Monday, March 9, 2015

Women Techmakers by GDG Boulder

To celebrate International Women's Day, Google Developer Groups all over the world are hosting Women Techmakers events. I organize the local chapter, GDG Boulder, and I thought this is a great opportunity to showcase the wonderful women techmakers in our community. Inspired by the popularity of Ignite Boulder, I decided to host a night of lightning talks.


Since I was new to the Boulder area, I don't know too many people. As a result I pretty much asked every single female developers I know if they would like to give a lightning talk. Some of them are from GDG Boulder, others are DevChix members I met over lunch. To my surprise, almost everyone said yes. I was expecting resistance because usually when I broadcast speaker request over mailing list, nobody replies. I have two theories:

  1. Boulder people care about the community, ready to step up and contribute when asked.
  2. Asynchronous broadcast aka email blast is a bad way of asking. Synchronous 1-to-1 is the trick.

When I asked someone in person or over instant messaging, they have to tell me yes or no on the spot. My suspicion is that it is difficult to say no, so I ended up getting quite a lot more yeses than I expected. On the other hand there is no cost to say no in an email broadcast. You just do nothing.

Spread the word

After I found speakers, picked a date and secured the venue, it was time to spread the word. I added the event to our Meetup page, and posted on social media as well. But what brought most of the attendees was cross posting to other local groups. Rylee Keys was especially helpful, inviting members of Women Who Code and Girl Geek Dinner to join us at the lightning talks.

Talk preparation

A few of my speakers said they have nothing to say, which such is a normal response when people get asked to give a talk that I actually gave a talk about it. I offered brainstorming help, and helped half of the speakers come up with their topics. I was ready to give feedback on the slides as well, but they procrastinated so much that there was no time to do it.

Master deck

I know everybody is busy, so I set out deadlines for the title and slides for the talks in advance, hoping that it would help some of them set aside time to prepare. And some of them did. But I needed to nag the rest during the last week, and it was quite stressful. Normally speakers can work on their slides until the last minute if they present from their own computers, but since each talk was only 5 minutes long, swapping machines constantly would be very disruptive. To avoid that I took cue from Ignite Boulder to have a master deck that combines decks from all the speakers. This means I needed the slides ahead of time, hence the nagging. I got the last deck an hour and a half before the event, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Clicker run-through

I have spoken at Ignite twice, both hosted by Brady Forrest. He runs a really smooth show, and one trick is to sit the speakers in the front row, in order of presentation. I totally stole that.

Unlike Ignite, I am not advancing slides automatically, so I brought a clicker for the speakers. I had the speakers come before the door opened to the public, lined them up in order of presentation in front of their seats, and did a clicker run-through. I started clicking through the intro slides, passed the clicker to the first speaker, had her review her slides while trying out the clicker, and passed it to the next speaker.

Show time

Door opened at 7pm, and slowly the room filled up. We had more than 100 attendees, which was really exciting. Here is the slide I projected when people were mingling before the event started:

See the hashtag? I wanted people to talk about the event on social media, and they took the cue:

I kicked off the event at 7:30pm, explained GDG Boulder and Women Techmakers, and turned the stage over to the first speaker. One after another, our speakers regaled us with fun and inspiring stories, ranging from freelancing to hackathons to refactoring to wearables.


Time flies when you're having a good time, and before we knew it the talks were over. I went back on stage and asked if everyone enjoyed the show. After an enthusiastic yes, I encouraged people to get in touch to give a talk as well, so we can have more events like this. A few people took up on my offer, and I am super excited to hear their stories!

Lightning talks is a great way to celebrate your community. Step up and make it happen! Here are some lessons I learned:

  • Invite speakers individually
  • Ask local groups to spread the word
  • Project the offical hashtag before the event starts to encourage social media engagement
  • Prepare a master deck for smooth speaker transitions
  • Sit the speakers in the front row, in order of presentation
  • Keep it going by encouraging attendees to speak. Add a question to your RSVP to ask if they want to give a talk. Make an announcement at the end of the event.

P.S. In the spirit of asking, the GDG Boulder Youtube channel needs 500 subscribers to get a custom URL. Will you be so kind to subscribe?

1 comment:

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  1. Awesome!

    I'll follow the "invite speakers individually" lesson. Thinking of it now, most of the speakers we had at GDG Aracaju meetups were invited personally.