My heartfelt thanks go out to all of the women and men who made the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration Conference a resounding success. It’s amazing how one conference can be so energizing! I was fortunate to attend and participate in several of the conference events.
GHC 2011’s theme of “What If…” was timely – What if we asked for forgiveness instead of permission? What if we used our collective wisdom more collaboratively and effectively? Women make more than 70% of consumer buying decisions. What if we used our voices to influence the products we build and buy? What if we delivered the best products and the best user experience bar none? What if we used our collective buying power to influence what we won't buy?
For those of you who have had the good fortune to attend GHC, take the professional development skills that you developed at the conference and put them to work. Practice your elevator speech, hone your brand, and bring your highest self to work every day. As Sheryl Sandberg put it, “Lean in.” Reach out across corporate and organizational boundaries. Pick up the phone instead of sending email. Build relationships and break down boundaries. Pay it forward, and reciprocate when someone reaches out to you. Use reward systems appropriately to thank those who have helped you hit a major milestone, blow past a roadblock, or facilitate collaboration. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”As you bask in your GHC experience, consider reflecting on the conversations and topics that you found most engaging. What sparks of interest were ignited? What would make next year’s conference even better? What new connections did you make? Now is the best time to jot down those ideas, and send a brief email to people you met that you’d like to collaborate with on a topic for next year, and get started. The 2012 GHC “Call for Participation” will go out in January 2012, and your proposal submission offers a tremendous opportunity to network, share your expertise, your passion and your career path with up-and-coming talent; talent we’d love to bring to our organizations. The theme for GHC 2012 is “Are We There Yet?” This too, will be an opportunity as a community of women in technology to consider what work still needs to be done. As technical thought leaders and change agents, we set the bar for generations to come. We can all put our unique experiences, perspectives and collaborative skills to work to make our companies more agile in a world that is ever-changing.
One more parting thought: If there was one person in your organization that you could bring with you next year, male or female, who would it be? In addition to female leaders like Patricia McDonald of Intel and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, senior male leaders from many companies were present, visible and welcomed: Justin Rattner of Intel, Alan Eustace of Google, Gabriel Silberman from CA Labs, Mark Bregman of Neustar, Mike Shroepfer of Facebook, Tayloe Stansbury of Intuit and Bill Laing from Microsoft. Justin, Alan and Mark serve on AnitaB.org Board of Trustees. Gabriel and Bill participated as panelists for a plenary session, “Partnering with Executive Leaders for Shared Vision and Career Growth”; Mark, Alan, Mike and Tayloe participated as panelists for a session “What If… There Were More Women in Technology? The Business Case for Diversity.” To “get GHC”, you have to “go to GHC.” It’s an experience like no other – especially for men, who are in the overwhelming minority. It takes a strong male leader to move out of his comfort zone for three days of participation, having candid yet engaging conversations over a spectrum of topics, but the rewards are incomparable. Conference participation also creates an awareness of the challenges women still face and opens opportunities for real insights about what it is like to be a woman in technology. We are key to change in our companies, but we need more male leaders to step up and spend time listening to us and learning from us. We are on this journey together.
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I’m guessing that most of us have pretty much completed preparations for our Grace Hopper presentations, right? For myself, I have thought a lot about my audience and I’ve made decisions about how much I will be able to say — and say well — in the hour that I have been allotted. What now? My presentation is on Friday. I’m done, right? Well — now it’s time to practice.
There are two fundamental ways to practice: 1) silently and 2) aloud. The first way involves a review of your presentation in your own head. We all do this a lot before we present because it helps us feel comfortable with our story and because we think that we will be less likely to forget what we want to say if we go over and over things in our minds. It is easy to practice this way because we can give ourselves a silent presentation anywhere and anytime.
The second way of practicing asks more of us and leads to different results. I will be very direct here — I believe that you must practice your talk aloud in order to deliver an authentic and well-paced presentation. And you must practice in a way that simulates the context in which you will speak. (It would probably be ideal if we could all practice giving our talks to a real audience in a real meeting room, but most of us are not that lucky. No worries — make a commitment to practicing aloud and know that you are preparing yourself for a great result.)
Find a space where you can set up your laptop and project your visuals. I have practiced this way in my living room where the visuals are projected on the wall; and I have practiced this way in a hotel room. Even if you are not able to project the visuals during your rehearsal, you can set up your laptop and use it in the same way that you will use it during your talk. Being comfortable with the physical things you will do during your presentation is very important — almost as important as being familiar with your story.
Practice introducing yourself and getting into the talk; practice moving around; practice your gestures; practice with the laser pointer if you will use one; figure out when to advance to a new visual and practice the verbal transitions; see how it feels to look around to all parts of the room; play with volume and speed. Also be sure that you time yourself during your rehearsals so that you know where you are and where you want to be during each section of your presentation.
In addition to practicing aloud in a “real” context, you can practice aloud to an invisible listener while riding your bicycle, while cooking, while in the shower. You will be able to hear the speed, the pauses, and the flow in a way that you cannot hear these details when the story is a silent one. Any time you speak aloud, even to yourself, you are incorporating the physical and sensory aspects of presenting, and you are preparing yourself for the real experience of transforming thoughts and ideas into a spoken story.
Have fun with your preparations and rehearsals. I will see you next week in Portland!
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Sometimes the task of organizing a talk seems more challenging than the material that you will talk about. Here are some things that might be helpful as you prepare your Grace Hopper 2011 presentations –
Compose a logical story for your audience. Select the precise body of material you want your audience to learn and “know” as a result of attending your talk or panel — include only the content that is directly applicable to this particular talk. Divide your story into the sections that you will cover, like “introduction,” “concept 1,” “concept 2,” “questions and answers,” and so on.
2. Backward buildup
Backward buildup is a way of thinking about your talk from the perspective of what you would like the audience to understand by the time you finish speaking. Distributing your content in the backwards direction ensures that your story ends where and when you intend, that each section is balanced and builds to the conclusion, and that the story in its entirety “fits” within the time you have been allotted.
Working backwards from the end of your talk, assign a chunk of time to each section of the story. Work all the way back to the first minute of the talk. Example – “My total time is 1 hour. I want the audience to understand 5 aspects of rhetorical positioning — audience, purpose, genre, tone, and style; I want to discuss a sample text; I will end with questions and answers.” From the end of the talk to the beginning, the sections in the example talk are –
8 Questions and Answers 10 minutes
7 Group analysis of a text 18 minutes
6 Style 5 minutes
5 Tone 5 minutes
4 Genre 10 minutes
3 Purpose 5 minutes
2 Audience 5 minutes
1 Introduction 2 minutes
60 minutes total
As you work through the backward buildup process, you may find that there is not enough time for all of the material you wanted to cover. If this happens, go back and delete the non-essential stuff, and repeat the backward buildup until you have a solid time plan that embraces your material. The sequence of topics in each section and the articulation across sections should have a logical flow.
All of the sections, including the question and answer period, must add up to no more than the total number of minutes allotted for your talk. When organizing the timing, you must account for possible technical problems, ideas that come to you in real time, and appropriate anecdotes, so leave some breathing room in your plan. Your talk should be thorough, interesting, and maybe even inspiring!
4. Selection of visuals
Go back to your story and the timed sections. Ask: “Are there any visuals that will help elucidate this section?” If no, move on and tell that part of the story without visuals — audiences love this approach. If yes, then select only the visuals that advance your story. Maintain your love and attachment to other slides you may have prepared, but use only the slides that promote understanding and inspiration of your audience’s experience.
The guiding principles when incorporating a slide into your talk is that the slide must advance your discussion, it must add an illustration and representation of an important concept, and it must be crystal clear. Each visual should be easy to navigate and understand from the point of view of the audience member. Don't crowd your slides — “Less is more.” The language on each slide should be grammatically perfect; choose a font and use it consistently; build the slide from left to right and top to bottom.
Have fun and don’t rush. Do not repeat — keep things moving forward. And think about this perspective: You are the reason the participants are there; your connection with the material and with the audience is the important ingredient. It does not matter one bit if you delete a few details from your talk. It is more important to respond to questions and points of interest that the participants raise — they have traveled long distances to learn from you and they deserve your direct attention.
Your presentation experience at Grace Hopper 2011 should be as enjoyable for you as it is for your audience members!