Women speaking at conferences: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

August 16, 2009 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my time at TechTV.
In particular I’ve been thinking about the quandary we faced early on in finding super smart tech folks … who could speak on camera.
Why the nostalgia? I’ll refrain from belaboring the topic here, but in case you’ve missed any of the recent debates about women speaking at tech conferences, you can read this postthis post or this one.
Now back to my TechTV reverie … Keep in mind this was late 90’s and just into the early 00’s. All these super simple social media platforms that allowed anyone and everyone to work on their camera delivery and speaking, didn’t exist. My job at TechTV was all about those people in front of the camera. It began with my handling both the Talent and Guest Booking departments.
Ever try to get a geek to speak English? Ever try to do that in front of a camera? It ain’t easy. Generally it was either great TV people with no tech skills or superb tech people who … well … let’s say their communication skills were rusty.
Then, once you got someone to a passable state in front of the lens, there was the other challenge – figuring out what kind of on-air work they could do. Because just as in the “non tech” world of broadcasting, there are some people who are perfectly suited to anchoring, others to talk show hosting, others to reporting, others to doing panel moderation, and so forth.
(For the record, thanks to lots of research, a bit of luck and some superb talent coaching, we ended up with a rock solid on air crew .)
So it goes with conference speaking. Some people are great at individual talks and keynotes, others are best on panels, some are superb moderating, others best when giving a how to/or workshop type talk. And at the end of the day, some folks just don’t belong in public speaking situations.
To be clear, I am also a firm believer that just about anyone can be taught enough baseline technique to become a half way decent presenter. Some pretty remarkable things can be accomplished with the right kind of training (this is where I give a shameless plug for my own story-telling workshops that are designed to help address the common missing link for most folks – the ability to tell their own story) but that’s not the point of this.
My point here is simple … if you suck at something, work at getting better. If after doing all you can to improve, you still are just hobbling by, perhaps you should re-evaluate the specific angle you’re taking.
Are you pushing yourself solely for keynotes? Perhaps you should consider being on a panel? Or, better, yet, perhaps you can put together a great panel of people and moderate it yourself? How about workshop or how-to sessions?
Best of all – try them all … You’ll find what works. You’ll find what doesn’t. If you’re lucky you’ll have many different types of formats in which you are or become comfortable and can then continue to polish and grow.


Comments are closed.