Knowing the Quest

By Leslie Jensen-Inman

This piece is a follow up to Leslie’s: “Speaking up, it’s time”

“When you know better, you do better.” Wise words from Maya Angelou. We know incidents of harassment happen within our industry. Although these incidents upset us, they shouldn’t scare us into disengaging. This is not a time for fear in our industry. This is not a time when we step down, step back, or disappear. We are armed with knowledge and now we can—we must—do better.

As I mentioned in my post, my experience led me to start asking better questions about the events I am asked to participate in. After my less-than-awesome experience, I never stopped speaking. Armed with the knowledge of my past experience, I moved forward. I knew better. I did better.

Put the “Quest” in “Request”

I now view every speaking request as a start of a quest. It’s the beginning of an adventure. Before traveling to lands unknown, I gather information. I start by asking a lot of questions. I ask the event organizer questions. I ask friends and trusted colleagues questions. I ask myself questions. I also do a bit of detective work (a.k.a. I search for answers on the Internet).

Sometimes, I ask the same question of different sources—it helps me build well-rounded answers. The more information I gather, the better adventure map I create. A better map leads to a more focused adventure. A more focused adventure leads to a good use of my time.

Through this process, I gather knowledge I to decide if I will say “yes” to the speaking opportunity. Below are some questions I ask when considering speaking at an event in order to make sure the opportunity is a good fit.

Question the Quest

If I’ve been to or have spoken at the event before, this process goes quickly. I just do a gut check. Did I enjoy speaking at the event? Did the attendees enjoy having me there? If the answers to both questions are “yes,” and all of the practical challenges (like timing) work out, I move forward from information-gathering mode onto getting-things-ready mode.

If it’s a new-to-me event, I take time and do research. I used to say “yes” to speaking for almost any event I was asked. I still take chances with new-to-me events, however, I make more considered decisions about the events I say “yes” to.

Questions I ask myself:

  • Do I have time (prep, travel, and the event itself) to speak at this event?
  • Does this event align with my current professional and personal goals?
  • Will the event’s audience gain something from my participation? Will I?
  • Is the event organizer’s email correspondence timely, coherent, and welcoming?

Questions I search for on the Internet:

  • Is the language on the event website and on Twitter inclusive?
  • Is the design of the event website accessible and friendly?
  • Does the event have a good track record?
  • Was there diversity among past speaker line-ups?
  • Are the after-hour events inclusive?
  • Are there women’s t-shirts?*

Questions I ask friends and trusted colleagues:

  • Did you enjoy attending/speaking at the event before?
  • How was your topic received by attendees? (This is more about content than style.)
  • How was your presentation received by attendees? (This is more about style than content.)
  • How were you treated by the event organizer? By the attendees?
  • Did you feel safe? Did you feel comfortable?
  • Would you speak at the event again?

Questions I ask the event organizer:

  • Does the topic I’d speak about fit well within the event? In what way(s)?
  • What are your goals for the event?
  • What do you hope my participation will add to the event?
  • Have there been incidents of harassment at the event previously? If so, how were they handled (and resolved)? What would you do differently? (This is not about names of specific people or gossip; this is about facts.)
  • What plan of action is in place to handle harassment?

Answers to these types of questions can help make an educated decision on whether or not an event is a good fit. Keep in mind that many events (especially smaller, newer events) might not have a plan of action in place to handle harassment, at least not yet. If an event doesn’t have a plan in place for this but it meets the other requirements I have for an event, it’s likely I will still speak at the event.

Often, just by asking these types of questions, event organizers will realize they should determine what they would do in such a situation. Proactive event organizers will find ways to be prepared for different challenges that might arise during their events.

Let’s Conquest

I implore all of us to engage in our industry. It’s time to conquer fears. It’s time to slay dragons. It’s time to speak at conferences, unconferences, and other events. Most events are filled with wonderful, supportive people. People who want to learn. People who want to give. People who make our industry—our community—a great place to have an adventure.

Now that we know better, let’s do better, together.

* This isn’t the be-all-end-all test. However, many t-shirt printing companies require a minimum number of t-shirts per style, per size. If event organizers give options for women’s t-shirts, it’s often a sign that they expect a number (not just a couple) of women to participate in the event. With more print-on-demand t-shirt companies this doesn’t always work as a litmus test. However, if there are women’s t-shirts, at least you know the event organizers are considering women in their decisions.

9 thoughts on “Knowing the Quest

  1. Jonathan Campos

    Sadly one thing you should look at is “who is the community that I’m speaking too?” Within the tech world there are some communities (either by language, professional association, geographic) that are just more hostile than others. I’ve presented at some places that everyone was great and some places were it just seemed that the speakers were dart boards – and the women most of all. There are some communities that I will not go in front of anymore and I would highly discourage others.

  2. Jenn Lukas

    Love the t-shirt question! It’s super clever!

    I also super second, “Did you enjoy attending/speaking at the event before?” to friends and colleagues. I once was a little hesitant about one event I was asked to speak at, as I couldn’t find much about the previous years content and info. But I did find a speaker list and saw a name I was friends with, so I shot over an email inquiring if they had a good time and they spoke super super highly of it. I agreed and was so happy I did as it was a great experience for me. As Im typing this I realized that has actually happened twice!

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