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How to encourage new speakers

Do you wish that the conferences and the user groups you organize had a more diverse speaker roster? Here are some tips from my experience that have worked for me:

State openly that you welcome new speakers

A lot of people assume that only well-known or professionals speak at conferences. For some conferences, that is true, but if you know you want to include less known or inexperienced speakers, say so.

Offer mentoring to new speakers

New speakers often doubt their abilities. You can rest their fears by offering mentoring or coaching. Most of them will not ask for the help, but they will feel better knowing that option is open to them.

Consider having an open call and blind selection process

When they are invited to speak at events, some people in under-represented demographics (such as women or non-white men) are worried that they have been asked because they are in an under-represented demographic. The most direct way to avoid this bias is to remove it by 1) having an open call for talk proposals and 2) making your selection process blind to any identifying information of the submitters.

You can read more about this kind of process in the JSConf EU blog post “Beating the Odds — How We got 25% Women Speakers for JSConf EU 2012”.

It is okay to have a fully curated list of hand-selected speakers. You may have a clear idea of what sort of program you want for your event and who you want to speak at it. Be aware, though, that if you do not have an open call, your choices will be more susceptible to criticism. If you invite new speakers to speak, they may wonder why you have chosen them, which could make them nervous or suspicious. Be honest about your motivations and tell your fresh recruits why you think they are a great choice.

Make direct contact with individuals

If you have an open call, send invitations to people that you want to talk at your event inviting them to submit a proposal. You might have more success if you suggest some of the topics that person could talk about. Ask your contacts for recommendations of people to invite that they want to encourage as well.

If you are looking to invite women speakers who already have some experience then you could take a look at the Articulate Network speaker list on Lanyrd.

Want to contribute?

If you want to contribute to these resources, including making a guest blog post, either contact me or, better, make a pull request.