Friday, December 28, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Carol Bartz's keynote at the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration

Women working in computing and technology often have trouble seeing their gender well-represented on panels and podiums at industry conferences, but not at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing. This annual conference of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology says it is the largest gathering of women in this profession, and participants are still recalling Carol Bartz's keynote there two years ago.

At the time of this speech, Bartz was the CEO of Yahoo! and one of just two women heading Fortune 500 companies. She'd worked her way through decades of being one of just a few women in this profession, and her extemporaneous remarks describe how she fell in love with computing, starting with a job where she "was to add up the total of all the possible license plate combinations in the state of Missouri." Far from taking an inaccessible view of her own experience, Bartz is a speaker able to put the computation back into computer science in a way that any listener can grasp.

In this speech, she bridges from her experience to the audience before her by describing how the field had changed. "It isn't just from paper tape to the world of today but how we thought about the world....we were so ancient," she says. This turns out to be less of an apology for coming from the wayback time, and more of a paean to what women bring to the evolving issues of technology:
When we think about longer do we actually think about it only from the computer technologist's point of view, but we think about it from the psychologist's, the psychiatrist's, the anthropologist's, the economist's...How is technology affecting our users? How is it affecting our world? I think, finally, with this complex feeling of technology, women are going to take the leadership. It is about feeling, about making a difference in the world, and it's about using our technology for the greater good--not just making money, not just getting awards, because we, because of our brains, can change things. I think there's no greater calling than that.
Bartz is no stranger to readers of this blog, where we've covered her since she took the reins at Yahoo! and had her very first speech there dissected and analyzed by industry observers. She has been vocal about issues like women getting talked over in meetings--even at her level--and this is her second appearance on Famous Speech Friday, in part because I like her willingness to speak as a woman CEO about embracing failure. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Surprise the audience and toss your notes: "I brought prepared remarks and I'm not gonna use them," was her opener to this speech. Her speechwriter may not have been happy, but the result is better eye contact and connection with the audience, right from the start. Like Bartz, you can do this well in a crowd you know, on an issue that's part of your ethos, and in a situation where you feel comfortable. It's like catnip for the audience, an irresistible ploy.
  • Give the group a call to action: Bartz asks the crowd to reach out to younger women to "make sure they stay in science and math, that they are inspired by numbers, that they are inspired by problem-solving, that they're just inspired by the fascinating world we live in." The message is both uplifting and grounded in something the listeners can do on a personal level, another irresistible combination.
  • Get real: Bartz reflects on meeting Yahoo! interns at the meeting and puts into real terms their goals: jobs, connections and the need to be inspired. It's one of several nice moments in which she includes experiences at this conference in her remarks, lending them immediacy and relevance at once. Because she includes more detail than the usual speaker's trite "As I was walking across your beautiful campus this morning," she lets you know she's been an actual and active participant at this gathering.
Below is the video of nearly all of this keynote speech, with a hat tip to reader Cate Huston, who suggested it to me. What do you think of this famous speech?