Commentary

How To Ensure A Diverse Speaker Lineup At Your Next Event

Earlier this year, a tweet from Adam Singer, a frequent tech industry speaker, caught my attention: “Next speaking gig you get offered, refer a female colleague instead...Previously was giving ~25 talks/yr, last year I only did ~15. The other opps I passed on to new voices.” 

Singer’s message is a great example of how one person’s commitment to driving inclusivity at events can make an impact. I also hope it’s something we see more of, since featuring presenters with different backgrounds encourages fresh perspectives and can draw in wider, more diverse audiences. 

Of course, diversity spans many important dimensions — and regardless of your role, your event or industry, you too can have an impact in this increasingly important area. Below are my tips on how to get started. 

Set a goal and stick to it. Simply telling yourself you want to increase diversity isn’t going to cut it. Instead, set a specific goal. We achieved a diverse speaker lineup at my company because we took a 50/50 pledge for gender diversity and did not stop until we achieved it. 

Specificity allows you to easily track progress Once you’ve agreed on a goal, make it visible to everyone involved. Send an email, share it in your meetings, and write it down somewhere people will frequently see it. While I hope one day we don’t have to use targets to drive results, it can be an effective method for organizations getting started. 

Don’t do it alone. Once you’ve shared the goal, extend the responsibility to the entire organization. Ask executives and team members to make recommendations for potential speakers. I found that there are many experts ready and willing to speak — you just need to ask!

If you’re building an agenda with external guests, ask your customers and partners for nominations, or invite customer-facing teams to identify potential speakers. Whether it’s a speaker’s first or 50th speaking opportunity, you can also offer speaker coaching to empower everyone to be fully prepared and ready to present.  

Lead by example and celebrate success. Hold your partners and other event organizers to a high standard of success by only participating in events with an inclusive line-up. When we took the 50/50 pledge, our CMO committed to only participating in events with equal representation. This was a powerful way to reinforce our company’s commitment.

It’s also important to recognize employees who provide recommendations. Publicly thank them for contributing to the success of the event. If someone suggests a panelist who won’t add a diverse viewpoint or experience to your lineup, take a leaf out of Singer’s book and ask if they know alternatives with different backgrounds instead. 

Most importantly, if you’re falling behind on the goal you set, don’t give up! Research (such as a study done by the NC State’s Poole College of Management Gender) shows more diversity leads to more innovation. By offering a variety of perspectives, you’ll make your events informative, inclusive and inspiring. 

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