Diversity in public speaking: help your friends find their voice

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I am currently involved in running meetups in London (Agile on the Bench) and Leeds (Agile in Leeds) and c0-ran a conference last year. A couple of the challenges that I have are around finding new and interesting speakers as well as maintaining diversity in the speakers and the audience. A challenge that many organisers face.

My Agile on the Bench co-organiser, David and I have had some success, the meetup tends to have a good gender diversity and the conference was almost a 50/50 split in speakers and audience (you can read more on that here), I think that is partly due to the gender diversity in the organisers, always scheduling one woman and one man to speak and the slots being less daunting at just 10mins each. I’m struggling more with the newer meetup in Leeds, an area that I am less familiar with and I need to do more work on finding speakers.

I like to encourage new speakers and often the people that will put themselves forward to speak are ones that have a lot of speaking experience. I’ve discussed this with a few people and one of the observations I and others have, is that lots of people don’t think they have anything interesting enough or new enough to say about a topic and this is particularly noticeable amongst women.

This post from Anna Shipman “How do I get more women to speak at my conference?” is really worth a read, and this section backs up what I’ve seen:

You might think someone as successful and awesome as Sandi [Metz] would realise that her session would be amazing. But that wasn’t the case. She explained, “I imagine that things that seem obvious to me are already known by everyone else”. And there are plenty of other excellent people out there for whom that is also true.

So, I wondered if it would help people take the step into public speaking if a friend told them that they have something interesting to tell the world. A bit like the dating site My Single Friend, but for public speaking.

To test this out, I have created a short questionnaire at https://tacit.typeform.com/to/OdbSEs where anyone can nominate a friend, once you fill it out, I send them an email and we can talk from there.

As I can offer opportunities at the meetups I run meetups in London and Leeds on topics around Agile, Lean, users and people, these are the areas and topics I’m using to test it out.

If you know someone you’d like to nominate, please head over to https://tacit.typeform.com/to/OdbSEs


  1. Why not contact Royd Brayshay at http://www.agileyorkshire.org to see how they attract speakers for their events in Leeds?

    Maybe even share speakers across each event for people that can’t make on the day. Almost a Agile (Leeds / Yorkshire) +1?

    • ewebber

      8 February 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Steve, this experiment is really about reaching a little bit wider than just Leeds and finding brand new speakers that don’t know they have something to speak about, Leeds (and London) is just a place to initially test as I run meetups in those locations and some networks there. If it works then I’ll be reaching further. I’d happily put speakers in touch with other meetups all over the place if the experiment is a success.

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