As a general rule I try to keep my head below the parapet. In private I’m quite ornery and opinionated but in public I try to maintain a facade, I try to stay calm, be professional, and, contrary to my undergrad in theatre studies, I like to avoid the drama.
But now I’m exasperated and feel the need to say, indeed, shout, “Enough!” I’m not the first to shout “Enough!” on this topic and I fear I won’t be the last.
I spent last Thursday morning at the Swipe Summit. Unfortunately for Swipe Summit it is going to be the focus of my ire because, for me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
My concerns are two fold: “Where are the women speakers?” and “What is up with your conference content?” They are somewhat related.
Just to be clear about our involvement with Swipe Summit, DigiWomen were invited to curate a stream in the afternoon and to have an exhibition stand at the event. We received the invitation 2 weeks before Christmas and we were asked to source speakers for a stream that at the time was titled Innovation. I jokingly said to Pauline, “So it’s innovative to have women speak at a conference is it?” We reverted to the organisers, asking what fee we could offer speakers (not even what donation are you going to make to the entirely volunteer run DigiWomen) and were told there was no fee. We gained 6 subscribers to our newsletter, 42 new twitter followers, and 3 new Facebook Fans as a result of our presence. If each of those were worth a conservative €50 to us we made a mountainous €2550 from our 2.5 person presence at Swipe Summit. We spent money on collateral and Pauline spent time and mountains of social capital on scrambling to get three speakers to commit to the stream we were asked to curate 4 weeks before the event.
So to address my first concern about the presence of women speakers and to give you an idea of how Swipe Summit are doing there was one female speaker during the morning session, Mary Carty. There were 6 more in the afternoon, 4 of whom were chairing sessions. While being an effective chair is essential to the benefits of any conference it is not the same as being a speaker. So conference organisers please stop billing female chairs as speakers. Thanks! There were 29 speakers in total.
Therefore 25% of the speakers were female at Swipe Summit. If we swipe the chairs we can watch the summit fall on its behind with only 10%. female speakers. While I understand the summit is under new management this year, we and many other women in the online industry last year appealed to the Summit and other events organisers to aim for 30pc female speakers.
Damien Mulley recently announced the line-up for his annual MeasurementConf. His line-up is made up entirely of women. Women who will share their experience of using and measuring digital to promote their businesses. Women from whom I am excited to hear. Mulley won’t mind me saying this but I am certain that he did this out of sheer divilment. If women benefit all the better. The reason I say it is sheer divilment is because it is one in the eye for conference organisers who say that they couldn’t find the women to speak at their events. Where are the women speakers? If Mulley could get 12 top quality speakers why are other conferences unable to get even 25%? Here are my theories and they relate also to the “What is up with your conference content?”
- You are curating, you are not organising an event. A curator according to Dictionary.com is “a person who selects content for presentation, as on a website.” It is not enough to fill slots with whoever happens to be available that day and reasonably au fait with the area. If you can’t find enough (female) speakers for a given day then something is off. If you are curating, you should have a clear pitch to speakers about the overall theme, where they fit in that theme and who else you are considering approaching. Decide what your theme is initially and propose a very defined event to your potential speakers, rather than trying to shoehorn great speakers into an event that doesn’t fit them. So the order should be
This may seem counterintuitive but if you give them enough warning (“The event will be in 6 months time, say September.”) they should know, as business people, whether they will be able to set aside the time needed to prepare and attend during a given quarter. The date and venue are irrelevant if the theme and speakers are strong enough, just ask Eoin Kennedy about Congregation.
- Relevance. It is key that a conference is relevant, that the topics for discussion are the hot topics. While I am wary of going broad, your theme does have to be broad enough to allow room for developments between the time you begin developing your conference until the day the attendees are rocking up to register. Certain issues remain relevant no matter what and it is the insight of the speakers in those areas that will sell your content. c.f. MeasurementConf. always about measurement which is always relevant. It’s the different insight from folk across industry, the mix of case studies and experience, that keep it relevant. Therefore you have to be embedded in the sector for which you are creating the event in order to understand who has dealt with an issue, who has an interesting case study, who has won awards for a client, who has opinions about best practice, who is entertaining, useful, RELEVANT. You yourself have to be relevant to potential speakers. They have to believe you have the influence and know how to promote the event; that the look and feel of the event from logo to registration will be quality to which they are happy to put their name.
- If you don’t pay cash, somebody is going to have to foot the bill.We are all busy people. Conferences take time. If your speaker is an engaged, engaging and community focused individual you would hope that they would stick around for the whole conference and get stuck into issues raised on the day. That is at least a half day’s work. If they are good enough to speak at your conference one would presume that they will fashion a bespoke presentation for you with the most up to date facts and figures. That’s at least another half day’s work. You do the math. So if you are not going to pay them a reasonable fee the audience are going to have to pay by sitting through a sales pitch. The audience who have likely paid for their ticket . Apart from the peanuts/ monkeys equation consider the impression an inability to pay speakers makes on that speaker.How much confidence is a (wo)man hearing that going to feel about your ability to sell tickets, book exhibitors and attract sponsors?
- You are not going to please all of the people all of the time. Realistically we can each expect to take only a few nuggets home from any event but you will increase the level of nugget rehoming if you ensure that your speakers don’t have to justify their presence with a sales pitch that results in leads. Leads and exposure should be the icing on the cake of reasonable fees. People who are good enough to be speakers at your event don’t need to justify speaking with leads or exposure, amiright?
- Women speakers where are you? I know that Swipe Summit , for example, did approach women to speak. I don’t want to get into a bitchfest about what wasn’t right about Swipe Summit because I have been in their shoes. I have also been the woman who has been approached to speak. I know I immediately start thinking about the logistics, the disruption, the act of actually standing up there and speaking. I also know it’s a sweeping generalisation to say that other women react like this and that men just say yes and worry about the logistics later. But is it possible that this is what is going on? In my case if I was approached to speak at an event and told there was even a small fee I can respond positively to it because I know that at the very least I can pay a childminder or treat my long suffering support structure with those earnings. But, women, we have to start saying yes and dealing with the logistics later.
- Don’t say yes to bullshit. However, Potential Speakers, a caveat: do your homework. Respond positively in principle. Ask about theme, other speakers, diversity, involvement of industry practitioners rather than service providers. Ask your contact to send you some collateral, check out their website. I’m not saying a slick website is the be all and end all but it will certainly be more attractive to sponsors, right? If they are organising a digital/ technology event and they are not walking the walk, how on earth can you believe that they are capable of curating this event? If I, Roseanne Smith, with the little influence that I may have, am thinking this way about your event then be damn sure there are sponsors thinking this way. Both sponsors and speakers want their brand to be associated with quality. We all have our opinions about the event formerly known as the Dublin Web Summit but one thing you could never accuse them of was not embracing the technology. As they built their brand they developed their online advertising, social, email marketing and application strategies: they walked the walk (all the way to Lisbon, granted.)
In summary it shouldn’t matter what gender, race, sexuality, religion or planet your speakers are from; it shouldn’t. However, as a woman, it is genuinely galling to be given the impression that only men know enough about digital and technology to be asked and to agree to speak about it in our industry’s events. As Marian Wright Edelman, advocate of children’s rights, is oft-quoted “You can’t be what you don’t see.” She also said “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.” This is one of my steps; the next step is yours.