WordCamp Speaker Blacklist Is A Bad Idea

Chris Lema Blog LogoChris Lema has put together an interesting post that details the reasons why WordCamp speakers should be reviewed. While Chris attended WordCamp Los Angeles 2013 organized by first timers, he listened to a presenter or two that shared more about themselves rather than their content. He then thought about ways in which WordCamps could better protect themselves from such speakers. If you take a look at the WordCamp guidelines, there are already a number of items in place when it comes to selecting speakers. However, WordCamps can go beyond those guidelines and add a few of their own, such as the case with WordCamp Orlando 2013.

Chris’ initial idea was to create a blacklist. However, after speaking with Andrea Middleton, the idea of a national blacklist was thrown out the window.

I’ll admit that my first thought was that we should have a blacklist. If you get on it, you have to work hard to get off it. But more importantly, a central black list would protect all our events to make sure people who were pitching themselves would be ousted, once and for all.

Personally, I think a blacklist would be a terrible idea because WordCamps are supposed to focus on the local community. These communities are made up of people most of us have never heard of. My fear is that they would speak at an event like WordCamp, screw up once and then be placed on the blacklist. It’s like taking someone who meant no harm, throwing them in a pit and wishing them good luck as they try to work themselves out of it. That’s the last thing the WordPress community needs. I think the WordPress community is excellent at policing itself, especially when it comes to things like this. If a speaker goes on stage and it becomes a session of Me, Me, Me, that information will immediately be known via blog posts and Twitter.

WordCamp Speaker Ratings And Reviews

Chris’ follow up idea to solve this problem is speaker ratings and reviews. WordCamp Central would host a centralized area where the speaker ratings and reviews could be housed and on each individual WordCamp page, using an embed link or a standard form, attendees could rate and provide feedback for individual speakers. This would give them a speaker profile that would contain ratings, reviews, etc. As someone mentioned in the comments of the post, adding the speaker information to their WordPress.org user profile seems like a natural place to put it.

The comments in his post are definitely worthy of reading as they bring up some great points. For example, many have agreed that making the speaker reviews private would be better for the speaker vs. having them in public. I agree with that. Placing the reviews as private would give attendees the opportunity to really tell the speaker what they thought of their performance without the fear of being chastised or attacked for their critical words in public. In the WordPress community, we are typically too nice to each other at times where being critical would be more beneficial. By keeping reviews private, both attendees and speakers win, although I’d give a slight edge to the speaker, as they get a chance to receive constructive criticism that can help them improve their stage presence.

SpeakerRate – A Service For Reviewing Talks And Speakers

I remember seeing this service in use a few years ago on a couple of different WordCamp sites and at the time, I thought it was a neat idea. It’s called SpeakerRate and enables users to add talks they have given while other registered members can rate those talks and provide testimonials of the speaker.

SpeakerRate Profile Page
My User Profile For SpeakerRate

After signing up, I discovered that there is no way to make the testimonial section private. There is no easy alternative to provide private feedback which is definitely a black mark against using this across the board for WordCamps. However, the service itself is a great example for WordCamp Central if they wanted to create something similar for all WordCamp sites.

Not Really A Problem For Now

I have not attended a large amount of WordCamps but for each one that I have, I’ve yet to encounter a session with a presenter that made think about their motives for being at the event. I don’t think bad presenters are a problem for WordCamps right now. At the same time, if there was a bad presentation, I’d love to be able to submit my thoughts and recommendations to the speaker in private versus on Twitter or inside of blog comments. I’d like for WordCamp websites to offer me that option after attending the event. I’ve filled out surveys after attending WordCamps and they usually contain questions with ratings that tell the organizers whether I had a good time or not. I’m with Chris in as far as that some type of feedback system should be in place for every WordCamp so attendees can rate, review, and comment on the sessions they attended. I also think those reviews should be accessible to both WordCamp organizers and speakers. This way, both parties are kept in the loop and know what the audience thinks.

This is a great discussion and I’m curious to read feedback from all parties involved. Speakers, organizers, and attendees.


9 responses to “WordCamp Speaker Blacklist Is A Bad Idea”

  1. Like you Jeff I haven’t encountered self-promotional speakers at WordCamps. Maybe one on the road, and maybe one at Miami in the early days.

    I talked about how i didn’t think speaker ratings – private or public – was the answer to (what was at the heart of things) preventing speakers from self-promotion. Making sure speakers understand the rules (which means talking with them one one one), doing a little background research on them (hopefully prior to approving them in the first place), and having a “let me look at your slides” policy would work.

    I suspected but couldn’t confirm that LA was organized by first timers. If so, then I would say that since they were doing this at first then the above items probably weren’t done to a rightful extent (although I can’t say obviously for certain). First timers usually get mentors to help reduce initial goofs. But sounds like LA was a kick-ass WordCamp in general – wish I was there!

  2. Obviously you need to attend WordCamp Orlando this year :)

    I hashed out some of my issues in the comments of Chris’ site, but I do think that certain standards could be set, even as suggestions, for other camps to follow. I can’t claim to have never fallen into any of these traps myself, nor be the best at determining intentions, but my goal is to be fair and useful to the community.

    Whether this is done through private or public reviews, aggregation of existing data (via tweets, likes, posts etc.) or internal documents, it should be up to individual organizers (and session attendees) to use data as they see fit. Unless I’m mistaken, the issue is much more regional than national, in which case chastising certain people in public might be going above and beyond what should be necessary of us. The impracticality of traveling cross-country for camps makes it difficult for many people to take advantage of that situation.

  3. @David Bisset – Well, Chris came out and said that WordCamp LA 2013 was organized by first timers, which is why I added it to my post. At any rate, the buck stops at the WordCamp organizers and if a bad presenter gets on stage or the presentation has offensive slides, the onus is on the organizer, not really anyone else. For those reasons and more, WordCamp organizers are the first and best line of defense from speakers like the ones Chris describes from getting on stage.

    @David Laietta – Orlando is on my possibility list. I just haven’t nailed it down yet!

  4. A registration of speakers and reviews of them controlled by the WP foundation? Hmm no nothing could ever go wrong with that. Each speaker should enlist themselves for feedback and the feedback should be private to them I think. Any really bad ones the organizers would know about anyway since people often have easier time to complain about stuff than to praise it.
    Also how many attempts does one get? One bad presentation, two bad presentations? And then bad according to who?

    The whole idea I feel is partly whats bad with the community in some areas. That thinking should be cleared out in exchange for openness, embracing and free thinking and free speech. Not always the case in this community.

  5. Whatever happens, I would encourage people to be forgiving. As Brian Krogsgard mentioned in his short take on poststat.us, it’s important that any system is careful to not push out new speakers who could improve but might be too discouraged by bad reviews after their first talk.

    I have seen a way-too-self-promotional presentation from a relatively well-known WordPresser which left a bad taste in my mouth, so I see the need for something, but we should be careful. Having organizers review notes and slidedecks preemptively does feel like the best solution to me.

  6. I think a lot a focus is being put on how much it can hurt speakers and weed out bad ones rather than how much it can help. I just spoke at WordCamp Baltimore last week and was on a Panel in Philly last year. Both times I think I did well I got a lot if great feedback in Baltimore but I have no solid numbers to show for it, nothing to present to the next WordCamp I may want to apply to. I think having a repository or reviews for organizers and even public to see would be great to help those that may not speak often but are good. Also for new speakers seeing what audiences looking for will help them see what they are up against how to structure their speech etc. yes there will be some who are scared away but maybe they aren’t ready.

  7. That’s a great discussion actually and there are several aspects to be covered there.

    First off, what would a review be like? Similarly to the plugin reviews, it’s likely that reviews could be boosted positively by colleagues or negatively even by bots and other trolls. It’s hard to put up criteria for voting that is objective enough. IIRC the Foundation actually requests that after a WordCamp speakers should be evaluated by the local WordCamp community in a poll but some WordCamps don’t follow that, not sure if it’s a requirement or “good to have” but I remember voting for some events, including sending that form for WordCamp Sofia 2012.

    Another thing I like to ask for is a demo of the slides + a quick video for new speakers. It’s not so complicated to record a 3-5min video from a webcam (most notebooks have those) to verify the idea and speaker skills .

    Additionally I’d like to cover the community side. In order for the community to grow, we need to welcome and embrace changes, including new speakers, authors, developers etc. If you review the major WordCamps you will notice a significant group of speakers speaking at several consecutive events. Now, I’m not saying that there should be a limit of events a speaker should be entitled to speak at, but I have spoken with several people interested in applying for speaking responding with: “Well probably 2/3 of the speakers are regular people speaking everywhere, or related to the organizing committee so I don’t stand a chance and people won’t recognize me”. I’m not sure what’s the best way to encourage new speakers to join the fun but adding other layers of complications are another step of discouraging new people to try due to the fear of failure that everyone is afraid of.


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