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Archive: February 2007

Speaking Assistance

  • MakeMeASpeaker

    This wiki is intended to be a place where those who are interested in becoming speakers (particularly, but not exclusively, in the web world) can come to get advice, mentoring and help. It is also intended to be a meeting place for those who are interested in helping others become speakers.

    On the same site: an evolving (and evolvable) page containing Advice.

  • UltraNormal: How to Get to Speak at Web Conferences

    …some practical suggestions for folks who want to gain some confidence in their own speaking abilities and how I worked up to presenting at conferences… I’ve spoken at a bunch of conferences over the past year, and well, this might help someone.

  • Bloggy Hell: Calling future speakers!

    Below are a list of some of the events which encourage people to get up and speak about what they love. The list is Australian-centric, mainly because that is the circles I hang with, but I would love to hear of similar things going on around the world…

Diverse Links

  • mezzoblue: Homogeneity?

    There’s really nothing in the post I don’t want to quote, but this bit in particular jumped out at me:

    …as a conference organizer, you tend to be conservative. You need to ensure a speaker list that will fill seats. This isn’t “we want to maximize profit” filling of seats either, this is “holy crap we just signed a contract that would put us out multiple tens of thousands of dollars if we don’t hit certain numbers”. When you book larger venues, you make commitments and really put yourself on the line financially. Those who haven’t run conferences simply can’t understand what a nerve-wracking experience this is.

  • Brian Oberkirch: Identity Is a Mashup

    This is an ongoing debate (as it has to be) though the argumentation tends toward the self-righteous, self-evident mode: look at all these white boys on the roster. What are they thinking? I think we can do better. I think we have to do better.

    On that post, a comment by Derek Powazek

    One of the reasons I got very excited about the internet when I discovered it in the 90s was because, finally, here was a place where race, gender, and religion truly did not matter. Where you could succeed or fail on the strength of your ideas alone – not what color you were or what junk was in your pants.

    I still believe this to be true.

  • Hamm on Wry: Post Gender Preferences

    I don’t see how being male, female, white, black, brown, purple, queer, asexual, cancerous, capricorn or a carrot would matter if you happen to also be a professional in the web-standards-meets-development world. I would, honestly, attend a speech given by a carrot if that carrot was recognized as a leader in the field. That’s what professional speeches are all about.

  • Jason Friesen {dot} ca: Diversity Wars

    To me, this is the key to being race- and gender-neutral — actually not caring about a person’s race or gender, but simply whether they can contribute what is needed in a given situation.

  • Adactio: The diversity division

    I firmly believe that conferences shouldn’t simply be mirrors for the Web business, reflecting whatever is current and accepted. A good conference can act as a force on the industry. Conference organisers have a great opportunity here and I think it’s a shame to see it wasted.

  • Digital Web Magazine: Beyond the A-List, Diversity in the Web Community

    I am going to go out on a limb here and use smart mob mentality here. If you know of a web professional who is talented, has done some remarkable things, and should be speaking at some web design conferences by all means let us know…

  • Meri Williams: Conference Diversity .. the Permathread Returns

    You never know, we might just change the world.

Diverse Reactions

I had most of a followup to yesterday’s post written, all reasonable and spiked with some humor and maybe a little dry, which I suppose is what most people have come to expect from me in general, and then it fell apart in concert with my inner stability.

I’ve definitely incurred a lesson in “post in haste, repent in leisure”.  The internal aftereffects of the post have been extensive and unexpected.  I don’t have them all sorted out yet; it may take months.  I don’t even have names for all the things that have roiled up.  I may be undergoing a drastic phase change in my thinking, or I may just be grieving something I didn’t know I mourned, or perhaps I’m raging against a world I sometimes feel powerless to alter.  I don’t know.  I do know that if I’d known this would be the effect of posting, I’d never have done it—which is one of the best arguments in the world for having done it.

I’ll not mince words: I screwed up pretty badly yesterday.  The real question is how.  I’m not sure I’ll know the answer for a long time.  Was my mistake in speaking honestly?  Was it in how I wrote it all down?  Was it in the rhetorical approach I took?  Was (is) the flaw intrinsic to me?  Am I the very problem I so much want to eliminate?

If I have erred and caused harm by that error I apologize.  I am as ever human, mistakes and all, flaws aplenty, and while that’s an explanation, it’s not an excuse.  It is never, ever an excuse.

I am deeply sorry today, but not for what I was trying to say.  I might be sorry for how I said it, or for a number of other things.  I know I’m sorry for causing hurt in others.  That was the last thing I wanted.  I was trying to make a positive statement, trying to detail what I find to be an empowering concept.  A lot of people were supportive, but a number of people, many of whom I respect and some that I care for and a few that I love, were disappointed by what I had to say.  I disappointed them, some very badly, which means I’ve let them down.  And I really, really hate letting people down.

And here’s the worst part, the absolutely darkest most awful painful part of the entire situation: I let them down by being myself.

That tears.  It rips ragged claws of paradox across my throat, up my jawline, through my brow.

In my head, I know that the recipe for failure is trying to please everyone, but my heart doesn’t buy it.  I’m human, and no matter how impossible the task I want to be what everyone wants me to be.  Which I can’t be.  I can only be myself.  I can only hope to improve myself.  And I can only do that according to what I truly believe, down at my core, because one person’s improvement is another person’s step backward, and changing oneself to meet the expectations of others is a fool’s game at best.

I am who I am, and it will not be to everyone’s liking.  I will never see the world in the ways that everyone wishes me to see it.  This is an essential truth, something that should be obvious to anyone, the sort of thing one should never think of trying to contradict.

And yet.

I know that there were a number of people who understood what I was saying and agreed with me, who in some cases were proud of me, and that they are no less important than those who didn’t understand or who did understand and were disappointed.  I should concentrate on that balance, see the whole mixture, but I’m just not wired that way.  For whatever reason, my genetics or my upbringing or whatever it is, I can’t help but focus on the negatives.  In this case, on those I let down.

There’s no reason for sympathy here.  I knew the third rail was fully electrified, and I chose to tap dance upon it.  The outcomes of that choice will serve to teach me, if I listen—but what I will learn is still very much an unknown.  I only hope that, in the end, it confers a net positive effect on me and the world around me.

Diverse It Gets

This post is probably going to get me burnt to a tiny, mewling crisp, but that’s okay.  I can take it.

I also want to make it very clear that what I write here reflects my personal views.  It does not in any fashion represent the official policy of An Event Apart LLC or its associated conferences.  However, it’s obviously the case that, as a co-founder of the company and an organizer of said conferences, my views influence what happens there.  Just don’t think for an instant that I speak for Jeffrey in this, nor that I am declaring official company policy.  This one’s all me.

So, here it is:  as a conference organizer, I don’t care about diversity.

All right.  Take a minute to reduce the boil in your blood to a bare simmer, and bear with me.  I’m going to explain what I mean, and illustrate as best I can.  I hope that by the end, you’ll better understand my point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.

Yesterday, Jason Kottke posted the percentage of female speakers at recent and upcoming web conferences.  I note he didn’t include the one-day Event Aparts from last year, where our speaker lists ranged from 0% female (most of them) to 25% female (Austin) to 40% female (Seattle), but that’s okay.  Maybe he was only considering “bigger” conferences.  Early on, he wrote:

Each time this issue is raised, you see conference organizers publicly declare that they tried, that diversity is a very important issue, and that they are going to address it the next time around.

Well, I’m hereby bucking that trend.  In my personal view, diversity is not of itself important, and I don’t feel that I have anything to address next time around.  What’s important is technical expertise, speaking skills, professional stature, brand appropriateness, and marketability.  That’s it.  That’s always been the alpha and omega of my thinking, and it will continue to be so the next time, and time after that, and the time after that.

You’ll note that nowhere in that list do you find gender, race, creed, or any other such parameter.  Those things are completely unimportant to me when organizing a conference.  (Or, really, when I’m doing almost anything.)  Hopefully, you’ll also note that I have not said that speakers should always be white males.  If that’s what you think not caring about diversity means, then sorry, you’re wrong.  At least you’re wrong in my case.  I can’t speak for others.

I will admit that we’ve seen a little bit of pushback on this issue.  The gender imbalance of the upcoming Boston show was pointed out to us by one of the speakers, and I’m sure someone’s eventually going to ask us where the women are in Seattle.

I’ll slightly sidetrack to address Seattle, since it illustrates one aspect of how speaker lists are decided.  With Web Directions North just concluded in Vancouver, we made a tactical decision to try not to repeat any speakers from WDN at our Seattle show.  Retaliation?  Nope; simple marketing.  If our Seattle speaker list looked like even a partial re-run of WDN, then where’s the incentive to go to AEA?  Unfortunately, that left us fairly high and dry with regard to many of the best-known names in our field, including the best-known women.  Nothing against the WDN crew: we’re all friends here; they had the earlier show; and nobody held a gun to our heads and forced us to go to Seattle in June.  That’s just how things turned out.

So that left us four women down in terms of who we could consider inviting to Seattle.  You might say: well, that’s fine, but what about getting other women on stage?

Okay, who?

Before you answer, remember that An Event Apart is a web development best practices conference.  Our brand promises to bring you the biggest names in the field of standards-oriented design and closely related fields, and to have those people talk about what they see next, to push the envelope just a little further out, to show the audience old things in new ways, and so on.  Therefore, it relies on populating the stage with widely known and respected people, on having speakers who are instantly recognizable as relevant to what the attendees do and what they want to learn.

So someone might suggest that we invite, say, Natalie Jeremijenko.  I’d immediately sit bolt upright with interest: I love her stuff.  She’s the kind of artist-engineer-hacker I would want to be if I were to choose that sort of career path.  Her ideas and projects completely fascinate me.  I would love to see her present on what she’s doing and thinking and seeing in the world, and to have the chance to meet her in person and express my deep and abiding admiration.

But then the conference organizer in me would slump back.  She’s not well known in the web design/development field, and she doesn’t really work in that field anyway.  As brilliant and talented and amazing and wonderful and female as she is, she doesn’t belong on our stage.  Other stages, absolutely!  (If MAKE: ever does a conference, they’d be idiots not to invite her.)  But not ours.

Call that decision a manifestation of old-boy clubbiness if you want, but it isn’t.  It’s the natural result of defining a brand and sticking to it.  Should Slipknot be the opening act for a Tim McGraw/Faith Hill tour?  Should Rick Santorum be the opening keynote at the Democratic National Convention?  Should I be a speaker at the Blog Business Summit?  Should men be on stage at BlogHer?

No.

Look at the authors of the best-selling books in the field.  Look at the folks behind the most widely followed web sites.  Look at the names that come up whenever someone asks who are the most respected and influential people in web design and development.  How many are female?

A few.  Not many.  (And most of them spoke in Vancouver.)  So is the gender imbalance in the eye of the organizers, or is it in the very fabric of the industry?

Allow me to illustrate by way of digression.  A couple of years back, I was asked to do a book project that I couldn’t take on.  So I posted here, asking people what recognized names in the industry they’d recommend to write such a book.  I got over one hundred responses before I closed the comments.  Know how many women’s names I got?  Six out of fifty-six; that’s about 10.7%.  Two of those women landed in the top ten, and the rest got a mention or two.  (Anne van Kesteren doesn’t count, since he’s male; he’s also Dutch.)

Still, we might take that list and assume that of the most respected names in the CSS field, 11% are women.  You might conclude, then, that any CSS-centric conference (which AEA is not, but bear with me) should never have less than 11% female speakers.  Fine.  So that also means that no CSS-centric conference should have less than 89% male speakers, right?

Hey, how come the room got so suddenly quiet?  And why all the pitchforks?

For me, when it comes to planning an A-list conference, I look for A-list speakers, by which I mean speakers who will be regarded as A-list by our audience—the same audience that came up with a list of 56 people, 10.7% of which were female and 89.3% of which were male.

For that matter, it’s very important that our speakers be good public speakers.  Bobby or Bobbi Speaker could be the very top name in their area of expertise, but if they’re a train wreck on stage, then no thanks.  In our internal discussions, we’ve rejected some names because they are known to be poor speakers.  (They were all men, as if that matters.)  We’ve also pursued some speakers who we know are simply fantastic on stage.  (From both sexes, as if that matters.)

So, like I said before, when I’m thinking about a speaker list, I care about expertise, speaking skills, stature, appropriateness, and marketability.  I’m just not interested in a person’s plumbing.  I care about what they know, how they’re perceived in the industry, how well they fit the conference’s brand, and how well they do on stage.

Now, here’s where you get to show me my blind spots:  let me know who has been overlooked by conferences in general, female or otherwise, and why they shouldn’t be overlooked any more.  As an organizer, I’m interested for the usual business and brand reasons; personally, I want to know because I always want to learn new things and hear from new voices.  I’ll absolutely give consideration to any name you mention for AEA speakership—but everyone will be considered using the same set of criteria, and their plumbing isn’t part of that set.

Addendum 24 Feb 07: my poor use of language created a massive ambiguity which has left many with the wrong impression.  I used “diversity” to mean mostly “gender diversity”, as it was used in the piece to which I was responding.  I did not say, nor did I mean to leave the impression I was saying, that I am uninterested in conceptual diversity, diversity of thought.  It seems that I did leave that impression, and for misleading others, I very much apologize.  (That the misleading was unintentional is beside the point.)

Back in Seattle Again

An Event Apart is coming back to Seattle in June 2007, and the only major differences are that it will be two days instead of one, and this time we’ve got a roster of nine fantastic speakers.

Of all the Event Apart venues of 2006, I think the Bell Harbor International Conference Center was probably my favorite.  Every place we visited last year had its own unique charms and flaws, but at Bell Harbor I really felt like the charms were maximized and the flaws minimized.  So we’re bringing AEA back to Bell Harbor on June 21st and 22nd, as we announced this morning.

Nine speakers seems to be our target for these two-day events, and fully two thirds of our Seattle lineup will be different than our Boston lineup.  (The repeats are me, Jeffrey, and Jason.)  For your edification, we’ll be presenting:

  • Tim Bray, father of XML and possessor of many fine hats
  • Jeff Veen, Wired alumnus and very tall person, now at Google
  • Andy Budd, leading member of the Brit Pack and our first international speaker
  • Khoi Vinh, dog lover and Design Director at NYTimes.com
  • Shaun Inman, the brains behind Mint, IFR, IPC, CSS-SSC, and a whole lot more
  • Local hero Mike Davidson, CEO of Newsvine and web standards provocateur
  • Shawn Lawton Henry of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

Oh yeah.

That’s all completely awesome, but there is a catch.  There’s always a catch, isn’t there?  The catch is that the seating available at Bell Harbor is strictly limited.  Once we sell all the seats they have, that’s it, all done, finito.  The seating capacity at Bell Harbor is about two-thirds that of our Boston show, and Boston is on track to sell out.  Registration for Seattle will open March 15th, so now is the time to prepare.  See you in Seattle!

Winter Drifts

By current standards, the winter storm we’ve just weathered was pretty severe: two feet of snow blanketed our local environs in the course of 24 hours, give or take.  I put a few pictures up on Flickr, for those who’d like to see some of the aftereffects.  The broad nature of the storm meant that everyone got about the same snowfalls; lake effect seemed to play a minor or nonexistent role.

I’ve heard some people are comparing this storm to the Blizzard of ’77, and a few with a slightly better sense of proportion have recalled the storm that hit the area in November of 1996.  Both strike me as rather specious comparisons.  The ’77 storm was near to epic in scope and intensity, dropping four or five feet and stranding a whole lot of travelers.  My paternal grandparents had dropped by to visit the day before it started and ended up staying several days longer than they’d planned; the snow on our roofed patio was three or four feet deep, and many drifts throughout our area were a dozen feet or more tall.  For 1996, we had four or five days of constantly falling dense, wet snow, and tornadoes and thunderstorms to boot.  This week’s storm mostly dumped the light fluffy snow you can clear away with a broom, assuming it’s not too deep.

The truth is that this week’s storm wouldn’t have been very remarkable twenty years ago.  It might have been one of the heaviest individual falls of a given season, and certainly would have caused some problems, but it wouldn’t have triggered historical comparisons.  I remember days with ambient air temperatures of -20°F (-29°C) and stiff winds, which drove the effective temperature down to -50°F (-45°C) or lower.  I remember snow feet thick on the ground which stayed on for weeks.  I remember tunneling through roadside snowbanks and building elaborate snowforts with the neighbor kids, snowy bus stops, sledding parties and ice skating.

Yeah, yeah, okay: “when I was your age…”.  That’s not actually my point.  What I’m trying to say is that for last couple of decades, we’ve had some very mild winters, and it made us complacent.  I don’t own boots, because it’s literally been years since I needed them.  I had cause to regret that as I cleared snow from our walks in my regular shoes.  Thankfully, we do have access to a snow blower, so I didn’t have to shovel, but that didn’t stop the snow from getting into my shoes.  Oh, that’s a cold feeling.

I stayed far away from any conventional media yesterday, mostly to spare myself the histrionics of local news forecasters and avoid the depressingly repetitive comment, “I guess so much for global warming, haw haw haw!”.  There’s only so much moronity I can stomach in a day.  Instead, we all stayed home (Carolyn’s preschool and Kat’s office both being closed, along with nearly everything else in the city) and played games, read books, and went outside for short periods to make snow angels, get cold-rosy cheeks, and eat a few mittenfuls of snow.  Then we came back in to sip hot drinks in front of the fireplace.

People sometimes ask me why I stay in Cleveland when I could find work no matter where I moved.  In response, I can only point out my window to the drifts of snow sparkling in today’s clear-sky sun and the bare brown trees that will, in a month or two, begin to bud green shoots and tiny flowers; the same trees that will be silhouetted against a lightning-torn sky and will roar as autumn winds rip through their branches and brilliant leaves.

While that is not the only reason I stay, I need no other.

Events in CSS and Web Design History

Here’s a fun Friday question for everyone: what do you consider to be some of the most important events in the history of CSS and web design?  How about some of the most overlooked events in that same history?  (And yes, an event can be both.)  I’m not looking for the “best” answers—I want to know what you regard as important, overlooked, or otherwise worthy of mention.  So tell!

AEA Boston Going Fast

The rate of registrations for An Event Apart Boston has been, in my eyes and the eyes of our greatly experienced Event Manager, nothing short of stunning.  I generally look deeply askance at exhortations to “hurry before they’re all gone” or claims that “time is running out”, but they’re kind of warranted here.

That’s not because we only have ten seats left or anything, no; but we have sold a solid majority of the available seats in the 25 calendar days registration has been open.  And we already know of a bunch more people who are planning to register just as soon as they can get all their institutional ducks lined up.

At the current rate of registration, we’ll most likely have sold all the available seats before the early bird deadline arrives on February 26th.  My current projections say we’ll sell out on February 28th, but of course there’s no guarantee expressed or implied by that statement.  Space could dry up faster or slower than I currently predict, especially since I didn’t take the expected last-minute early bird registration rush into account with that prediction.  I’ll be sort of interested to see how far off I was, when the time comes.

So, yeah, the show is filling up fast.  So is the special room rate we negotiated with the hotel.  If you’re interested, then, you know… better hurry before they’re all gone.

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