WCUS Speakers: “Have Fun,” says Joost de Valk

WordCamp US 2016 Speaker Joost de Valk spent some of his evening to chat with us about WordPress, the state of SEO, and, of course, advice about public speaking.

WordCamp US (aka WCUS) 2016 Speaker Joost de Valk recently spent some of his evening with us chatting about WordPress, the state of SEO, and, of course, advice about public speaking. Joost has been public speaking since 2009, primarily, worth noting, in English, which is not his native tongue.

Joost de Valk is the CEO and Founder of Yoast, creators of the wildly popular SEO plugin Yoast SEO. Here are some of the gems from our interview.

What drove you to apply for WCUS this year?

“I’m going to be there anyway and I prefer speaking when I’m there. I like telling stories and helping people reach the next level with SEO. There’s a whole lot more storytelling that we need to do about the current state of what SEO is. People need to focus on things that are very different than they did five years ago.”

How does WordPress relate to SEO?

“There is a lot of movement. It’s up to the WordPress Development community to make it technically the best it can be and helping people writing good content.

We need to democratize the findability of what they publish. We need to help everyone have the same tools to reach their intended audience.

I love that Yoast SEO is used by large companies like StarWars.com and the bakery shop around the corner, too. They have the same tools to manage their site. That’s democratizing in a way that I think is empowering for everyone. Sharing the ideas whether it’s a business or a business blog or whatever.

For WordPress’ goal, it’s important for WordPress to do more. SEO is something that everyone should know about and work on. There is no use in telling stories if no one listens.”

Is there anything specific that you’re doing to prepare for this presentation?

“I’m working on my rough outline for now. After that I’ll talk to my wife and probably change all of it. And then I’ll talk to my design team and have them draw out illustrations for the slides. Then I’ll do the presentation for the Yoast team in the office so they can give me feedback and then I should be good.

Our team is 35 people so they have an idea of what we do. They’ll have questions on terms, etc. It really helps in making it more accessible to more people. I find that more intimidating than speaking to a large crowd. They’re all Dutch so they give ‘Dutch feedback’ which is harsh.

We’re very flat — there’s no one who is afraid to talk to me. Thank God. If you’re not flat like that, you’re probably not going to exist in WordPress. I still speak to customers every day in forums, in AWP — every day. Even though I’m very aware of what we do, we need to be open to the fact that another person may give you valid feedback.

The hardest thing I’ve learned is how hard user experience is and how poorly people understand interfaces that are made only by developers. To get better I have to talk to people all the time.”

Is there anything you’re looking to discover at WCUS?

“There are a lot of business goals for me in terms of meeting people and discussing things. [It’ll be good to] shake hands, have a beer, and just chat.

My business goal is mostly partnering deals and there’s stuff like Yoast SEO still doesn’t work on WordPress.com VIP and I want to get that fixed. We have partnerships with hosting companies, too. We need to discuss paperwork on the issues that come up most, etc. ”

Is your team participating in Contributor Day?

“Yes. I will only be there for a bit. Most of my team will be there and participating. We have a few Core Team members. We spend the last two hours of every Thursday documenting JavaScript in Core. Everyone in our team is active in Core as well. We try to participate as much as we can.”

Do you use WCUS as a source for new potential team members?

“Not necessarily. We’re not a team of remote [workers]; our development team is all in one location. Our support is remote. We try to hire locally for development. There are some exceptions.

It’s really hard for a junior developer to get into WordPress if he’s not constantly surrounded by WordPress and his peers. They have a lot to learn and it just works better when they have access to feedback and code pairing that happens when they’re locally-based rather than behind a screen.”

What’s your advice for other WCUS Speakers?

“First of all look up. You should really have a really good outline and be able to do it fluidly. You should not need your slides to read them out loud. If you’re going to read from your slides just get out of it.

Have fun. People are not here to judge you. It’s probably scary as hell for most people but I’ve always find public speaking to be a very good experience. It helps if you’re well-prepared.”

We want to hear from you!

Who are you looking forward to hearing at WordCamp US this year? What are your speaking tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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