Regular readers of our blog know that I have strong feelings about why there is no “top ten list of best conferences.” This is because selecting the right event for participation should be a strategic process aligned with your business objectives, professional experience, regional preference, etc. – not a one size fits all approach. The ten events I’d recommend for one executive or company may be vastly different from the ten I’d suggest for another.
One category in particular where I am asked for a “ten best list” is women’s leadership events. In this week’s blog, I will set out to clarify a few misconceptions about conferences designed for women and non-binary people and help you determine which ones might be the best fit for you.
Like any other group of events, not all women’s leadership and women in tech conferences are the same. So how do you tell them apart when the conference names are so similar? And how do you know which is the best fit for your messaging? Here are a few questions that will help:
Who is the audience? If it is not evidently listed on the website, you can glean a lot by investigating how the event is marketed and what content is covered on the agenda. Are previous sessions focused on best practices in career development? Or do the sessions examine topics that are relevant to leading a business or team? These clues will help you figure out the average level of experience for most attendees. If you are interested in speaking or networking with more senior leaders, and the agenda covers concepts that are more relevant to a junior audience, perhaps you should consider a different event.
What is the focus? Many of the executives on our speaker roster have incredible personal stories about how they shaped their own careers to became CXOs. These stories are inspirational and motivational, but they are not right for every event with the word ‘women’ in the title. Many women in technology events, for example, are focused on sharing technical information that women can apply to engineering or scientific roles vs advice on how to grow their career. If the tracks and topics covered on the agenda are technology-specific – offering insights on new cybersecurity vulnerabilities or programming tips, best practices in AI applications or VR development – then the conference is looking for speakers who are able to share implementation stories or discuss frameworks.
Who are the keynotes vs track speakers? Even deeply technical conferences typically bring in an entertaining or motivational keynote speaker. Some keynotes are paid (vs earned) speaking engagements that are offered to celebrities, sports figures, or authors. When you review the topics on the agenda look beyond the keynote sessions. A keynoter or opening speaker is supposed to introduce the theme of the conference. The focus of the event is better determined by looking at the breakout sessions in the middle of the day.
What does the CFP ask for? Many events offer call for presentation (CFP) guidelines for speaker selection. In these guidelines, the conference organizers often state specifically what they are looking for in a speaker. Pay attention! A great example: the team behind the Lesbians who Tech Summit states that they are “a tech conference first – Our community is always asking for more tech-forward content, lessons on how techies can sharpen their skills or be exposed to ideas that are more relevant in their day-to-day.” They also call out that they are not a diversity conference, but a tech conference “where the speakers represent the people who live in this country.”
Once you know whether the conference is really a fit for you or your company, then you can determine whether it is worth your time and travel. This same process should be applied to every event, regardless of its name.