Confessions of a not-so-public speaker

If you want the tech community to have diversity, you need to be the change.

Empty Stage by Max Wolfe, on Flickr One of Web 2.0 Summit
memorable moments came early, when program chair John
Battelle was gently but earnestly admonished by anthropologist
Genevieve Bell
for not having more women on stage that day. Cue
lots of applause from the audience. John rejoined that he wouldn’t
discuss the number of women who had turned him down.

Part of my job here at O’Reilly is to encourage women, people of color, and other folks often underrepresented at tech conferences to be speakers at our events. I can really empathize with John: I’ve been turned down a lot, too. During that moment at Web 2.0 Summit, I wondered how many women applauding Genevieve’s comment are regular
tech conference speakers themselves. It’s one thing to say we need role models and a very different thing to actually be one.

And that’s exactly the intersection I find myself standing in now.

I worked in fundraising for many years, and it wasn’t until I became a donor myself that I truly understood how to overcome the challenges of getting people to open their wallets — not to mention understand how good it feels to give to an important cause. Similarly, I know I won’t be able to be a true agent for diversity in our speaker rosters until I step up and become a public speaker myself.

You’d think it’d be easier being in the conference organizing biz, but for me, it’s the opposite. The quality of speakers I usually see — engaging, humorous, knowledgeable, and at one with their slide decks — can be a bit intimidating. While I don’t think I’ll be a speaker at Web 2.0 Summit any time soon, the biggest issue is just
taking those first steps toward the speaker side of the street.

So, I’ve resolved to start my speaking journey. Some people are naturals on stage, and others, like me, need some encouragement. Make that a lot of encouragement. I’ve been fortunate to have two accomplished speakers
cheering me on: entrepreneur and writer Jessica Faye Carter and
investment book author Cathleen Rittereiser. They’re helping me put together an action plan for becoming a public speaker.

In the hopes that it inspires more than just me, I’d like to share their excellent advice more broadly — below you’ll find five tips for launching your own public speaking effort.

Join an online speaking organizationLinkedIn and MeetUp are rife with speaking groups; SpeakerMatch and Speakerfile are two fairly new social networking sites.

Join a speaking group in real lifeToastmasters and National Speakers Association (NSA) are two of the largest and most active. NSA’s online magazine has great resources for speakers.

Read — Dale Carnegie’s “The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking” still gets high marks today. Take a look at “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” “The Confident Speaker,” and “Slide:ology.” [Disclosure: “Confessions of a Public Speaker” and “Slide:ology” are O’Reilly titles.]

Start low-key — User group meetings and Ignite events are usually supportive places to get your feet wet. Scott Berkun’s Why You Should Speak (at Ignite) presentation (embedded below) is an inspirational and succinct primer for newbies, and it helps answer the pesky what-the-hell-do-I-talk-about question.

Team up — Take the stage with a more experienced speaker. Even if you just push the button on the slide clicker, you’re still putting yourself in front of an audience.

Come along with me, won’t you? Even if you’re not part of an “underrepresented group.” It’s good for our careers; the communities we represent; the causes we espouse; and hey, I’ve heard it can be fun, too.

I’d love to hear from you. How did you get started speaking? What are your suggestions and resources for honing preso chops? What do you get out of speaking in public? If you’re an event organizer, what steps are you taking to diversify your participants? If you’re a regular on the conference circuit, what do you do to mentor and
encourage others to take the podium?

Please share your advice and ideas in the comments area.

Associated photo on home and category pages: 224/365 Mic by thebarrowboy, on Flickr. Photo at top of post: Empty Stage by Max Wolfe, on Flickr.


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