The ladies of Ladies in Tech have a mission: getting lady speakers on stage at tech conferences.
They post interviews and resources on their website, but late last month, the group hosted their first workshop: “I Have an Idea for a Talk. Now What?”
Convening in the swank offices of Razorfish Healthware on the fourth floor of Center City’s Wanamaker Building, a little over a dozen women spent a few hours learning some best practices for generating and submitting proposals for talks at tech conferences of all types.
“We’re talking about anything from local meet ups in Philly, to national and international conferences,” said Jenn Lukas, Ladies in Tech founder and Girl Develop It instructor.
Lukas and Sara Wachter-Boettcher, the workshop leader, have spoken at a variety of tech conferences, from regional events, to SXSW, to international events in Norway and Italy.
A few important takeaways from Wachter-Boettcher’s presentation:
- Answer your “5 Why’s.” Continuously ask yourself, or have a friend ask you, why the topic you have in mind is meaningful for a talk. Asking repeatedly allows you to delve deeper into your intended purpose, with each “why” helping you peel away a layer of superfluous details in order to get to the real nugget of information you want to convey.
- Do your research on your topic. Be up to date on the most recent academic publications and other public talks by the leaders in your field. Use that research to help you find the niche angle for your talk that hasn’t been done before.
- Write about your topic. Having academic publications to strengthen your credibility in your proposal is great, but so is having a regularly updated blog where you explore your interest in your topic. Writing for related non-academic publications helps, too.
- Do your research on the event or conference to which you’re submitting your talk. Make sure your topic is appropriate for the context, and keep the past speakers and topics of that conference in mind when drafting your proposal. Being aware of what past conference organizers were looking for will help create a successful pitch.
- Record yourself practicing your talk. Wachter-Boettcher said it’s “painful and awkward,” but the best way to hone your speaking skills. Submitting a good clip of your talk, even if it’s just recorded at home, may also help strengthen your proposal for organizers who are unfamiliar with your work or with you as a speaker.
- Don’t be discouraged if you are rejected for your first few (or first few dozen) talks. Your topics and talk ideas will only get better with time as you gain more professional experience and participate in conferences as an audience member, said Wachter-Boettcher.
Lukas remembers the first tech conference she attended in Washington, D.C., in which she was one of three women present. Every single speaker was male. When it came time for proposals for that conference the next year, Lukas said she felt obligated to submit a proposal.
“I was terrified, I couldn’t look at the screen while I was hitting ‘submit,’” she said. “But after getting so upset about there being no women speakers, I had to do it.”
Ladies in Tech’s mission springs from the same motivation to do more than acknowledge the disparity and complain about it, she says.
And in a profession where the stereotype of antisocial computer nerd reigns, she says it’s important for tech people to make an effort to build community through meet ups and workshops like this.