The words female and tech are in parentheses because this post was initially intended to be about finding women speakers for tech events. However, these principles can be applied to finding speakers of any gender for any kind of event.
I am a computer scientist from Munich, who founded a non-profit initiative called Female Tech Leaders (FTL), in the pursuit of getting more women and girls into STEM fields and getting those who already are in STEM into leadership roles. We want to achieve these goals by a number of various community projects, including but not limited to workshops, hackathons, courses and — so far our biggest category — speaker nights. These are events where (mostly) women in tech speak about technical subjects or personal talks regarding their career paths, challenges, and learnings about working in a male dominated field.
Last weekend, I was invited to the Women Techmakers Summit in Prague. I met some amazing community leaders in tech and learned a lot of valuable insights to take home to the FTL community with me. Our days were filled with talks about inclusion and community building, an interactive panel about collaborating with other communities, and a series of hands-on workshops meant to help attendees develop their community leading skills.
In one of the workshops, we were asked to brainstorm about how we could get more female speakers to give talks at events and tech conferences. Since most of my work and research at FTL deals with topics like this, I was very excited to exchange my experiences with my team. I don’t usually have a hard time finding female speakers, so after sharing the best practices I employ at Female Tech Leaders, my group asked me to write them down, making them available to other communities of (tech) conference organizers. It wasn’t the first time I was asked to do this, so I decided to oblige and share some of my knowledge in this post.
In the hopes that these practices will help other (tech) communities find more (female) speakers for their events, here they are:
1. Meet them at other events
While this one sounds quite trivial, you would be surprised how many people want to, but don’t approach speakers at events. People who talk at conferences want their talks to lead to new opportunities. Personally, I can attest that it is a compliment when someone likes your talk so much, they want you to come and speak at their event too. So get out of the building and go to the very next conference in your community, there is a speaker waiting for you to ask them.
2. Look up talented people in your area
Your next speaker does not need to have years of public speaking experience. You can find many talented men and women in your city who are really good at what they do, but the opportunity may not have presented itself to them yet. They also might need a little push! That’s where your proactivity comes in. Look up people who have done a cool thing and just message them! I’ve experienced that people are very flattered to be messaged about their accomplishments. If someone is unsure about speaking in public, even though you think their knowledge should be shared, you can try to be supportive by encouraging them — which brings me to my next point.
3. Encourage and empower (first time) speakers
Something that I like to do if a speaker has not given many talks before and is unsure about where to start: I meet up with them in person and try to support their creative process in any way that I can. Oftentimes, it is enough to meet for an informal coffee or dinner and just ask them a lot of questions about what they do. Be clear about what the topic of their talk should be, then ask them all that you want to know about it. If it is about something personal, or if they are accomplished in their field, then talking conversationally about exactly those subjects should come easy to them anyway. You will soon find out that simply by chatting with you, their talks start drafting themselves. Your speaker will go home and have lots of material to work with!
4. Help create speakers yourself by leading public speaking workshops in your community
There are so many men and women out there who would like to give talks but don’t know what to do to get started. You can help them by throwing a workshop. Find some talented speakers or even official coaches in your area and ask them to donate their time for a speaker training workshop! Ask participants to bring a (technical) topic they’d like to give a talk about someday and then work with them on the individual areas they wish to improve. This will help people overcome their fears and direct their questions to a professional in a safe and fun environment. You might empower someone to speak at your next meetup or even big conference.
5. Invite potential future speakers to be guests at your events
If you have a potential speaker who is still hesitant, give them a behind the scenes look of what’s going on at your conference. Introduce them to current speakers and audience members. If your events are made with love, they will soon feel the inclusive and safe vibes. They will notice how rewarding it is for your speakers to share their knowledge with your community and how much the audience appreciates to hear their talks. Help them feel that they are a part of it and it might encourage them to participate in your next conference.
6. Network and become known
This one is by far the most important point, so I will divide it into two parts.
6.1 — Go to a lot of events
Female Tech Leaders has become Munich’s go-to organization for most topics and events related to gender diversity in tech. I am in a very grateful position where now I don’t have to search a lot, but people actually reach out to me to introduce potential speakers! This didn’t happen overnight, though. I attended plenty of events, conferences and meetups, and tried to personally meet other community leads whenever I could. I walked up to many strangers at many events to get to know them and learn about what they do in the community. I tried to tell everyone I met about empowering women in technology and shared the passion for my cause. I exchanged contacts and helped other communities (e.g. Unicorns In Tech, Munich) with their meetups. Helping others out is not only emotionally rewarding, but will also make you a well known member of your city’s tech and startup scene, so go and engage with other people’s events!
6.2 — Introduce people to each other
Even if it does not directly benefit you in any way. When you talk to someone new and they tell you about themselves, their plans, hobbies or career moves, scan your mind for someone else you know who could either be of help for them, or just interesting to chat with. It takes two minutes of your time to write a quick intro message, but people don’t forget the person who connected them to someone that made a difference in their lives, or careers. Become a person who helps and connects people. They will think of you when they meet someone who might be of interest to you in return, such as a potential speaker.
Become known for your cause in your community and introduce people to each other, and soon the speakers will be coming to you.
Bonus: Try to see something worth sharing in everyone you meet
Your next speaker does not need be someone who is already in the news every day. It can be anyone. I’m a curious person, and I try to find something interesting and worth admiring in everyone I meet. Every person has a story, something they’re good at, or something that makes them special. I try to look for that and highlight it in people. I try to recognize and verbally acknowledge it if I like something about them. Not only does it lead to better relationships, but it also trains your eye to look for something awesome in everyone. This habit might just encourage someone to give a talk about something, someday. And if they do, I want to hear it.
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About the author
Alev Canoglu is a student at the Technical University of Munich, pursuing her Masters Degree in Computer Science and the founder of Female Tech Leaders. Alev founded Female Tech Leaders to strengthen the ecosystem for women engineers, leaders and entrepreneurs and make STEM fields and entrepreneurship accessible to all generations of women.
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This post is a repost and was originally posted by Alev on her Medium account on June 13, 2017.