A mentoring program for fresh, aspiring speakers anyone?


Yes, it is this time of the year again. More female speakers, etc, but bear with me, there is a new twist to it. And some questions at the bottom plus a suggestion where you actually should start using your ‘consumer power’.

This time brought up by Lena West in “X Chromosome Web 2.0 Rock Stars“. I have made my points clear in “Decisions are made by those who show up” but looking at Lena’s answers something else popped up for me.

Maybe I have been watching too much enjoyable pickup artist reality shows (hei, I really found them amusing!), but Lena’s answer to my comment made something very obvious to me:

So, the question is…how do we make it easier for women to apply for available speaking gigs? Or, maybe even more basic than that, how do we get women to put speaking at the top of their priority/marketing efforts list? Or maybe, how do we get ‘the establishment’ to recognize/find people who won’t exactly promote themselves?

If you ever saw any of the ‘PUA’ stuff, you should know what I saw: Easy.

I do not think it should be easier. It should be more obvious what men do to get this kind of stuff – what women neglect to do. It should not be made harder btw just equally hard. That already sets the bar much higher for many women.

And why do we have to find people “who do not to promote themselves” to recommend them when obviously that is not what they want? I appreciate Jeremiah’s posting on this, but basically it is again doing work for somebody who seems not willing to do so.

Not speaking of certain individuals, but in general: Men do call, try to add value, come up with proposals etc. They send in applications when a call for speakers is send out, try to connect with people they know etc. And end up submitting.

They also appear at conferences and networking events. And everybody ever having been to such events knows, that it is basically not about the program, but the networking.

I have been involved in enough conference by now to see the pattern

  • you have a goal for your event
  • you need some famous speakers to sell tickets
  • you need a program with good speakers to sell tickets

Once you do have your program structure in place, you go through your physical and mental address book. Then you add the results of the call for speaker PLUS all the other submissions (mostly male of course). Suddenly you have a good program. You are happy.

You publish it – then comes the usual “where are the females” outcry. Busted, blamed – but actually why?

Names are pulled out and the organizer has to put effort into getting to these women (whereas everybody else came to them, offering them content, ready made) and talk to them. Trying to convince them while at the same time having to balance for the fact, that they are often not as popular (aka visible and with their own reach). Organizers of course can never talk about it, it would hurt them even more.

But this is not Stone Age anymore, when men had a physical advantage and where meant to go hunting. Today, everybody can go up on a stage and deliver a presentation. (Not everybody should do it, but that is a different issue.)

As such, it IS absolutely valid to tell a woman that she needs to pay extra attention to all the things that make her weaker on stage than a man. That she needs to pay attention to how her microphone level is in comparison to male voices. That on such a case the role of the little girl is just not cutting it. And that in order to be on the stage, on a panel or with a workshop, she needs to make contacts, get her proposals out with more than just being a chick but with something valuable to the conference organizer.

Men will play confident even if they are not. They are sometimes very blissful in their ignorance. Then again, they take criticism as one way to grow and put their ambition towards ‘getting there’. Rejection just means “not this time”.

“But I send out proposals and I got refused!” So have many other men. Plus in most cases a simple look at the presentation / application reveals why. (Something else many women really do not want to hear about).

Going back to Lena demanding men to stand up for more female speakers, I shrug my shoulders and ask: why should they? It would be something absolutely different if women would apply and just not get into the spots. But that is not the case.

There is also the demand for women not to go to events that do not have equal speakers. I have a secret for you: That is not really going to hurt sales, because women seldom go, so unless there is an upswing in women attending, that is an empty threat.

Bottom line?
There is a reason why the same names always keep popping up. Because there are not many good names / speakers – male or female.

Some questions
For starters it would be great if conference organizers would publish, how many female applications they got (minus the one where it was on behalf of a guy). Second, how much of them actually where on the spot for the conference. (My gues: they will barely hit 10% on a normal conference).

For speakers – if they actually read this: How often do you get approached or do you send out submissions? Somebody in the league of Jeremiah and even more Guy, you get asked. But that does not happen overnight.

And for everybody else: mail your favorite interesting person and ask: What do YOU do to get onto the speaking circuit? If they already have aspirations: “How often have you submitted something to a call for speaker, how often have you made contact with conference organizers, how many interview proposals have you done to interviewing media. When was the last time you updated your speakers / about me page? Does it have video / audio of you? ”

Terri L. Maurer asks in another article about the glass ceiling :

Like you, I have to wonder why women don’t do more for ‘our own’. That is, those who make it up the ladder leaning back to help other women follow them up.

Why would you build ladders for nobody to follow? Climbing a ladder is work, and as we see further up, there never seems to be work involved for a female, but all good things come to them.

The reason why I nearly named this post “the female speaker apprentice” is simple. Because I assume that out of 12 or whatever aspiring female speakers with ambition (mind you that already narrows down the field a lot), only one or two have what it takes to be really a good speaker on the stage in the caliber of one Guy Kawasaki.

Same with the men – just that they seem to try harder.

… and where you actually should start using your ‘consumer power’
The point where I think you should use your power is this: Demand from organizers to have fresh speakers – be it male or female. And assure them at the same time that you still will attend, even if you bring in new names.

Because that is the other side of the story – organizers do not just pick big male names because it is easy, but because they need to make their conference happen too! It is not as if they are the big evil.

And you should ask the bigger names to do something for fresh speakers, help the organizers for example in endorsing them. Yes, that is assigning the big name to the small name, but it gives credit – which would also answer the “what is in it for me” question. …


9 Responses to “A mentoring program for fresh, aspiring speakers anyone?”

  1. Christiane says:

    A lot of these events are very selfish, “we give each other a pat on the back”-events. It doesn’t mean that these events couldn’t be interesting but that’s maybe not the kind of profiling most women like. Fair enough, I think. I would really appreciate if the conferences and meetings would focus more on what the speaker says and not who the speaker is. Name dropping is an annoying disease. I don’t think that there aren’t enough women who are good speakers. They just don’t want to join the “I am the best, I am a Web2.0 hero” show. And if you want to have more women on stage, just invite them.

  2. Nicole says:

    I think, it would just be enough if more woman actually started with putting contact information online, let alone some reference for an organizer to have a look.

    “Name dropping is an annoying disease.”
    Which again goes with the problem: as long as customers demand big names to show up (and not be satisfied just with great content) you need those speakers. Hen egg problem. Hence the endorsing part.

    About the just inviting … it is not what you do with men either. You do not ‘just’ invite men nor women. You need somebody who actually wants to be there and is capable of playing their role in this game. :)

  3. Christiane says:

    “You need somebody who actually wants to be there and is capable of playing their role in this game.”
    That’s exactly the problem. A lot of women don’t want to “play a game”. They want to present their work, their ideas, their company – and don’t want to be a pawn in a game of someone else. And I am not sure if they really miss an opportunity. There are a lot of quiet but successful men and women in this business. And I am not sure if the loud men are really the most successful, best, whatever… For me a good conference would be a conference where I could see some of the quiet but interesting faces.

  4. Nicole says:

    With role in the game I did not really mean that game. ;) It is more about understanding what such an event usually is about – and in some regard this means adaption. And for example, being interesting enough to draw somebody out and make them practise unless being on such a stage comes natural to them.

    And, somebody has to bring them to the attention of those organizers and make it easy enough to connect etc etc. Which is why we often end up with the same faces.

    As usual, it is not black or white. With my interviews for example I found that sometimes the most boring description / bio had the most interesting people behind them, but only once I got through them, not before. Meaning, they will never appear on the radar, unless something spectacular happens. ;)

  5. Honestly, I got my first conference speaking position simply because I am a woman – they needed a chick on the roster and they knew I could pull it off. Since then, I’ve gone after as many speaking gigs as I could.

    I don’t know why more women haven’t done it – it has been one of the biggest career accelerators I have ever done. Maybe that’s part of it – women are incredibly protective of their work-life balance, sometimes to a fault.

    That being said, every time I can be a part of the planning or feedback loop on a conference, usually the first words out of my mouth are, “What women do you have speaking?”. Most conference hosts want a big, diverse group of attendees. It’s funny how they seem to forget the obvious – get a diverse group of presenters, diverse attendees will show up.

    GREAT post, btw!

  6. Nicole says:

    When you ask “what women have you speaking?” this is a decorational question, not so much one of value for the event. It is like asking for “will there be real milk for the coffee” (don’t get me wrong, that is important to me.)

    And yes of course, we do have a much easier entrance to the speaking circuit through being a women, and every time somebody popps up this question it gets easier. But it is nothing more than a headstart. If you stand still after that, they will pass you.

    [Work life balance is one issue on its own plus I am not dismissing the fact that child care and non supporting significant others are an issue here as well.]

    The question stays – Do really more women come if more women are on the roster?

    And no, as much as I like blogher, it does not count in this regard, because it is marketed specifically to women. ;)

  7. Personally, I dislike speaking but I love talking about the subject. I hate having to get up and do a talk, but one-on-one or in small groups I love spreading the passion. Last year I did a couple of panels, this year I’m going to try and do a few more, but it’s not something I pursue with abandon, just look for the odd opportunities. Then again, I did submit a proposal to SWSX and it got accepted. This is the point when I wonder what I’m doing!!!! Building a list is not what matters – acting is. I try and do small bits, but I could do more

    I go to a conference for the quality of the speakers, not their gender. I would not specifically pick a conference because it had more women on the agenda.

  8. Hi everybody, I loved this post and also the disussion as I am in the middle of the field – I am a speaker but also the founder of a speakers agency for women, mainly because I was sick having to learn fro men all the time. I wanted to listen to women and that’s when I started my search, inspired by the success of the speakers agency of a friend of mine. he todl me, when I asked him why he had not more women in his database, that simpy there are not enogh good women out there and if they were, you could not recognize it from their presentations. I did not believe it but so it is. Only to FIND some women out there with some special expertise and some neat self-presentations took me nearly one year.

    I have then started to organize events for Top-CEOs, having only women speak. the analysis of the first 3 events has shown the necessity of offering a real PROFESSIONAL SPEAKING TRAINING – as all women had excellent expertise, but none was excellent in speaking and presenting.

    this is kind of frustrating.
    anyway – hope dies last and I think we need to push also women up onto the podiums of this world as they have a backlogg in learning how to present themselves with self-confidence. and we need role-models in order to help younger women to come up more easily. learning is all about models – women do not find a lot of role-models to show them how to speak up with confidence, how to become active and share their enthusiasm and their knowledge.

    my aim with the speakers agency and the events connected to it is substantially this: to create role-models. if you know somebody or you are one ourself, please: SHOW UP! :-)

  9. Trine-Maria says:

    I think I am not the typical women in this debate – I love to do speaking gigs – I am very good at it because I am passionate about what I do – and I like a good crowd – whether they are sceptical or positive about the topic. I tend to speak in Denmark mostly – but I don’t care if I am to speak in English or Danish – and I do try to get more international speaking jobs.

    I work with new technology and reinvention of processes, products and communication – in my everyday life I work as a conultant (I have co-founded a small start-up – we are 5 employees now) and I have written a book about blogging as well. I know my subject and I walk the talk (meaning I don’t just talk about new processes – I actually work most of the time on getting tools and processes to work with our clients!)

    The reason why I disagree that it doesn’t matter if there are women speaking on a conference is that if there are only male speakers I tend to believe that the organizers have to small a network to make a real interesting event. Their networks are to small or to narrow if they can’t find any good female speakers. (And I am not talking 50/50 here – I just want one or two interesting women). It makes me wonder if the male speakers are good then?

    In Denmark – at the moment – there is a debate about why there are no women in business boards. (we have around 5 percent women in boards here) – and I think it is because women are not visible in the network where the recruiting takes place. I have never heard about a vacant position on a board – and I would have no clue where to look for it – so how can I apply? I think maybe it is the same with a lot of speaking jobs? If you are not part of the loop you simply have no clue that there is an opportunity to speak? (and I am not blaming any one – I just think women should do more to get on the mailinglists and men should do more to get more women on the list – or ask people to forward the proposals to new people!)