Audience vs. Content

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be interviewed at WordCamp Seattle. It was great to catch up a little with some fellow WordPress developers and a nice opportunity to share a little about the good fortune I’ve had to be a part of the WordPress project.

Nick Ohrn interviews Alex King at WordCamp Seattle

In preparing for the interview, Nick Ohrn and I traded a number of ideas and drafted a number of questions and discussion topics. We eventually whittled the list down to two general themes:

  1. The evolution of WordPress from an Open Source project used primarily by techies and developers to a product and platform used by millions of individuals, small businesses and even really big companies.
  2. Challenges and benefits in creating a business around an Open Source platform.

These are good themes. They provided a chance to explore a number of different topics and cover some interesting subject matter. Our preparation was good, our plan was good. The result was OK1, but just OK; and I knew it. I feel like I left too much of the best material in the bag.

I’m never going to be a “blow the doors off” public speaker. I know people who are, and I know how much effort they put into it. That’s just not going to be me. My interests have always been more in the doing than in the talking about it; which is why we chose the interview format instead of a straight presentation.

This morning I was listening to Dan Benjamin’s interview Ze Frank on the Pipeline and all of the things that were floating around in my head came sharply into focus. Dan asked good questions and followed up to get more interesting details about specific topics, but the main focus of the interview was simply Ze. That’s the good stuff.

Back to WordCamp Seattle; a few things happened that contributed to a “just OK” result. One was that we had some technical issues with the microphones (feedback, ouch!) and Nick and I had to pass a single mic back and forth. Since we didn’t each have a mic, it wasn’t really possible to have a more engaged, conversational discussion. I’m certainly willing to talk about myself, my experiences and lessons I’ve learned, but it’s still hard for me to jump straight to them without a little coaxing or it just feels like I’m self-absorbed and/or bragging.

Alex King at WordCamp Seattle

The other was that I got too concerned about the half of the audience that weren’t developers or consultants and shied away from interesting things that were more about how Crowd Favorite was started, how we’ve grown, how it’s structured and what we do; as well as more technical topics. I’m a developer and the path that I’ve taken in creating my business has been a technical one. This is where the meat is. The cost of trying to keep the topics more general and suitable for the entire audience was losing some of the substance that I could offer to the technical/consultant folks there. And really, a more interesting story is better for everyone.

The worst part is that I already knew this, I just hadn’t connected all of the dots.

I’ve had the best results by picking panels and talks to attend based on who is speaking rather than the subject matter. I most enjoy talks by people who do interesting things, and I want to hear about what they do; even when it isn’t 100% applicable to me.

I think this is one reason why my panel talk at SxSWi this year went pretty well. My role there was well defined. I was there specifically to talk about the business of WordPress consulting and development, and I did so without concern about the folks in the audience who may not have been as interested in that topic.

WordCamp Seattle attendees, I’m inviting you to email me questions that you’d be interested in hearing about (development, business, Open Source involvement questions – you name it) – anything you wish I’d included in the interview at the event. I’ll respond to them as best as I’m able over the next few weeks and perhaps post some of them here as well.

Speakers, don’t be afraid to get personal and go where the meat is when talking to an audience; even when you don’t think everyone in your audience is looking for that content. I know I’m keeping that lesson at the top of my list for next time.

Thanks to Morten Rand-Hendriksen for taking the photos and publishing them under a CC license so I could use them here.

  1. WPCandy liveblogged some of it. [back]