Bobbie Carlton is the founder of Innovation Women, an online “visibility bureau” committed to providing equal visibility opportunities for women, supporting career development, business success, thought leadership and diversity. Event managers can post calls for speakers and connect directly to speakers. Female subject matter experts can respond to these opportunities, and can use the platform to build their brand, grow their business and advance their career. Since 2014, Innovation Women has placed hundreds of women on stages across the world, and has helped hundreds of event managers successfully build diverse panels and events.
WorkTrip: Thank you for joining us Bobbie. Please tell us more about what drove you to create Innovation Women.
Bobbie: I believe Innovation Women is a different kind of speakers’ bureau. Most speakers’ bureaus have a vested interest in what I call the high-priced speakers. Because we don’t take a portion of the speaker’s fee, and also work with speakers that are interested in visibility and not just pay, we are not sitting on the other side of the table from event managers.
In 2014, it started informally with me connecting more women for opportunities, and grew into what could have been a full-time job. I was already running two companies. So, I decided to turn this into a platform that could automatically connect event managers and speakers directly. Based on my background, I decided to focus on technical and entrepreneurial women. We currently have around 1700 speakers on the Innovation Women platform. We have 6000 people who have signed into the platform, who are a combination of speakers and event planners. We have a mailing list of approximately 12,000 and have a pretty active social media presence.
After the event managers and speakers connect, we are still promoting our speakers and everything they do. That added visibility is important in helping the speakers become recognized as the expert or thought leader in that area. We continue to support them throughout the entire process, beyond just making the initial connection.
WorkTrip: What advice would you have for event planners looking for speakers? What are the key things you would like to share?
Bobbie: When I talk about the all-male, all pale, all stale panels, one of the things I kind of zero in on is the stale. As an event manager, I feel a lot of people responsible for booking speakers go to the known quantity. They book someone because they think that person is known. They keep inviting the same people over and over again, because it’s a safe bet. They have seen the success “John” has had with other events and think he is a safe bet. But you know what? Your audience has already seen John. They have probably seen him 400 times because everyone else is also using John. John may be a great speaker, but unless he has completely changed his way of thinking, he is going the say the same thing.
Audiences want to see something new and interesting! If your event is helping people deal with the future, and what is coming up, you are going to have to think a little differently, beyond just putting John on stage again.
There is also increased interest and pressure to get more diversity on stage. There is a weird little side route to this conversation. If you realize you are starting to build an all-male panel and need more women speakers, you might be tempted to once again go to “the usual suspects” among women speakers. Those usual suspects are super busy. They get asked all the time. You might ask Diane, and she says no. You might start to think “these women” say no all the time. I have been told by event managers that women turn down 50% of speaking opportunities offered to them, while men say yes 90% of the time.
It’s not because women aren’t interested in speaking. It’s because we are busy. We will often get so many invitations; we can’t handle them all. We might also work for a smaller company, and not have the resources to backfill for us. We are also more likely to only work part-time, so it might be harder to get out of the office during those days. We might also be responsible for kids back home, so it’s harder for us to get there for an early morning keynote or to travel overnight. As event managers, we might also be making more last-minute requests of women because we just realized we have an all-male panel and need more diversity.
Getting women booked earlier, and getting them compensated for their travel and time out of the office is all part of making sure you have more women speakers, and have more diversity.
As event managers, we have a responsibility to create more balanced, more diverse speaker lineups. That might be harder in some industries than others. It might be harder to create a panel that is 50/50, in an industry that is only 26% women.
One thing I see a lot of with male speakers is that they can be a senior vice president, vice president, director, general manager, etc. All too often, women only get invited when they are the CEO. Some of that could be attributed to unconscious bias. Some of it I would also attribute to the overall visibility of those male executives. Again, those women might be more likely to work for a smaller company where the most visible person is the founder or CEO.
We have to look deeper, down into the organization, if we are going to get more women and other representative voices on stage.
WorkTrip: Event managers already have so much on their plate. Are you saying that finding more women speakers is going to make their job even harder?
Bobbie: The idea is to make it even easier to book women with platforms like Innovation Women. I have tried to create a platform where event managers can go in, search for a topic, see bios and sample talks, push a button, invite a speaker and get a response. I have tried to create a platform where they can find everything they need in one place.
WorkTrip: Are there any other trends you are seeing when it comes booking speakers?
Bobbie: I think there is this massive abundance of events these days. It is much more competitive than it has been before. I call this the “speakers paradise”. There are approximately a half a million meetups that happen every month. Last year, EventBrite sold tickets to three million events. There are 50,000 individual TEDX talks, there are 92,000 professional organizations. We are talking about a $31 billion industry. Anyone can become an event manager and throw together an event for their company. So, what we’ve got is an incredibly competitive marketplace. How do you compete in a market like that? Event managers need to think about creating something that is thoughtful, that adds value. You need to look at including speakers, presentations and workshops that really add value.
WorkTrip: What do you think audiences are looking for these days?
Bobbie: I think they are looking for takeaways they can implement immediately. They want to learn more about what to expect in the future, to better understand what is coming next, so they can future-proof their companies and careers. I think they also want more hands-on activities and unique experiences.
I talked to a woman this week about how there are speakers and there are performers. You have to be a little bit of both. A strictly entertaining performer might be fun to watch while you are sitting there, but are you gaining anything of value from that conversation? There has to be a bit of a performer in every speaker, but they still need to add value.
WorkTrip: What advice would you have for our readers who might be looking at this through the speaker’s lens, either for themselves or their executives?
Bobbie: Event managers see a lot of amazing speakers. They also see the duds. I think they have a great opportunity every day to go to school, to see what works and what doesn’t. I would say that event managers are in a unique position to become great speakers. The next step is really just getting that practice. You don’t have to be ready for a keynote. You can start with being part of a panel, or talking to smaller groups.
WorkTrip: Is there anything else you might like to share with our audience?
Bobbie: One of the things I talk to speakers about is getting paid. I think event managers need to be more open to having conversations about their budgets, about who is getting paid, who isn’t getting paid, etc. We did some research early on. Half of those event managers had no money in their budget for speakers. It is simply not in their business model. In the past, there may have been no expectation for speakers to get paid since they have typically been executives of big companies. But, as we seek out more diverse speakers from these smaller companies or different backgrounds, there needs to be more of an understanding on the event managers’ side that compensation needs to be considered and discussed. I just want to advocate for openness when it comes to conversations about compensation.
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