Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interview: Editors of @techspeakdigest on women speakers in tech

(Editor's note: The Technically Speaking newsletter just celebrated its first anniversary. Editors Chiu-Ki Chan, an independent Android developer with too many side projects, and Cate HustonDirector of Mobile Engineering at Ride and an advisor at Glowforge, curate helpful tips, calls for speaker proposals, and more in their weekly email aimed at helping speakers and wannabe speakers in the tech world. I've been a sponsor of the newsletter, and did a webinar with them, so I asked them to answer a few questions sharing what they've learned from publishing the newsletter.) 

What motivated you to start Technically Speaking?

Chiu-Ki: Cate and I were touring Copenhagen before speaking at ├średev, and chatted about public speaking. We realized that it was not easy to get started, but once we are on the speaking circuit, a lot of information flows our way. We decided that a newsletter is the best channel because it let us share the information in a timely manner, and also serves as a reminder for people to submit to conferences.

Cate: I was actually in Copenhagen because Chiu-Ki had sent me that CfP! We’d had dinner earlier in the year when I was in the bay area, and I’d mentioned I was trying to get started speaking, and she’d started sending me CfPs. This had been so useful to me; the newsletter was a way to scale that. I read (and tweeted) a lot about articles I’d found that helped me as a speaker, so the newsletter packaged what we already did to be the mentor in your inbox each week - yes you have something to say! Here’s some places you might say it, and some resources that might help.

What do you look for when curating information about conferences or for the tips you provide?

Chiu-Ki: We balance three types of content: (1) Information for first-time speakers (2) Pro tips (3) What’s New. Beginners often think they have nothing to share, and we go out of our way to encourage them to write about their experience so others can read and realize they can do it too. We also have experienced speakers and conference organizers on the list, so we want to include advanced techniques for them to improve as well.

Cate: We look for a variety of perspectives, people who are saying something different than the usual public speaking 101. Also not the same people - beginner speakers sharing their experiences are really valuable because they are more accessible to someone who is just getting started than pro tips from international keynoters. The pro tips are also helpful though! From the beginning we’ve worked to include at least 50% content from women, and one thing that’s amazing is how much easier that’s become over time! We also look to include content from other underrepresented groups, although we don’t track that.

Who's reading it?

Cate: Nearly 2K people! We have some dedicated fans who show up to every webinar, which is awesome. A number of conference organizers. A lot of women subscribe, and one thing that’s interesting is they say things like “thanks for everything you do for women speakers”, but there are a good number of men who just tell us “I love your newsletter”. I think it’s because women aren’t used to seeing content that’s for everyone, run by women, considering women as first-class consumers of the content (rather than a special interest group). This makes me sad sometimes, but I’m hopeful that we are changing that. I think we also talk a lot more publically about the kind of support that women need to “succeed” in tech (TS comes up a lot in that context), but almost everyone needs some encouragement to get up on stage.

Describe some of the common questions that come up in your meetups and webinars.
Chiu-ki: What should I talk about? What if people ask me questions I cannot answer? Is it okay to give the same talk multiple times?

Cate: Women ask about harassment a lot, which breaks my heart. This is the post-GG world, where women know that visibility comes with risk but they are unsure how great that risk is, and whether it’s worth taking on.

Do you think there's support in tech for people who want to be speakers? Why or why not? What's missing?

Chiu-ki: Right now conference speaking is seen as time away from work, and it requires a fair bit of negotiation to convince your manager to let you do it. It would be fabulous if companies recognizes its value and encourage people to speak by sending them to conferences on work time (instead of vacation time) and fund their travels. A clear conference policy goes a long way.

Cate: I think giving good talks uses a number of skills that tend to be undervalued amongst engineers, but are actually really important. Presenting information clearly, pulling out important points, being organized and prepared, being able to explain not just what you did, but why. Building a connection with people. I think a lot lately about being a good technical interviewer (I actually gave a talk about this) and guess what? I use a lot of those tactics on stage as well.

What's your top tip for a tech speaker?

Chiu-ki: Bring a bottle of water for your talk. Aim to finish by the end. That forces you to pause and reset when you speak faster and faster.

Cate: Like a good UI, a good talk is built on a grid. Don’t inflict that structure on the audience, but use it to weave a narrative around it. I also use this strategy to make the lengths of my talks flexible.

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us!