I am a little bit bolder this year than last. In fact, the longer I stay in this line of work, the bolder I become.
This time last year, in fact, I had withdrawn a little from the community. I hadn’t applied to Codecabin that year because I wasn’t sure what I could offer. I wasn’t going to as many meetups and I was um-ing and ah-ing over whether I should even attend Codegarden. I’d had a run of bad luck, was struggling with a project and my self-esteem was at an all time low.
This time this year, also known as the present, I’m feeling pretty good about things. I’ve been trialling an assertiveness that has previously eluded me; I don’t just say yes to things, I put myself forward.
And it was in that spirit that I became involved as a mentor for Global Diversity CFP Day. The event was coming, my friend and unofficial mentor Carole Logan said I should consider coming to get involved in the Glasgow event and so I took her advice and put myself forward.
Now a disclaimer - I didn’t put myself forward for just the one reason. I didn’t do it because I really rather like Glasgow. I do, but that’s not the motivation. I’d like to say that I did it because I knew I could help. That would be partly true; I had a workshop on finding a talk topic and I knew it would be a great fit. Another reason I threw my hat into the ring was because by now I know that being in a position to help others and doing just that feels great. It does but that wasn’t it. The main motivator went more like this: I knew I was going to learn something.
So in the spirit of sharing - I’m all about the sharing - I’ve put together this blog post with all the links, pictures and summaries I could cobble together. But first, a bit about the day itself.
Started by Peter Aitken, a conference organiser who struggled with finding voices for his own speaker bills from underrepresented groups within the industry, Global Diversity CFP Day brings together people with other speaking experience with people who want to become speakers themselves. What CFP stands for is greatly contested. Everyone agrees on the first part “Call for,” but the P sometimes stands for “Participants,” sometimes “Papers.” What it describes though, is the process by which conference organisers engage with people who want to be speakers at their events. To be considered for a speaking slot, you must fill in a CFP. The sessions are open to all and held at locations all over the world. In the words of the website “workshops have no specific language, framework or process as a focus. Even if your talk isn’t even related to tech we want to hear from you too! In short, if there is something that you want to shout to the world we're here to help you get there regardless of the boundaries of technology or communities.”
The day started with a talk by Suzanne, last year an attendee hoping to gain some insight into preparing for her first conference talk, this year an experienced speaker. Suzanne’s passion is in VR and her talk that she gave at the AR & VR World Conference at London’s ExCel was on her work as the founder of Pivotal Reality - a project that investigates the uses of Virtual Reality in treating dementia sufferers. Suzanne took us through all of her fears, and showed us how she set about to overcome them, practising her talk at schools, putting together Youtube videos and speaking at meetups, before the big day. It was such an inspiring talk and such a wonderful way to begin the day. Suzanne made it abundantly clear that becoming a speaker wasn’t something she felt completely comfortable with but she knew she had carved out a niche and she wanted to share what she had found. The talk was received well and she spoke about some of those benefits that came with having been a speaker. The recognition, the pride and the opportunities that come next.
One of the quotes that inspired her was one I hadn’t read before but I now have pinned on a post-it on my desk. Originally by arabbinic sage Hillel and made insta-famous by Emma Watson, it was nice and simple: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
We moved on to a guided conversation moderated by Cat Hawker. It was a really wonderful way to warm up and get to know each other better. As we were in workshops most of the day, a talk as a larger group meant that we had the chance to start talking about our expectations. Cat asked us why we had come, and I was delighted to learn at this point that we were all there for a variety of reasons and, actually, from a variety of professional backgrounds. There were those of us from the world of tech and then people in science, education and museums. It occurred to me then that this idea that conferences need to be accessible is true in more than one industry. We covered lots of ground here. Why did we want to be speakers? Well, for many it was an opportunity for sharing, for some a chance to face their fears. Travel was in there too, of course. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit more than one European city because I was on a speaker bill and others felt the same way.I went next and I was happy to be delivering my workshop I have run at both a London Umbraco Meetup and on the Virtual Meetup. As my session was the result of a pair of talks given at a London Ladies of Code meetup, it felt wonderful to be taking a whole new group of attendees through, most of whom are from underrepresented groups in my industry and thiers. I’ve attached the slides here and so you can feel free to have a look through. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into too much detail about my own work. I’ve seen rather a lot of it of late.
My session segwayed nicely into lunch and we all had a chance to get to know each other. We spoke about our reasons for coming along and we spoke about our work. Some of the talk was around what a fantastic initiative CFP day was - 2018 saw 53 events worldwide. Stats aren’t in for this year but I’d be keen to find out. I can’t imagine how many people would have gone away with renewed enthusiasm, people with whom they can stay in touch and ask questions, and even just reassurance that they belong in those spaces.
Kevin Austin, organiser of the community conference Agile Scotland then ran a session on Mapping your Talk and it was just the tonic to get us up and doing after that lunch. By now we had talked about why we wanted to give a talk, check. We’d seen it could be done, check. We’d even worked toward finding our topics, check. Now we start writing our talks. Now, I’ve been writing talks for a bit. Talks for conferences, meetups, team feedback. I have done my share. I haven’t ever taken this approach though and this is something I’ll most definitely be taking into my next endeavour. Kevin asked us to think of a memorable journey and to write that memorable journey’s steps onto post-it notes and stick them all in a row, in sequence, on a wall. Then he asked us to imagine an audience. Done. After that, flesh out that journey with detail for your audience, adding post it notes vertical to the ones we had in our row. Now we see the story starts to take turns. I’m someone who writes my talks as bullet points and then turns those points into slides. Then I stand up and do the talk and it’s only at that point I realise what I need to flesh out and how. And that, my friend, is most likely why my talks tend to want to finish about 20 minutes after they have to. This kind of mapping would really help me to manage that. We all had a lot to talk about throughout this session and Kevin moved around the room, working with groups and pairs, giving advice and listening to feedback.
The day finished with a session by Carole Logan and Joe Wright on writing your CFP. I could not think of a better pair to put this together. Carole is a meetup organiser who has international speaking experience, and Joe is a developer advocate and conference organiser himself. The two of them put together the workshop across a number of evenings having never worked together before. The result, this workshop, was incredibly illuminating. They broke down the CFP into its constituent parts, beginning with the title. They took us through some of the ways we can make our titles more appealing, looking at journalist’s advice and then had us work through our own and apply those tips. This included the brilliantly click-baity trick of throwing in the fear of negative consequences into the title - “The common mistakes bioethics teachers can make”. We went on to writing our bios, some of the most dreaded 25-250 words you will ever be faced with writing. But this time there was a twist. Rather than have us write our own bios, Carole and Joe had us interview each other using prompts and then write one for our partner. The relief! Whilst it’s excruciating to write your own bio (I know that’s not just me), it’s a pleasure to write someone else’s. They finished up with writing our abstracts and then feeding back to the group 3 tips we could take away from the session. I easily had 3 but in truth, there was more. I quickly checked twitter and yes, the slides had been shared so here they are for you. This is one you’ll definitely want to revisit next time you’re planning a talk.
I expected the day to be a rewarding experience. I was psyched about spending time with other speakers, many of whom were far more experienced than me, and I was really looking forward to meeting the attendees. It was much more than that though, it was a fantastic opportunity for learning too. I took so much away from the sessions and I took so much away from the attendees too. It’s a day I would recommend to all and any who want some help putting together a CFP.
So, those are all my notes from sessions laid out for you. In addition to the workshops I attended, there was also a session run by Garann Means, 1 to 1 mentoring with Kevin McDermott, a Slide Karaoke session and possibly more that I’m sad to have missed. But as with any good conference, you only get to see your corner of it. It was a fantastic event though, and I’m so proud to have been involved. I can’t wait to see what the attendees go on to do over the coming year.