Cindy: What I suggest for ANYONE who wants to get into public speaking, really in any industry is to look for what is not being said, and say it. Claim a niche, and know it inside and out. There are a lot of generalists in our industry, and they are easy to forget. Be memorable.
Now, for the women only – Don’t be afraid to call it like it is. If you see a panel or a track that you want to be a part of, and it is dominated by men – let the conference directors know. With all the schedule changes, and organization required to put a conference together, that is an easy thing for the conference directors to miss. Being willing to help point out the problem AND improve the ratio all at once can be very compelling for conference directors.
Mari: Get out there and speak at every opportunity possible. Speak locally. Speak at small groups. Start your own group. Ask your network for help in identifying opportunities. Create a killer speaker reel. Sign up with a speakers’ bureau. Don’t try to be all things to all audiences. Get clear on what you speak on and to whom. And, think beyond the stage — look for opportunities to be interviewed on radio, podcasts, teleseminars, webinars and especially multi-speaker online summits where you’re featured with many other speakers. Your reputation as a speaker can grow by association. Plus, make *sure* your bio across all social networks and sites actually states that you are a speaker! Share plenty photos and videos of you speaking. When you book a speaking engagement, let people know – shout it from the mountaintops of Twitter and Facebook. But not from an ego standpoint. From a place of sharing the joy and having your followers share in that joy vicariously.
Erica: Ask them. Seek them out. Make them feel like you want their big brains at your conference too. Make sure that you have women, not just a token woman. And I would love to see male speakers say “Nope, I can’t speak at your conference because all your speakers are male.”
At SEOmoz, we’re always on the lookout for women in our community and industry who are going above and beyond. Even in the “off season,” if someone really stands out (regardless of gender), we’re making our list of potential pulls for MozCon speakers. The people who are on top of their field, know their niche, and show the industry something new, innovative, or just amazing.
Lisa: I have a problem with the idea that women need to “break through”. I’ve never gotten the impression that it’s the men or the conference organizers who are “holding woman back”. If you aspire to
, seek out opportunities and fight for them. Do your research, find holes that you can fill, and pitch yourself. If you want to better your odds, work at building your brand first. Guest blog on respected sites, participate in discussions, and establish yourself as an expert. By building a reputation for yourself you’ll increase the odds that these conference organizers (if they’re smart) will reach out to you. But we shouldn’t be afraid of pitching.
Brett: In 2006, we made the decision to change our speaking proposals from sessions to speakers. We were no longer going to look for speakers to fill specific topic panels. Instead, we ask speakers to pitch great sessions and we would then match them up with like minded speakers. I think that change alone allowed us to include more high quality speakers – that just happened to be women. We categorically reject the idea that we should mix-n-match women and men up to some preset standard ratio on panels. We are after great speakers first. Our focus for 2013 is to go to work on what I feel is a much deeper issue: the almost complete lack of minorities in our space.
Lastly, if Meg Whitman, Marissa Mayer, or Sheryl Sandberg should want to pitch for New Orleans, I like your chances of getting in “If good looks and charm get me in the door, God help ‘em once I am through.” -Katharine Ross, The Final Countdown 1980.
Melissa: For those who want to speak, start pitching! Don’t be shy! I think women tend to assume, more than men do, that they don’t have anything brilliant to say or that they don’t know enough about the topic to speak – even though they do. Another big issue is that many (not all) speakers are still very clique-ey – it feels like an exclusive club that doesn’t welcome new members. I still get the sense when I attend certain conferences or sessions that I’m not part of their “club,” even though I’ve been in SEM for 11 years and have spoken for 5 years. Cliques are off-putting to everyone but especially to smart women who might otherwise want to speak. I know the conference organizers have tried to break down these barriers but it is not an easy thing to overcome.
Another suggestion for those wanting to speak is talk to current speakers. That’s what I did when I started thinking about speaking. I asked a bunch of questions and that helped me gain the confidence to pitch. I would be more than happy to talk to women who think they might want to try speaking.
Laurie: Sometimes it means finding female specialists and dynamic speakers, from media segments, other than social or search marketing, who can provide an alternative view. It also helps to recognize when someone can add to the knowledge of a room full of experts, without letting your ego get in the way.
Joanna: Watch and learn from every speaker at every show…obsessively. I have watched amazing speakers over the years — Brad Geddes, Lisa Buyer, Chris Winfield, Dharmesh Shah, Wil Reynolds, Vanessa Fox, Avinash Kaushik, Andy Beal and more– and I have taken notes like a crazy woman. What style did they take? How did they use nonverbal gestures to tell the story? When did they use humor? How did they keep the audience engaged? How do they do their slides? How do they play off other panelists?
You have to be a student before you can be a teacher and I think that watching and absorbing the really great speakers has helped me be a decent one. I plan to keep improving every single show until someday I hopefully get asked to keynote something. I have a goal around speaking and it’s helped me push myself. Hopefully along the way, I inspire a group of women to pitch more, and take the stage. I see no reason why the ratio can’t change and swing more evenly. It already has improved since I started and I expect that to continue.
To the women that want to start speaking I’d say – start watching others, start practicing, build your confidence and pitch everything. You have a unique voice, we all do, so why not start sharing it up on stage. You got this.
Danny: What does SMX do to be more inclusive of woman? In the past, I used to send a message around to coordinators reminding them that if they are in a situation where all things are equal, they are choosing from among speakers of equal quality, it’s good if they can ensure they are including women speakers in the mix. I also encouraged them to look beyond just those pitching and seek out good women speakers, if none were pitching.
I’m not as involved in working with coordinators as in the past. When I’m chair of a particular conference, I work more on the initial programming aspect, and Chris Sherman follows-up with coordinators. I don’t think he’s put that particular call out recently. However, our priority lately has been to focus on going beyond pitches to bring in good speakers overall, so that we’re not relying just on pitches period.
I can tell you personally that I do try to ensure I have good women speakers as part of my panels. One panel I’m coordinating now has five pitches from men. All of those are good pitches. I’ve picked two, and the third spot I’ve still left open, because I wanted to see if I could find a good woman speaker to fill it. But it also feels odd that I’ve got three qualified men that I’m likely passing over simply because they are men. Still, in other panels, some of the few that are invite-only, the onus is much more on the coordinator to ensure they have a diverse panel. Those panels in particular I find easier to make diverse, perhaps because I’m forced more to look beyond the pitches. And yet, we like having a pitch process to help ensure we’re not overlooking possible new speakers who deserve a shot.
Overall, it’s a tricky balancing act. You want a diverse panel, which includes gender diversity, race diversity (Panels being all-white is perhaps a bigger issue than them being all-male), diversity in the types of experiences represented (are you an SEO that works with enterprises, small businesses, local, etc), company diversity (you don’t want a single company seeming to dominate the agenda) and most of all, you want a panel of quality speakers.
I think it also helps that we have many women who coordinate panels at our shows. They’re in positions of deciding who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And, it’s not uncommon that a woman might oversee a panel that ends up being all men, while a man might oversee a panel that ends up being all women.
Carri: I’d like to see everyone in the marketing, technology and entertainment industries to try harder. Aren’t we all tired of hearing the same people speak anyway? Fresh faces could mean fresh ideas—and that’s the reason we attend conferences, isn’t it?
Chris Sherman: We’ve always been inclusive, even back in the early days when there weren’t as many women in the industry as now. Think Shari Thurow, Dana Todd, Heather Lloyd-Martin, Christine Churchill, Anne Kennedy, Jill Whalen, Barb Coll, etc, etc… When we select speakers, we want the best people, regardless of gender, race, height, etc. We’re really fortunate in that there are some seriously smart and very articulate women in our industry, and we love it when they raise their own standards bar and just keep getting better over time.
Laura Roth: At SES we strive to provide equal speaking opportunities for our entire community. We are always looking to ensure that we include the best spread possible of speakers, including gender, nationality, company etc whilst maintaining high quality content. We are very aware of the split between male and female speakers, and make every effort to give every submission a fair chance of being selected. We are always on the lookout for new speaker talent and actively continue to endeavor to achieve an even balance of speakers across all our events.
A reason women do comparatively well in our industry is that women are well represented by the advertising industry as a whole. Women rarely reached the top until digital age, which blew up the old stereo types to make traditionalists compete on their merits. Haha. I think you’re on to something deeper than our conferences here. The reason women are under represented in a public setting, like at conferences, has to do with some pretty complex ideas.
In our context, we would only scratch the surface i.e. expectations of women to yield to men in debate, or risk coming across wrongly emasculating. The chance one might be chosen to speak is flimsy enough all its own, let alone that women have to be attentive to the way they come across (nurturing is good but not too much, smart is good but not too tough). There is a tremendous amount of pressure for women to be and act a certain way in public, or we risk getting miscast, improperly labeled and limited.
More Opinions, 2007-2013
- SEM No Longer A Boys Club?
- How To Exclude Women Without Really Trying,
- Beating the Odds — How We got 25% Women Speakers for JSConf EU 2012
- Should men boycott all-male panels at conferences?
- Diversity in tech: still an issue in 2013?
- A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences
- The Panel Pledge: A Follow-Up
- Would You Take A Pledge to Not Speak at All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences?
Adam & Eve image ©Howgill – Fotolia