I remember going to my very first Tech Conference. It was an amazing experience. I felt at home - everyone was a geek like me, and there was so much to learn!
However, there was this other thing. All the speakers were men. Now, this was the early 90s, so this was kind of expected. My graduating class of Computer Science had mostly men. There were women where I worked, even though small in numbers, but they existed. But women on stage were still sparse.
It took me a while to start speaking myself. Yes, I wanted to see more women on stage. But yes, I was busy - career, kids, home, husband, etc. And when I did start speaking, I had a lot of support from my community - mostly men.
What I found when looking into this topic is that it is easy to jump to conclusions, but the reality is in all the nuances.
A couple of years ago, before COVID, my cohort (name redacted) and I held a conference that had 50% women speakers. It was not an easy task, and it needed some coaxing from us to get many of the brilliant, talented speakers to show up.
1. Be Passionate
Have you ever experienced a two-year-old excited about something new? Like a rock? Or a Flower? Or a bug? And did you find yourself getting caught up in their enthusiasm?
Enthusiasm is infectious!
If you want to be taken seriously as a tech woman, you need to be passionate about what you do. Show your audience that you’re invested in the industry and aren’t just here for the money. The level of enthusiasm you bring to the talk will drive the level of interest and participation from the audience.
Finding your voice is all about connecting with your own passion.
2. Be Driven
Let's go back to the two-year-old analogy. What you don't want to take from the two-year-old is their depth of knowledge, which, let's face it, is little to none.
When presenting - you want to be thorough. You want to understand what you are presenting, why it is important, how will it help the audience, and whom will it help. Communication is a two-way protocol. Every message needs a receiver.
Having the drive to understand the context of the topic helps. Go beyond the " I learned something new - and let me share".
The value of the information comes from understanding not just the what but how it is beneficial and whom it can benefit.
If you’re not driven, you’re going to quickly lose credibility and followers.
3. Be Authentic
My first attempts at speaking were to imitate my favorite speakers. While there is some merit to studying others, develop your own style.
For example, I thought that jokes would not be appropriate for a technical talk - but then I attended a talk by a friend (name redacted) and found techy humor in the first few slides of her presentation. The result was great - everyone laughed, became more relaxed, and the session went very well.
What my friend was doing was bringing her personality to the presentation. She is brilliant and funny. And because she brought her whole self to her presentation, she connected with the audience.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. If you’re genuine and honest, people will respect you for it.
4. Speak Up
Have you been in meetings where someone asks a question, and you think to yourself, I had the same question?
It’s important to be vocal when it comes to issues that matter to you. If you have something to say, don’t be afraid to say it.
There is an epidemic of self-editing, especially at work. While sometimes the environment prevents people from being themselves, I find that if I don't speak up, I'm not entirely satisfied with the work - creating a lose-lose situation. Find the tone, cadence, and humility level that allows you to speak your mind while being professional and respectful.
5. Be Brave
It’s hard to be a female in tech. This, for better or worse, will require some bravery on your part.
The good news is that if you keep going, you’ll be able to achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to take risks – that’s what will make you stand out.
Part of bravery though is to ask for help. And the resources are available.
In summary, there is a path to finding your inner voice, and once you find it, there will be no stopping you.
My own motivation was, and is, to see more women on stage.
That is why I am running a "Women in Tech Speaker Challenge" -
This 5-Day Challenge is designed to encourage and enable more women to speak at technology events.
And, it's free. Want to learn more?
p.s. If you like this article, share it with someone you think might enjoy it as well.