Reflections on Wikimania’s first Speaker Onboarding Series

This year’s Wikimania saw many firsts: the first virtual Wikimania, the first Wikimania to offer multilingual translation, and the first to offer speaker training to speakers in advance. In the weeks leading up to Wikimania, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Development team hosted the Speaker Onboarding Series, a set of resources and live events aimed at helping confirmed speakers to prepare for their sessions. This blog post summarizes the thinking process behind the Speaker Onboarding Series and the learnings that arose from it.

Design Principles

When we (the Community Development team) first began designing the Series, we knew we needed to define the core principles that would guide our approach. After several cross-team visioning sessions and conducting research into public speaking and participant needs, we narrowed our focus to these four principles: peer-centered, practice-based, accessible, and flexible. 

  • Peer-centered means prioritizing peer learning and peer exchange, rather than instructor-led teaching. The goal was to decentralize and divest from the assumption that the “teacher knows best” and recognize the wealth of knowledge and experiences that could be shared between volunteers in our movement.
  • Practice-based means prioritizing active and participatory practice, rather than passive lecturing. The goal was to provide participants the chance to learn by doing and to learn by practicing with material that is relevant and personal to them.
  • Accessible means ensuring that anything created takes into account the diverse needs and backgrounds of the participants.The goal was to offer resources in multiple formats, languages, and time zones to make the program as accessible as possible.
  • Flexible means inviting participants to participate as little or as much, as fast or as slow, as they want. The goal was to encourage participant agency and to meet people where they are.

The Details

With the principles in mind, we created these four components of the Speaker Onboarding Series that aimed to be peer-centered, practice-based, accessible, and flexible:

  • Speaker Guidebook. The guidebook was a go-at-your-own-pace, asynchronous resource that included tips, examples, and activities to guide speakers in creating, practicing, and delivering a talk. To promote accessibility, the guidebook was offered in 7 languages: Chinese (Mandarin), Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian, German, and English. It also included an audio version (in English only) to support learners who might prefer audio instead of text.
  • Live Sessions. We hosted 2 live sessions that were designed to focus on peer learning and practice. The first session aimed to provide speakers an overview of public speaking and give them the chance to practice public speaking in small groups. The second session focused on the speakers’ actual Wikimania talks, giving them time to practice and receive feedback on the content and delivery of their upcoming talks. In order to promote accessibility, the live sessions were hosted a total of 4 times (2 times each session) to accommodate different time zones.
  • Office Hours. Two office hours were offered and gave speakers the opportunity to ask questions that weren’t addressed during the live sessions. It was also a dedicated time for speakers to continue practicing their talks and receiving feedback.
  • Telegram Group. The Telegram group was an additional communication channel for speakers. It was a space to ask questions to staff and to each other, to share feedback, and to receive real-time support.

What happened? 

  • Positive Turnout. We had over 60 speakers sign up for the Speaker Onboarding Series. This was about 15% of all confirmed Wikimania speakers.
  • The Guidebook was viewed over 1,100 times (as of August 2021) and received encouraging feedback. We heard feedback such as…
    • “I read the Guidebook two times and even listened to the audio. It was very very helpful.”
    • “It’s an incredibly useful resource for improving your confidence and skills, and for improving your topic/presentation substantially. Don’t miss it.”
    • ‘If you want an easy-to-learn guide for public speaking, how about having a look at [the Speaker Guidebook]… Though it has been made for an event Wikimania 2021 being conducted virtually…, its teachings are universally applicable.” (feedback has been paraphrased and anonymized)
  • Active participation and learnings from the live sessions. During the live sessions, we observed active participation throughout the sessions’ duration. Speakers were willing to practice public speaking with their fellow participants, and generously and thoughtfully shared feedback with each other. At the end of each session, we hosted a reflection to discuss takeaways. During these reflections, participants shared the feedback that the sessions were useful. For seasoned speakers, we heard that even after having given many talks, the session still taught them something new. Additional feedback we heard included:
    • “The session[s] with 3 or 4 speakers in a group helped me a lot to understand how others prepare for the talk and the feedback on my presentation vastly helped me prepare a better presentation for the final talk.”
    • “I expected this to be a waste of my time. But I’m actually very glad I came” (feedback has been paraphrased and anonymized) 
  • Sparking connection. One of the greatest values of the live sessions was that they sparked real connections between community members. For some speakers, the live sessions initiated relationships that extended beyond the Series. At least one group of participants even met one another after the Series was over to continue practicing and refining their Wikimania talks.

What did we learn?

  • Continuing peer and practice-based learning. The focus on peer and practice-based learning was well-received and aligned closely with the types of learning opportunities we seek to champion. This will continue to be a priority in next year’s programming.
  • Better language support during live sessions. While the Guidebook was offered in multiple languages, the live sessions were hosted in English, which excluded speakers who weren’t comfortable interacting in English. Consideration should be given to how we can resource better accommodation for additional languages in the live sessions in the future.
  • Support for other speaking formats. The Series focused on helping speakers improve in lecture-style public speaking (talks that mainly involve speaker(s) speaking to an audience). The reasoning for this focus was that a majority of the talks at this Wikimania had a lecture format. However, we anticipate more and more talks to be interactive in future Wikimanias and plan to explore ways we can expand the Series to support these other more interactive formats, such as workshops and panels. 
  • Timing. We received the feedback that several speakers who had hoped to attend the Series couldn’t do so due to the short time window between their confirmations as Wikimania speakers and the start of the Series’s live sessions. Next year, we want to provide more time for speakers to sign up to the Series, as well as begin the Series early enough so that speakers can have adequate time to benefit from the resources.

What’s next?

We are collecting feedback through a post-program survey and will be using this feedback to inform next year’s Speaker Onboarding Series. The privacy policy can be found at this link. You are also welcome to email us directly at comdevteam@wikimedia.org with feedback. If you were a speaker who took part in the Speaker Onboarding Series, it is not too late to provide feedback through the survey or by email.

If there is anything you would like to share with us, do not hesitate to reach us by email or talk page!