Speaker diversity is an important discussion to have when organising a conference. We all work and live in international and diverse communities, so our conferences should reflect this reality. These days, everyone checks the gender ratio when they scroll through the speakers list.
I’ve been part of the curation team for the first two MTP Engage conferences in Hamburg. We’ve tried hard to get women and men from all over Germany (it’s mainly a German event), and some international speakers on stage, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Let me explain why.
Both Arne Kittler, my co-organiser, and I each have a big network and we know lots of people in the German product scene. Many of them are women. Not unreasonably, we thought a 50/50 gender split like #mtpcon would be a good goal for our conference speakers.
We started to engage with potential speakers. They were all approached in a similar way. We said something like: “Hey XYZ, how about talking at the conference we are organising? It’s like #mtpcon, just smaller and with three tracks instead of one – so one big stage and two smaller stages. We think you could say something really interesting on topic ABC or DEF which would really help people in their day-to-day work.”
The men would react with: “Oh well… cool. Thanks for the opportunity. I need to think about that…and let’s chat again next week.” Some of the women reacted in that way as well, but only a few. Most of them said just one thing immediately (and after a while it drove me nuts): “Ah… um… do you really think I have something interesting to tell?!?!”
Ladies! I asked you because I think you have something interesting to say!
Why would I ask you if I don’t believe in your ability to talk in front of that many people?!
I think you can do it – that’s why I was asking.
So please, if you are asked to speak at a conference take it as a compliment. Give it a thought!
Trust, Tips and Next Steps
It’s perfectly fine to be worried about public speaking. Everybody is. We had exactly the same questions from men and women: how many people will be in the room? Can I speak in the smallest room possible? Can I do my talk with somebody else so that I’m not alone on the stage?
Public speaking is never easy, but it does get easier the more you do it. And it’s worth it. You’ll feel a lot of pleasure and satisfaction after the talk.
So, do you think it’s time for a change? Find some courage, and start small (maybe at your closest ProductTank), and don’t say no if people ask you to talk about a topic. (Need more tips? Read this. But you think if you’re ready, please get in touch, we’re looking for speakers for the next MTP Engage Hamburg.)
And to all senior product people and managers: please help your more junior team members to train their public speaking skills. Give them the support they need, and encourage them, no matter their gender, to dream big. Help them to find a good topic and to go on stage to tell their story.