Promise Me You'll Submit to a Conference This Year

Do you ever think about the larger impact when you decline an invite to speak or shy away from submitting a proposal to present at an event? We don’t accept the “we can’t find any women to speak” excuse. Nevertheless, when women are quick to decline or don’t apply to speak it gives credence to organizers who don’t work hard enough to curate a diverse group of speakers. Today we feature the encouraging words of Avenger Annie Pettit, who wants women to get over any lingering fears, put themselves forward as experts, and get on stage. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer!


 
 

I scare people. Mostly women, often people of colour, always people who have never stood on stage at a conference and spoken to hundreds of people before.

It's certainly not my quiet voice nor my sweet demeanour that scares them. It's my start off friendly, finish boldly, sly questions that scare them. I ask "have you ever spoken at a conference before?" And then, I don't let them off the hook if they say no. I encourage, coerce, and quite possibly intimidate them into promising to submit for a conference in the next 12 months. I never take no for an answer.

Many people are afraid of public speaking.

Subject yourself to ridicule and humiliation for forgetting a word or dropping your cue cards or stumbling over a word? For shame! 

Let’s ponder this reason a little more. Have you ever gone to a conference and then laughed at a speaker who forgot what they wanted to say? Or when they missed a slide or forgot a name or wore mismatched shoes. Of course not. As we sit in our seats waiting for talks to begin, we’re thinking about whether we’ll learn something cool, or get that little piece of insight that will solve all our problems. We aren’t focused on the speaker. We’re focused on ourselves, what we’ll learn. Yes, people are very self-centered. This fear about speaking in front of people isn't logical.

Besides, EVERY speaker who gets on stage is nervous even if they look like they're loving every second. This I can guarantee you. When I chair conference tracks with only brand new speakers, every single one of them is nervous beyond belief. Some of them want to drop out at the last minute but, of course, professionalism prevents that. In the end, only one or two out of ten give the appearance of being a bit nervous while speaking but every single one gets through every slide without fainting or dissolving into a blabbering mess. Every single one made it through every slide, explained every point, outlined every argument, and if they did forget something no one in the audience knew about it. Every single one was terrified and STILL completed their talk.

Don't tell me you're too scared to do it. Fear is not an acceptable reason.

And now the second reason, the problem I really want to address with you. Nearly every person I hijack with this conversation says they have nothing to talk about, that they aren't an expert in anything. That they don't work with clients or they only work in operations or they've only worked at their current company for a couple of years or they're new to the industry and therefore they couldn't possibly know anything worth sharing. I say dear woman (for you are the vast majority of sinners in this area!), dear sir, dear virgin speaker, you are 100% wrong. These excuses are also invalid. Every single time a woman, a person of colour, a person of different abilities declines for these reasons, it perpetuates the myth that women or people of colour or people of different abilities having nothing worth sharing. And so they aren’t asked to speak. And so we don’t see them speak. And the cycle viciously continues. This is not acceptable.

Let's tackle one of those invalid excuses — having only a couple years of experience (or being new to the industry). If this is your preferred excuse, you devalue the importance of learning. Over the last year, you soaked up a massive amount of knowledge. You learned a plethora of top ten lists, pros and cons lists, things not to do, and things that must be done. You are a warehouse of which learning techniques worked and which ones failed. You know which topics weren't taught to you at all and which ones were taught so poorly you had to teach yourself.

 
 

You are a walking storeroom of speaking topics.

What about this invalid excuse — you work in operations and therefore have no useful knowledge. Seriously? You’re not you the only person on this planet who benefits from the work you do. You’re not the only person who needs to understand the behind the scenes processes that promote the high quality products and services your company delivers. The sales, marketing, client service, and leadership teams depend on your skills and knowledge to deliver top notch services. They need to improve their work by taking advantage of your extensive expertise in planning, monitoring, processing, fixing, updating, improving, and maintaining all the things you're responsible for.

You hold the key to delivering better products and services to your clients.

So I dare you.

Sit beside me at a conference. Try to ignore me when I smile quietly at you and ask whether you've spoken at a conference before. Try to find better excuses than these because I've heard them all and I've invalidated them all. Promise me you’ll submit to a conference this year and negate the flimsy excuse that ‘we couldn’t find any women speakers.” I’ll even help you with your submission.


 
Annie Pettit

Annie Pettit is a market research methodologist who specializes in social media research, survey design and analysis, and data quality. She blogs at the LoveStats Blog and tweets @LoveStats.