Observations from a Women Only Show

audienceI just wrapped up the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference, which took place yesterday (1/26) in San Francisco, CA.  First off, this was one of the most inspiring, informative, and no-bullshit shows I have attended in quite some time.  A few people have asked “Well, was it better than FailCon?” and I have to honestly answer, “Yes.”

So of course, I wanted to figure out why, and how I could use my experience to improve my own conference in the future.  Hopefully you can learn from it, too…

30 Minute Panels

People thought we were crazy. “30 minute panels?!? You can’t say ANYTHING in those!” I now beg differ, and may in fact keep the format at all of my shows. In a 30 minute panel, the moderator has an excuse to cut off panelists who blab on too much. Everyone has to carefully consider what they want to say ahead of time, figure out THE key points, and cut through the bullshit quickly.  And if a panel is bad, well it’s over quickly.

30 Minutes of Prep

With any panel, but especially a 30 minute panel, enforce 20-30mins of prep with the panelists before hand.  I had done this before, but was tighter about enforcing it at this show.  Have a side room set up, get all the panelists in it within 20 minutes of their panel, and get them talking.  This warms them up, avoid awkward introductions on stage, and cuts right to the point.

Have Questions

Send a list of your own questions and goals for the panel to the moderator alone.  They should be the executive voice of the panel’s direction and topic, but giving them some guidelines really helps.  Make it clear these are not required, just suggestions, and most moderators will appreciate it.  If you can’t think of questions, maybe you should rethink your topic…

An Emcee with a Vested Interest in the Show

We decided pretty last minute to add an emcee, so one of the co-producers, Arden Pennell, did it.  This meant she did not stand up there making jokes or enjoying herself speaking.  She knew who the moderators were and what came next.  She was interested in keeping the room focused, the conversations flowing (instructing people to meet the previous panelists OUTSIDE the room rather than chatter inside it), and the agenda on time and topic.

The Gender Thing

agesOf course, being a woman’s only event with the mission statement to empower one another through our business and technical experience may have helped with the general supportive and open atmosphere.  These were some interesting observations I made throughout the day, relative to the dozens of regular tech events (IE: 75% or more male) I have attended.  I noticed them and wanted to share them as interesting; please don’t read into them as sweeping generalizations that I will apply to every woman or man I meet.

*  Punctuality. Guess who our 3 of our 4 latest speakers were, relative to the time of their panel.  3 of the 4 men we had speaking.  Now, this may have been in part to it being a woman’s only show and them not wanting to intrude, but they were actually LATE to the 20 minute prep session I requested everyone attend.  I also had a significantly higher percentage of badges released by the lunch break then I have for any other conference I have produced (about 75% relative to about 60%).

*  Panel Dynamics. People noted, and some complained, that panels were too nice and didn’t have enough disagreements on them.  This is a common stereotype/statement made about men and women: in conversation, women seek similarities, men seek differences.

*  Attentiveness. I have never had so FEW people out networking during panel discussions.  Most attendees sat in the room, laptops or even notebooks open, actually taking notes or tweeting about the event (yes, I totally spy on my attendees over their shoulders…)  This is not to say they didn’t network – in fact another criticism we got was the lack of networking time set aside: another indication that people didn’t want to leave sessions to network.  At other tech events, I frequently have quite a few bunches of networkers out throughout the day.

*  Diversity Aside from gender, this was one of the more diverse tech-themed events I have attended.  Now, I think this is partially because it was not hard tech, but business in technology.  I am also not going to go so far as to say it was “diverse” – still mostly white and asian – but I could actually count African American on TWO hands (rather than the usual one), and noted a few Hispanics, Pacific Islander, and generally not Caucasian/Asian.  Aside from race, however, the age diversity and variety of style and dress was amazing!  We had 16 – 60 represented there, and people in business suits, dresses, jeans, blouses, and tshirts, stylistic goth wear, hipster, chic, a bit punkish, business casual, and everything you could imagine!  Forget jeans and sports coats or blue shirts and khakis!


Overall, it was an amazing event to have a part in; it has given me an incredible list of powerful female speakers to suggest at future events, and has truly shown that gender (or company level: CEO, VP, Developer, etc.) really makes no difference in the caliber of a speaker and the quality of information they have to share.  It is our life experiences, our speaking training, and our confidence that counts most.  And if you want a good panel, a diversity of business – AND life – experiences is what counts.

All photos are taken by Julie Michelle.  You can see more of her work at http://femmefotographie.com
and more Girls in Tech photos on Flickr

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Great recap. I love the 30 minute panel idea. Succinct is better, give me the good stuff, and then elaborate in the Q&A if I need it.

Hi, great to read this. I would love to discuss with you how we are able to get a bit of Sillicon Valley flavor to our events in London and vice-versa.
Read about our latest tech event about strategy.

Overall the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference was a great day. Love the 30 minute approach. Since I wasn’t able to attend the evening event, I would have liked more networking opportunities during the day. I’m considering bringing in a partner and some tech help (especially someone who can improve my web apps) for my startup, Habitudes.info, an online family organizer. Here’s the site, in case anyone is interested: http://www.habitudes.info.

Thanks for the feedback, Jackie. We did have a 20min, a 15min, and a 1hr networking break during the show, but I agree the two shorter breaks could each have been 30mins, with ease. Do you think that would have been enough?

Thanks Jackie!

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