The Worst Way To Find Women Speakers

I am a female speaker, and a software developer, which puts me in a fairly small minority at the events I usually attend (I'm a PHP consultant based in the UK, to give you an idea of what kind of events those are). Recently I've been asked my opinion more than once on the issue of women speakers being in a minority at technical events, and I've also been the "token" women speaker at a technical event.

The worst thing you can do is find some random, underqualified person who represents the demographic you want to include, and put them on the stage. Although gender is often the issue we hear most about, the same applies to anyone who isn't a young, white male; it's just that gender is easier to see and talk about than either age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else, and also since I'm a young, white female, it's the only aspect I can comment on.Women are in such a minority that they are, almost by definition, representative (see http://xkcd.com/385). Anyone who sees your randomly-selected woman speak will simply go away thinking that women aren't really good at speaking. Continue reading

My Talk Filing System

Three years ago, I had never spoken in public (I have video of that first attempt and all I can say is that I've come a long, long way!). Since then, I've done rather a lot of it. I've submitted countless conference talks, had the minority of those accepted, and prepared and delivered those that were. Not many talks have been given twice, but some have, and now some are getting rebranded since I am working for myself and can choose my own slide branding these days. All this adds up to a lot of content to keep track of!

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Podcast: How and Why to Become a Speaker

This is a podcast version of my rant-in-the-bar advice to anyone thinking about speaking, or wondering how to begin. Personally I think many more people could be sharing their expertise at events than actually do so, and I would really like anyone who wants to get involved to have a starting point. So if that's you, and you have a spare ten minutes to listen to my thoughts on the subject, then the mp3 is here.

Let me know what you think, and if you have any other advice you'd give to someone who isn't yet speaking.

Conference Biography Help

I've been updating my conference details recently, in order to submit my talks for php|tek in Chicago (the call for papers closes on Monday - get your submissions in!). One thing which I struggled with is my biography, I used to have a paragraph which sort of said "Lorna is a PHP Developer and involved with PHPWomen", and I used that same entry for every conference for a year or more. However, just like speaker photos, biographies do date. I've taken on more responsibilities at work and I've been doing more things in the community as well so it was time for a refresh.

I'm quite happy with my new bio:

Lorna Jane Mitchell is a senior developer who speaks, writes and blogs on a variety of technical topics. At Ibuildings she runs the PHP Academy, meaning she's involved in managing and coaching trainers, hosting seminars and conferences, building a training programme and representing Ibuildings within the PHP community. Lorna is the Editor-in-Chief at Ibuildings techPortal and blogs regularly at lornajane.net. In her spare time she is the European Representative of PHPWomen and is an organiser of the PHPNW user group and conference.

Getting This Far

To get to this point, I started with a list of things I should include. My job, my blog, my community activity, my technical interests. There's definitely scope for including unexpected information here, I'm seriously thinking of adding my knitting hobby into this paragraph!

I then turned my points into sentences, and emailed the result to a few people to read. Even if you're secretly hoping someone else will write your bio for you, its often easier for them to criticise something you have written than to start from scratch themselves. I always take this approach even when I know I'm probably making a hash of it, if I'm asking for someone's input, I take the time to attempt it myself and send them the result. I'm enormously grateful to everyone who has reviewed my biographies and talk proposals, and I'm always happy to do the same for others when I can find the time.

Proofreaders can pick up spelling mistakes and help you put your best foot forward, it might be embarrassing to write about yourself but is it more or less embarrassing than having a lame biography printed in a conference programme?

How to Submit a Conference Talk

Speaking at conferences is a great way to share ideas and meet people - but actually getting the opportunity to do is a little more tricky and usually involves proposing a talk. In the last year I've attended IPC in Germany and PHP London, spoken at DPC in Amsterdam, submitted talks to and attended ZendCon, and helped select the sessions for phpnw - so I've seen it from all angles.

The first thing to say about submitting talks, is that there are no pre-requisites. You don't need to be published, well-known, or have letters after your name (in the PHP community, the latter is probably more hindrance than help). If you want to go to a conference, and there is a topic you'd like to share some thoughts on, then write them down and submit! A lot of conferences have a Call for Papers - usually this will be an online form where you put in your personal details and the details of the talk you'd like to give. If it sounds simple, that's because it really is ...

Proposing your talk

It can be tricky to know what to write in the boxes and how to sell your talk to the conference organisers. The call for papers should give information about the themes of the conference, the expected audience, and the kind of content they are looking for - so pay attention to this. Usually you'll be expected to submit an "abstract", this is a description of your talk that will be put on the schedule if you are accepted. A good way to get started with these is to read the abstracts from current conferences - these are the ones that got through the selection process and will give you a good idea of what you should say here. Its usual to also be asked to supply a biography, either when you submit your talk or when the talk gets announced as part of the conference schedule.

If there is room for additional information, then give it - and give the organisers as many opportunities as possible to feel like you would be a positive and safe addition to their event. I've seen a few variations on these but for the phpnw call for papers, we added a box which we didn't publish the contents of and where speakers could tell us why we should have them and/or their talk. This was illuminating, responses varied from "because this topic is so cool!" to "not sure really, thought it might be interesting though" and the unforgettable "meow" (that last one was from an entry that didn't get accepted - it was hard to tell if the speaker was taking the whole thing seriously or not).

My advice is to start planning your submission in plenty of time - take a look at the information that you will need to supply and make sure you have it all (and do write in the optional boxes). Its also a really good idea to bounce your idea off some other people, who can help proofread and point out any obvious problems with your submission - for example the time I tried to submit a talk to a PHP conference without the word "PHP" anywhere in my proposal ...

Getting your Talk Accepted

I have yet to successfully submit a talk via a Call for Papers and be accepted to speak at a conference - so I have no idea how to get talks accepted. If anyone else can add advice on this topic, that would be great :)