Posts Tagged ‘speakers’

I’ve finally gotten at least the blog portion together at my new home, Webwallflower.com

I’m not sure how best to move readers over there, how to get SEO up, how to redirect links around the web, etc.  If anyone has any ideas, PLEASE let me know.

But if you came here looking for my weekly tech event updates, startup advice, event advice, or entrepreneurial stories, do please head over to http://webwallflower.com and check out the Upcoming Events and Blog sections there.

The rest of the site is still under repair, so bare with me.  🙂

Thanks Everyone!


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As a regular event producer, I’ve been through quite a number of methods of conference production: bootleg and giant team, corporate and casual, etc. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the way the SF MusicTech Summit is produced. Rather than create a strict agenda of panel topics and times, Brian lines up an AMAZING list of all-star musicians, founders, and leaders in the music and technology industries, and determines the topics from there.

What does this mean for the panelists?

Now this can, at times, be slightly more stressful for the panelists, as we cannot immediately tell them what they will be speaking on. However, it is always Brian’s drive to talk with them and develop panels ideal for their level of expertise, so this does work out in the end. While panelists may have less time than usual to prepare, we do still facilitate an introduction between the moderator and panelists early enough for ideas to be thrown around, topics chosen, questions asked, and a great panel to form.

So what does this mean for the agenda?

It means the agenda covers actual existing topics that panelists are experts in; topics we also think will be interesting. It means we can discuss with our panelists what they – the leaders in the industry – think the important subjects are, rather than make guesses and take time trying to force people to fit. It means we develop an eclectic agenda – sometimes a bit discombobulated at first – with a huge variety of talking points that we, as a team of 3, could never have developed on our own. It makes the agenda a collaborative project, rather than a dictatorial document.

What does this mean for the attendees?

True, it can be stressful for attendees as well, since they are unable to plan their day until a few days prior to the event. However, it also means you are truly seeing THE leaders in the field of music and technology, talking on the subjects THEY want to discuss. It means we have not A) tried to force a subject down a panelist’s throat or B) found a not-so-qualified individual just because we need a topic we think is important covered.

And finally, what does it mean for the organizers?

Well okay. As the production manager, it stresses me out a bit. I like knowing what my schedule will be, having panelists finalized in nice little spreadsheet boxes and times, and it’s a bit unnerving to have all these unknowns. But it’s also a challenge, and I wouldnt be a freelance contractor or entrepreneur if I didn’t like having that in my life now and then, eh?

Originally posted to sfmusictech.wordpress.com – the SF MusicTech Summit blog.

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5 Tips to Get Speaking Gigs

So, you want to start speaking.  But no one is inviting you, and your submissions keep getting turned down? Bummer.  But don’t give up.  Here are some quick and dirty tips to help get off the ground.  Because once you get a few speaking gigs under your belt; more should start dripping, and then pouring!, in.

1)  Start a Vlog. Not a blog, a vlog (Video Blog, for those out there not in the Web 2.0 lingo).  Talk to your audience on the topics that interest you, that you consider yourself to be an “expert” on.  This shows that you:
* Conduct yourself well when speaking.
* Construct clear, concise statements.
* Have good, unique information to share.

2)  Interview others. While less important, this shows you are well connected, understand the field you are in and who the influencers are, know what the audience wants to hear, and can get the answers to questions you can’t answer yourself.  Interviews on your Vlog will also get you great moderator gigs.

3)  Know the Conferences. People still won’t come to you, you have to go to them.  This means learning what conferences and meetups exist in your field, and sending out a LOT of speaking requests.  BEFORE sending the speaking submissions, review the site: know who else is speaking, on what topics, and what the basic theme of the conference is.  You wouldn’t believe how many talks on “successful cloud computing” and “hosting solutions” I received for FailCon…

4)  Write a unique submission. This is a whole section by itself.  I may write a post on this alone later, but here are some quick and dirty pointers.  These pointers are also only for events without a submission process.  If they have a form or instructions, read them and follow them.  Otherwise, here’s my advice:

* Keep it Short. 1 – 3 lines.  If it interests me, I will ask for more information.
* Have a Title. This tells me you have a goal in mind for this talk, a clear and relevant point to make.
* Be Unique. I have seen 100+ talks on “benefits of social media” and “growing your brand.”  I have NOT seen “What social media can learn from ant colonies.” or “Web 2.0 Startups: The New Auto Industry”
* Be Relevant. Like my note above: know what my conference is on and who else I have speaking.  Let me know what you will add to the agenda that isn’t already there.  Answer my questions before I even ask them.

5)  Play the numbers. Even if you follow this advice to a tee, I promise you will get 20+ rejections for every 1 hit.  But this also means that, if you send 21 submissions, Im betting you’ll get one.  And after that one gets up on your vlog and you can send others to it, the odds will be more like 17:1.  Then 15:1.  And so on.  The more you speak, the more invitations you’ll get.

(Now of course, all of this advice rides on the fact you can be a GOOD speaker.  So practice, ask friends for advice, and read up on tips and tricks.)

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I just received my third email from a speaker agency, asking how to submit speakers for FailCon.  I have one response:

Don’t make me pay for them.

I can’t speak for other industries, but the thought of paying my social media and entrepreneurial speakers is flabergasting.  It is a waste of my money.  Is your name REALLY going to bring in $5-10k in ticket sales?  No.  More importantly, it’s at odds to my interests.

When I pay you, what is your incentive to speak well?  Generally, speaking isn’t your only job – you get a paycheck or have earned money from something else, so you don’t need to keep getting gigs (and if you have a good agent, you will continue to get gigs, so long as you are generally mediocre or better).  You get your check for a topic you’ve spoken on dozens of times before, you deliver with the same note cards, you make demands on the organizer, you shake a few hands, and then you leave.  As an organizer, I can’t control the topic or presentation at all, I can’t give you an incentive to stay at the event, and honestly I feel I can’t form a strong business relationship with you (why would I want to send clients to you, or suggest you to others, when you did nothing for me but charge.)   My only reason for paying a speaker would be to insure that they don’t drop out.  (Paying does NOT insure they won’t pitch.  Trust me.)  But listen, if a speaker drops out, I can replace them in a heartbeat.  Maybe not with as reputable a name, but with a nearly-as-awesome (or more awesome) presentation.  (I actually have to do this for almost every conference I do – replace one last minute drop out.  Its a pain, but not a challenge.)

If you aren’t getting paid, our interests are now aligned.  I have the ability to tweak your presentation to be of more interest to my audience, and you should want me to comment on it, so you get a better audience response.  Your incentive for speaking, rather than profit, is now to effectively raise brand or self awareness in the field.  And you (hopefully) know not to do this by pitching, as that just pisses off the audience and organizer, and guarantees you won’t be invited back.  You do this by exciting the audience, sharing your knowledge and passion, and networking following the talk.  In this situation, your incentive is to give a great and relevant presentation, to have an effect on the audience.  Surprise surprise, that’s my incentive, too.

I have never paid a speaker at one of my events, and I have loved most of the speakers I’ve had.  I hear too many stories about how paid speakers were kinda dull and over rehearsed, while free speakers were passionate and engaging.

Now, as I said, this is purely in this industry.  I understand if you are a successful CEO and amazing speaker, who is being asked by offices all over the country to give presentations to their employees (people who would never be clients for you), you may ask to be paid.  You have no other reason for going, really.  But at conferences directly related to your industry…sorry, I just don’t understand.

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(Please note: I want to address the lack of racial AND gender diversity at tech events.  However, in this post I plan to make assumptions – as a woman – about women (already dangerous), and place some of the blame on women themselves.  I would not be comfortable saying these things about other races, since I wouldn’t have personal experiences to share.  That said, my goal is still more racial and gender diversity at events.)

Tech event coordinators have been getting a lot of shit lately about their speaker list: that it’s a white washed, testosterone infused boys club.  A lot has now been said on the issue, but it’s important to me, so I wanted to chime in.  Ironically, I feel this is an issue that needs less blogging and more action (as Cathy Brooks also ironically says).  Shouting into the void just seems to anger one side or the other, and isnt changing many people’s minds.  Organizers, female speakers, and leadership lists all need to take responsibility, rather than push it on.  This post includes:

  1. A summary of the debate and POVs, as I understand them.
  2. What conference organizers need to be doing.
  3. What women who care about this need to be doing.
  4. Why is this important?

1)  The Debate
So, no one (of merit) is saying women shouldn’t be speakers.  The basic organizer debate boils down to “I don’t want to choose a speaker BECAUSE she is female.  I want to choose based on merit and accomplishment.” and “There are incredibly accomplished women out there, you need to actively pursue them and not just wait for them to submit a speaking proposal.  Diversity takes work, and conference organizers need to allocate time for it.”

Stephanie Bergman has a wonderful post on BlogHer 2009, and the risk that comes with sticking women on stage just to have women.  In a nutshell, you risk finding people who aren’t really experts, and set back the entire movement to get women onstage.  Let’s avoid this.

The debate itself is also dangerous.  Now, when attendees see an African American on stage, or a woman leading a workshop, they may question if this was really the best speaker, or if its just politics at work.  Essentially, it’s the Affirmative Action debate all over again.  And as an organizer, I NEVER want to sacrifice quality for diversity.  Ever.  There are women out there with unique experiences and incredible knowledge, who will teach attendees new things.  You just have to work a little harder to find them.

2) What can organizers do?
It’s one thing to start a petition saying you demand an organizer have more women; it is good to raise awareness of the issue, and call out events (like O’Reilly’s) that garner press, have huge production teams, and set the bar for all others.  It’s another to set unreasonable standards.  I think, in a field roughly 25% women, having 20% of your speakers being female is pretty darn good.  I think having an event of entirely white men is terrible.  As an organizer, some things you can do include:

  1. Be aware of the issue: think about it while you design an agenda.  It’s easy to be all male: I have received 65 speaking submissions for SNAP Summit. 2 of them are from women.  If I want qualified speakers and a balanced roster, I need to do some research.
  2. As Allyson points out, contact Girls in Tech, Women 2.0, WITI, and dozens of other organizations.
  3. Look at the agendas for events hosted by the above organizations, as well as BlogHer and She’s Geeky.  These can be great leads.
  4. Diversify your team.  For FailCon, I’ve got a female assistant, an African-American PR rep, and dozens of student, women, and minority groups working on outreach with me.  This has been, thus far, one of the most creative and exciting teams I have worked with, and I have already begun reaching groups and speakers I never talked to before.
  5. Check online for Women Leaders of 2009, Top Entrepreneurs of Color, etc.  These are great people to reach out to: they’re probably experts AND they diversify your agenda.

3)  What can women do?
For FailCon, we have reached out to easily over 20 female speakers.  15 of them responded to our emails, only 3 of them said yes.  As I mentioned, of the 65 speaker submissions I’ve received thus far, 2 of them were for females.  Does it sound like OUR fault this conference is mostly masculine?  So, what can women be doing?

  1. Come on ladies, as Susan says: promote yourselves!  Kaliya Hamlin, from Identity Woman, points out “Women don’t self-promote like the alpha dog’s in the industry do. Sorry it is just true.”  (Kaliya goes on to give some great speaking suggestions for women, and prep advice for organizers in that article, so I’m just picking at details :\.)  But I still feel compelled to point out that women need to start putting themselves out there more, that we can’t hide behind this stereotype that we are not aggressive all the time.  My speaker submission rates continue to surprise people; hell, they continue to surprise (and sadden) me.
  2. Come up with an inspiring, relevant, unique, and informative topic and start submitting it.  If you get a “no,” don’t complain, but instead politely ask why, and for help making it stronger for next time.  Usually, my “no” is because I got 5+ submissions just like it, because it wasn’t relevant to my audience, or because I wasn’t compelled by the topic.
  3. Promote each other!  Rather than write organizers to complain about their agenda, email them a number of speakers you feel would make it stronger.  I LOVE getting those emails: they are more positive and inspire me to help.
  4. Maggie Fox also has some great, concise tips on how to get noticed on Technically Women.

4)  Why is this important?

A lot of people argue that it will fix itself; that as more women get into the field, the numbers will even out.  Too bad the ratio of women is dropping in tech.  Why?  Well, one thing I’d say is a lack of role models.

Some do say that tech just isn’t for the estrogen inclined; that whether it be society or evolution, women aren’t fit to take the risks involved with a startup, or do the math involved with high tech.  One of my (many) issue swith this is that it is cyclical logic.  If we keep saying this, we discourage women from joining, so we assume women aren’t fit to join, so less do.  We miss an entirely new perspective on the issues we all face.  I have frequently found that the startup teams I meet that seem most balanced and likely to succeed are 2-3 co-founders, one of which is a woman.  I’m not arguing the two genders are identical.  It is in fact our differences that make it important we all be recognized.  If women are making up easily half of your users (as we see in blogging, online gaming, and twitter), shouldn’t you have a few women on the team?

And finally, it is an issue of understanding.  I hate the casual remarks I get now and then: “You have a pretty good hand shake for a woman” or “I don’t need to get into the details, I don’t think you’d understand” or “You know, getting women on stage will get the boys there!”  (Yes, Ive had all of those said to me.)  No, I am not being a “too sensitive” when I get irked by this, but I don’t fully blame the men who say these things, either.  How many female equals do they work with?  How many women have challenged one of their ideas, or countered them in an argument?  How often have they had to try a different tactic to reach an understanding?  We need to work together to create the most innovative software and useful social media tools, and to do that we need to be able to communicate with one another in a respectful manner.  Hearing these experienced and confident women on stage will be the first step for both genders.

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