doubts on my ability more than anyone else.

WCMUMBAI_MUGS

How did the event go?

I loved organizing this event. I kept asking many people around if they were having a good time and enjoying the sessions. Most said incredibly nice things but by no means am I going to fall into the trap of thinking this was the perfect WordCamp. They were probably being polite and real feedback will soon start trickling in.

How WordCamp Mumbai was as an event? The best to answer that question, would be people who attended as participants, speakers and even sponsors.

As an organizer I am too close to it to be rational enough. Maybe 6 months down the line I could be more objective- hence I won’t get into rating the WordCamp sessions, events anytime soon.

But I certainly learnt a lot of things with this WordCamp and here are my takeaways.

  • Prepare like crazy! – First thing I take away is that one has to prepare for everything. Take your time and make plans and prepare for all eventualities.
  • Things will go wrong! – However much you prepare, it won’t be enough. Things will go wrong! (Hint: Crowding at registration)
  • And some more things will go wrong! –  (Hint: WiFi)
  • A lot of things do go right! – And finally things do end up going right too. Sometimes its important to just keep calm and carry on. 😛

Getting rid of Organizer’s Ego

Every organizer because of the amount of efforts they put into a WordCamp tends to feel a certain amount of ownership over the event. Personally I think that is a dangerous trend among event organizers.

Open source communities will have their famous personalities but we must not forget that we do not own this community or movement. I just had the privilege of organizing a meeting place for them.

As a organizer I hope I won’t fall into the trap of thinking that I have some ownership over WordCamp Mumbai or WordPress community. I do not.

Finally “Remember it’s a privilege!”

It is a great privilege to be an organizer of WordCamp. You become friends with some awesomely talented people.

I doubt I would have interacted much with any of my co-organizers like Vachan, Sahil, Yash, Jaidev, Chirag, Saurabh, Premanshu, Gaurav, Ajay, Ratnesh and so many more had it not been for WordPress meetups.

I doubt I would have had the chance to hang out with founders, CEOs, web developers, code geeks, WordCamp organizers from other cities, event organizers, journalists, writers, bloggers, sketch artists and so many more – if I had not been involved in organizing this WordCamp.

Now to what my plans are post WordCamp – It is time to chill out a bit, start reading some books and toss a few beers and enjoy turning a year older this weekend with some close friends and family.

Yes there is life outside the great “W” too. 😀

Here are some posts by some participants.

Saurabh Shukla, Ideasmithy, Annkur,  Puneet, Rahul, Brajeshwar (will add more as days go along)