stop written on cobblestones

Stop Interrupting Speakers

I don’t often publicly criticize an event while it’s still happening – I don’t like to be a complainer – but this weekend at WordCamp Ottawa, I couldn’t help myself. On the morning of the first day, I tweeted out:

Getting tired of people interrupting speakers at #wcott. Unless they’ve invited questions during the talk, it throws off the speaker and most of the audience can’t hear you anyway. Be respectful.

I’d spent the morning watching speakers (all women, by the way) being constantly interrupted by audience members – most not even asking questions, but commenting on some aspect of the talk. I’ve never seen this happen as badly before at any event, WordCamp or otherwise. And you can’t blame an intimate room size as the culprit – this happened in a large auditorium.

That afternoon, a woman was giving a lightning talk, with a short amount of time to present. Smack dab in the middle of her presentation, a man piped up to voice disagreement with one of the examples she was showing. Audience conversation started rolling from there, and I could see the speaker – who’d never presented at a WordCamp before – start to look a little flustered, as her talk became completely derailed.

I was filled with rage. I’ve never done this before, but I had to say something.

“Let’s let her finish her talk. She only has seven minutes left, and she can take Q&A after.”

There was a small shocked silence. I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I might have heard a few murmurs of agreement.

The speaker finished the rest of her talk without interruption, and then took questions after.

Afterwards, a few people – including the speaker – thanked me for calling out the interrupter.

I don’t know what was in the air at WordCamp Ottawa this weekend, but I implore audience members to keep this in mind:

Your desire to express your opinion is not more important than the speaker’s right to finish their talk without being interrupted. Interrupting a speaker is disrespectful – you are throwing off their focus, disturbing their flow, and messing with their timing.

As a speaker, there are a couple of things you can do to curb this phenomenon. First, tell the audience your preference as you start the talk.

For example:

“We’ll have a good 5-10 minutes for questions at the end, so save them til after.”


“I don’t mind taking questions throughout the presentation, while they’re fresh in your mind. Just raise your hand and I’ll repeat it so the rest of the audience can hear.”

If someone interjects with a question or comment when you’ve asked people not to, remember that it’s your right to say:

“Thanks for the question. Let’s hold it til the end, and if I haven’t covered it during the rest of the talk I’ll be glad to address it then.”

Remember, you are in control of your talk. No one has the right to throw you off.

Featured image by Lucas Cobb (CC BY 2.0)

Mahangu Weerasinghe

​Practice Makes Possible

We’re very pleased to present a a guest post by Mahangu Weerasinghe. Connect with Mahangu on Twitter.

Practice makes perfect. At least, that’s the saying, right?

As someone who has childhood-onset fluency disorder – AKA stuttering – public speaking was unthinkable for me while growing up. Whether it was reading out loud in grade school, or giving a speech in class in middle school, standing up to talk in front of people always resulted in me experiencing severe, debilitating, verbal blocks.

Perhaps the best way to describe the physical experience of stuttering is to say that it’s like an invisible hand is slowly choking you. And often, the more you try and get out of the choke-hold, the stronger the hand clamps down on your vocal chords. In such situations, being asked to slow down or take your time almost never helps, since it’s kind of like asking a person who is being strangled to stay calm. It doesn’t make any sense at all, and to the stutterer, it’s both annoying, and embarrassing.

Then again, if there’s one thing stutterers are experts at, it’s being embarrassed. Without question, my worst experience with public speaking was when as a fresh-faced university graduate, I had to co-present a paper at a linguistics conference. My co-presenter, who was also my boss at the time, finished their segment, and introduced me, handing the rest of the presentation off to me. I stood up in front of about 30 of my colleagues and superiors, and for at least a minute and a half, couldn’t get a single syllable out. The kind of shame you feel after an experience like that is difficult to put into words. I remember going back home and just sitting on the floor for hours, unable to even imagine how I could face any of my coworkers, ever again.

If adulthood was difficult as a stutterer, getting through high school was near impossible. While not everyone would make fun of me, though many did, what was most difficult to take was the pity that emanated from audiences whenever I experienced blocks. It was very frustrating to have people commonly mistake my stutter for a lack of preparation, or for them to assume I didn’t know what was I was saying. By the time I was in my early teens, I had already decided that public speaking was not for me.

My high school drama teacher changed that. When he had auditions for the school play, he encouraged me to try out, and gave me some very good advice about my stutter.


It seems obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, I had practised before, for those in-class speeches, but I had always ended up stuttering anyway. But the practice in the context of a school-wide stage production meant practice on a different level.

Here, practice didn’t mean reading through the text a few times, the night, or even the week before. It meant reading my lines over and over again, hundreds and hundreds of times, until I could repeat them forwards, backwards and sideways. It meant knowing each line, word-for-word.

So I practised. And practised. And practised.

The play went on the boards, and I went on stage in front of 700 people. I was 99% fluent, with my stuttering being almost unnoticeable.

However, I didn’t realise how important that experience was in my life, until I began to prepare for my first WordCamp talk ever. I had joined Automattic, and my newly appointed mentor, Yoav Farhi, encouraged me to apply to speak at a WordCamp in my region. My first reaction was to laugh at the idea, but soon, that laughter was replaced by pure, unadulterated fear. I knew I had to do it.

WordPress was a part of me, and I wanted to share that with others, even if it meant risking embarrassment in front of 300 strangers. So, I went back to the only thing that had ever worked for me: practice.

I went through my full 20-minute talk at least a 100 times before the event, and as the words tumbled out of me on stage at the Manik Sabhagriha Auditorium, in Mumbai, I remember thinking to myself – is this really me? It can’t be!

I was that fluent.

For WordCamp Pune 2015, I did a hundred trial runs, and I was once again almost completely fluent, this time in front of 250+ people.

However, my four-minute flash talk at the Automattic Grand Meetup 2015, didn’t go as planned. I switched topics at the last minute, and didn’t get my 100 practice runs in. It showed. I experienced significant blocks, and hit less than 50% fluency. But for WordCamp Mumbai 2016, I once again managed to get in a 100 practice runs before my talk, and I was once again almost completely fluent.

There was clearly a pattern here.

Looking back on this last year and a half of public speaking at WordPress related events, my biggest takeaway is this:

Really control the variables you can control,
so you have more bandwidth for the variables you cannot control.

Here are what those variables look like for me:

Control No Control
Slides Fluency
Transitions Anxiety
Technology Audience

Though I have been to speech therapy for years, and have several techniques that I use to get through blocks and be more fluent in my speech, at a very fundamental level, my stutter is something I have no control over.

The purpose of practising my talks is not to make my stutter better. My stutter will likely never get better in the sense that it hasn’t really increased or decreased over the last decade.

The reason I practice my talks so many times before hand, is so that I will not have to spend any mental energy on the day, wondering about which bullet point or slide is coming next, or where I am in my talk, or how much time I have left.

And, if I don’t have to worry about any of those things, I can focus squarely on my speaking, and make sure I am using all available mental resources to channel my way through any blocks or difficulties I experience in my speaking, the biggest variable that I have very little control over.

So, whatever external issues you have with speaking in public – whether it’s a speech issue, or an anxiety-related problem, or something else entirely – I encourage you to look at practice as a possible solution.

There is a ton of content out there on how to practise for public speaking, and it’s great to get ideas from all of that. But for me, practice is just about standing up in front of my computer, and going through my slides from start to finish, and timing myself. And most importantly, it’s about doing this not once, not twice, or ten times, but a hundred times.

One hundred is the number that seems to work for me. If I can get through my topic a hundred times alone, or in front of a few friends and family members, I now know I can get through it in front of hundreds of people, and do so with a high level of fluency.

For me, practice will never mean perfect.

However, practice does mean possible. And I’ll take it!

Photo by Jen Hooks


People Talking WordPress Workbook Available

Members of the Vancouver WordPress community – Jill Binder, Vanessa Chu, Mandi Wise, and Kate Moore Hermes – recently ran another workshop to encourage and empower women interested in getting into speaking at events like meetups and WordCamps.

Their original workshop was the inspiration for the one we developed, and some of our material is included in the free PDF workbook the Vancouver folks have put together. It includes exercises on choosing a talk topic and writing a proposal, tips on creating great slides, and advice on becoming a better speaker, and handling post-talk Q&A. Check it out!

People Talking WordPress

Speaking Workshop at WordCamp Toronto

Following our workshop in Montreal on November 13, Kathryn Presner and Tammie Lister will head one province west to Ontario. As part of WordCamp Toronto‘s Community track we’ll give our workshop for aspiring speakers on Sunday, November 16, from 9:30 am to noon. Admission to So You Want to Be a WordCamp Speaker is free for all WordCamp attendees. While the event is sold out, unused tickets may be released before WordCamp weekend, so keep your eye out if you missed the boat.

Like all our public workshops to date, the session is geared to folks who’ve held back from submitting a talk due to nervousness, fear, imposter syndrome, or other concerns. We’ll tackle everything from writing a proposal, to dealing with stage fright and making great slides. Our aim is to inspire everyone who attends to go ahead and submit their first talk.

We look forward to meeting lots of you in Toronto and helping you make the leap from WordCamp attendee to WordCamp speaker!


WordCamp Toronto 2014

Get Speaking in Montreal

Kathryn and Tammie are super excited to bring So You Want to Be a WordCamp Speaker: A practical workshop for beginners to Kathryn’s hometown of Montreal on November 13, 2014.

If you’ve ever thought about speaking at a WordCamp but imposter syndrome or nerves stopped you from submitting a talk, this workshop is for you!

The session is completely free and open to all. To make sure everyone gets enough personal attention, places are limited, so register now to grab your spot.

We look forward to seeing all you aspiring WordCamp speakers from Montreal at RPM next month!

WordCamp New York City

Tammie Lister and Kathryn Presner will be presenting So You Want to Be a WordCamp Speaker: A practical workshop for beginners on August 3 at WordCamp New York City. We look forward to meeting a slew of aspiring speakers there!

Wordcamp NYC is sold out, but if you already have your ticket, you can sign up for the workshop here.

Have you considered presenting at a WordCamp but thought you didn’t know enough or felt like an imposter? Does the idea of speaking in front of a group set your knees quivering and your heart racing?

During this hands-on session we’ll look at what’s stopped you from speaking in the past – and explore how to move past your fears. We’ll delve into practical techniques for choosing a topic, writing a proposal, crafting presentation content, and making great slides.

We’ll discuss how to avoid common public-speaking mistakes and techniques for battling stage fright. We’ll help you navigate the dreaded post-presentation Q&A session and gather post-talk feedback. Each participant will come out of the workshop with a WordCamp or meetup talk proposal – and more confidence to submit it.

I'm speaking at WordCamp NYC 2014