How to win at WordCamp

This past weekend I attended WordCamp Austin (my first WordCamp!), and had an absolute blast. I met tons of great people (some of whom I already knew online), heard great talks, and enjoyed great food. Beyond just having a good time, though, I heard things and met people that will have a significant impact on my business. Here are my takeaways from the weekend.

Just go

I had considered going to WordCamp Austin last year, but just made some excuses to myself (which I don't even remember now), and didn't go. This year, I finally decided I just needed to make it happen, and I'm sure glad did. Quit making excuses, find a WordCamp in your area (or whatever other conference, meetup, event, etc. applies to your situation), and go!

Ask questions

Every session I attended included at least some question and answer time after the talk, and one of them was almost entirely Q&A time. I asked a question in several of the sessions I attended, and as a result the speakers recognized me later (if they didn't know me already) when I talked to them more. Not only that, but if you have a question about something they said, there's a good chance someone else is wondering the same thing, but is too shy to ask. Speak up!

Answer questions

If a speaker is trying to generate audience participation and is asking questions, don't just sit there like a bump on a log. Figure out a way to answer somehow! This will get other people more into the talk, and as with answering questions, will help the speakers recognize you later when you approach them after their talk, at lunch, etc (more on this in a minute). They'll also be grateful to you for being confident enough to answer their question and kill the awkward silence. It gives their presentation a lot more energy.

Talk to people

My one regret from the weekend is that I wasted about 30 minutes before the sessions started not talking to anyone new. I knew there were several people around that I talk to on Twitter all the time, but I didn't make a point of seeking them out right away and introducing myself. What a wasted opportunity! Once I got over my initial shyness and started talking to people, I had a great time, and met some really interesting people. Saturday night, I got to talk to Jason Cohen, co-founder of WP Engine. Within three minutes of starting our conversation, he pointed out some flawed ways I was thinking and talking about my business, and gave me one heck of a pep-talk. It was simultaneously humbling and encouraging.

Talk to the speakers

This is really an extension of my previous point, but don't be scared of talking to the speakers, even if they are "famous" - they're still human. Cory Miller of iThemes fame gave a really great titled Your Quick Biz Tuneup in 45 Minutes or Less (slides here). The title is a little misleading, though; it was really focused on deep, important issues like whether your business is making you happy and propelling you toward long-term goals, whether your spouse is happy, how your mental health is, etc. Kudos to Cory for talking about what really matters.

After Cory's talk, I approached him, thanked him for his great talk, and asked him a questiona about my business. He gave me some really great advice, shared his experiences, and then told me to email him so we could set up a time to talk more. Cory's a really nice guy, so he may have done this for anyone, but I suspect it didn't hurt that when he asked "are you happy" during his talk, I spoke up and gave an honest answer (no, not as happy as I want to be). He expressed appreciation for me being vulnerable, and I think that sparked some connection. Thanks, Cory

Teach people

Possibly the most rewarding & fulfilling part of the whole weekend was when someone approached me at the after party and started asking me questions about my business and how they can improve in their business. I was a little bit surprised at first, but then realized I know some things that some other people don't know - things that can really help them. I really enjoyed sharing my experiences, some resources I knew of, and offering to help them out in the future as well. That experience made me realize that teaching others is something I want to spend more time doing.

What did I miss?

If you went to WordCamp Austin, or have been to another WordCamp or other conference, what am I missing? What's your advice for first-time attendees?

What questions do you have?

If you're considering going to your first WordCamp or other conference soon, what questions do you have? What are some things you're wondering about?