WordCamp Denver 2013

Posted 6 years ago by Jonel Beach

Have you considered volunteering before?

Yes, you get a free ticket. But WordCamps are ridiculously affordable, jam-packed with valuable advice and seasoned with some of the most engaging hallway conversations in the business. So, the free ticket isn't the reason I volunteered.

We have some wonderful individuals in Colorado dedicated to building a strong local WordPress community. Case and point: Corrinda Campbell and Drew Jaynes did a great job putting together WordCamp Denver this year and deserve a shout out for their efforts.

Karim, Jon, Jonel and Alex

But I think we can do better, grow tighter and compete with some of the communities in other cities. I am passionate about doing what I can to help us achieve that goal. So, I figured I would get a chance to get more involved if I helped out. I imagined this happening gradually – beginning by signing in attendees when they arrived… or manning a camera in one of the presentation rooms.

What I didn't expect was a return phone call asking if I'd help host the event. Of course I was; after all, I'd helped organize a few events in my days.

Strangely, it wasn't until Corrinda asked the question, “Are you comfortable speaking in public?” (about a half hour before the event) that I stopped to think a little bit more about it. I knew this would be a part of the gig from the beginning and knew it would not require imagining anyone naked to follow through.

But what I failed to consider before this moment was my irrational fear of microphones. And video cameras. My voice seems to have a polarizing effect on other people. While some strange people tell me they could listen to me talk for hours, claiming I have an engaging, yet oddly calming quality about my voice (seriously, my hairdresser and a handful of clients have asserted this at random and should probably have their heads examined)… others are forced to politely endure it.

“I guess we'll find out!” was the only response worth entertaining in these final moments leading up to my on-stage, on-camera introduction.

“Is this thing on?”

There's nothing like hearing a couple hundred people boom with laughter (directed right at me) as I stumble my way through a couple introductory sentences to extinguish any and all public speaking jitters that had been brewing inside me just moments before.

Unbeknownst to me, the mic handed to me was still linked to both rooms after opening statements were made… not just the room I was asked to manage. My voice is even more awkward and jarring when it arrives unexpectedly; let alone when it is not accompanied by contextual hand gestures or my repertoire of absurd facial expressions.

To my surprise, after that moment, I was infinitely more comfortable in the spotlight. Maybe a bit too comfortable (as my colleague Jon would discover later that afternoon).

Morning presentations in the Do-er's Room

To my dismay, WordCamp did not actually center around me and my astounding microphone wit. Luckily for all of us, there were some truly incredible presentations that sparked valuable conversations – many of which lasted throughout the rest of the weekend, and some even continue on Twitter today.

Check out the full WordCamp Denver 2013 schedule. I'm grateful these presentations were videotaped (hopefully they cut me out completely), so I can revisit sections of the ones I was able to attend, and see what great information I missed in the other room throughout the day.

It was great to hear more from some of my favorite speakers I've met at previous events (ahem, Natalie MacLees – emphasis on the “Lees”). And I was really inspired by a few speakers I hadn't met before… well, at least not outside of my personal Twitter network.

Julie Kuehl

Julie Kuehl (pronounced “keel”, but she is indeed quite “cool”) kicked off the Do-er's room I was MC-ing in with a discussion that started off empathizing with those new to WordPress and why learning it can really suck. But then she offered commanding knowledge, clear direction, and premium resources for advancing in all things WordPress. While overly modest (in my opinion), she successfully mapped out expectations in a clear, welcoming way to anyone who was unsure or unconfident about diving in headfirst into WordPress.

Not being a coder myself (my technical expertise currently lies in some pretty basic Git commands and CSS lines — that I'm proud to say, are constantly evolving here at Crowd Favorite)… I was surprised by the amount of useful information I was able to absorb from David Hayes' presentation about the basics of WordPress theme programming. He made it relatively easy to keep up with many concepts he addressed. When he dove deeper into the code, I quickly forgave those evil video cameras, because I found comfort in knowing I could revisit his presentation to get even more use out of it later.

Christophe Trappe planted a lot of good seeds for attendees in the room who hadn't yet applied their WordPress knowledge beyond the world of blogging. He walked us through some fantastic features his team incorporated into commercial websites. You could hear minds in the room actively opening up to entirely new-to-them possibilities – whether in website development or in ways to enhance their own blog, including some great information architecture tricks.

Crowd Favorite presents in the Developer Room

Alex and Jon after their presentations

After lunch, I swapped rooms. While a lot of the content in the Do-er's room was more up my alley at the moment, I was adamant about attending a panel discussion led by Alex King in the Developer's room. Considering I work for Alex in an environment perfectly ripe for true, valuable collaboration when it comes to the integrity of the work we deliver… I definitely didn't want to miss a discussion about how user experience is everyone's job. That's right, everyone's job.

That, and who wants to miss a chance to heckle their boss in front of a large audience of people? Certainly not this woman!

UX Panel
Alex with the UX Panel

As the panel dove into the topic, I was impressed by Alex's ability to lead the discussion – as many panel discussions I've attended in the past were sadly diluted in value by relatively inexperienced (and consequently ineffective) moderation skills. In this discussion, each participant (Natalie MacLees, Grant Landram, Walter Breakell, and Rich Staats) demonstrated an outstanding (and comfortably confident) angle of expertise on the subject. The room broke out into applause and laughter a number of times during the discussion – not to mention the constant whisper buzz of quiet compliments: “I just love what Natalee brings to this community,” or “Walter has such a charming way of explaining things”.

Jon presenting at WordCamp Denver

Next, I had the honor of introducing my colleague, friend and fellow St. Louis Cardinal's fan, Jon Johnson. He discussed planning and executing stress-free deployments. The tips and tricks he shared were not only valuable, but they're very reflective of the way we work at Crowd Favorite. We believe everyone (including project managers and our accounts team) should be able to press ‘the big red button' with confidence.

In fact, I told the audience to have absolute faith in Jon because, after all, he was the one who helped me through my first deployment. He burst my pride bubble by telling everyone in the room that he merely “let me push the ‘enter' key” when the time came.

Jonel MC-ing

Unfortunately for Jon, I still had a mic in my hand. When he was ready to deploy his presentation demo, I mischievously interrupted to beg, “Can I push the button?”. The room chuckled. Jon instantly (and quite matter-of-factly, if I might add) denied my request, with perfect comedic timing. What happened next was a true revenge-inspired miracle. As expected when presenting something you've successfully done a million or two times (in your sleep, even), Jon encountered a minor hiccup and his deployment failed on his first attempt.

“You should have let me push the button”. The room roared with warm laughter as I gave a silent shout-out to my old friend, Murphy's Law.

At this moment, I knew I had successfully MC'd WordCamp Denver 2013… you know, kind of like those ridiculous clowns at Cirque du Soleil events? And I also knew Jon's presentation (that he finished gracefully, in case anyone was worried) must have saved at least a few dozen people from a dark future of panicked, painful deployments. He clearly illustrated the importance of version control and sent everyone in the room home with some insanely valuable best practices.

Afternoon presentations in the Do-er's Room

I returned to the Do-er's room for the remainder of the afternoon. I know they missed me in there… How? Well, because I took a long awkward moment to ask them directly. Microphones bring out the corny, self-important comic in the best of us, as it turns out. To those of you who were in attendance: no, I wasn't drinking… yet.

One of the big questions buzzing around all day with various levels desperation was about improving search. Matthew Boynes was ready to give us some long-awaited answers about finding a better search option for WordPress. Matt showed us a few wowing examples and showed us some of the pros and cons he'd collected for each of the leading search options available. Elasticsearch is gaining a lot of momentum, and I'm excited to see where they land.

Sarah Pressler on community

Closing out the day in the Do-er's room was the ever-popular Sarah Pressler. Sarah is a vintage blogger (circa 1997-that's longer ago than I realize when I think about it in technology-years). She's also the Director of Community Engagement at Brainstorm Media where she helps manage clients and projects, alike. This woman is an incredible asset to the WordPress community. She connects people, cheers people on and arms them with what they need to succeed. Sarah covered a lot of critical information – including setting fair expectations (and timelines) for success in the industry, sharing more great resources for advancing knowledge in WordPress, and perhaps most importantly (in my mind), how to reap the benefits of this amazing and collaborative community.

This is, hands-down, the most inspiring thing I take away from every single WordPress conference or social event I attend. It doesn't matter the focus, it doesn't matter which city. It's a universal WordPress phenomenon. And while I find it as welcoming as it is intoxicating… many others out there are still afraid to trust it.

I was approached many times throughout the day by people with questions they were afraid to ask. There must be something about making bad jokes into a microphone that makes me more approachable somehow. Unfortunately, I'm not the best technical resource in the room.

So, my answer was the same every time. I encouraged them jump in and either ask someone speaking on the subject… or bounce ideas around the social room. After all, this group of people travel far and wide to geek out about WordPress together. They love helping others as much as they love learning new things themselves. It really is one big, enthusiastic family with wealth of technical, business and design knowledge to help you (yes, you) succeed in all things WordPress.

As we've mentioned in many posts before, the most valuable take-aways from many conferences happen in the hallways. It's where the magic happens, truly.

Besides, if I can brave talking into a microphone in front of a few hundred WordPress community members at once, there is absolutely no reason for anyone else to be shy around these folks!


Corrinda and Drew planned an official after party for the group downtown, where we joined a large group of WordPress friends (new and old) for drinks. Many indulged in a sinful game of Cards Against Humanity (for those of you who have never played, it's the hysterically satisfying kind of ‘sinful' that will likely land you a personal invitation straight to hell).

Yet, somehow, there wasn't a shortage of innovative discussions weaving through the room either. And my night ended perfectly: in rounds of gut-cramping laughter with my lovely new WordPress friend, Sarah Pressler.

The more WordPress events I attend, the more I fall in love with the platform and the amazing people bringing it to life.