A few years back, one of my tweets went a little viral (relative to my other tweets).
So you want to do a talk at a conference but you’ve never done it before and you are nervous or want some help?
This is me offering you my time to help. No charge, just honest goodwill.
Just reply to this tweet or DM me privately and let’s get started.
Feel free to RT.
— Alex Yates (Probably) (@_AlexYates_) January 24, 2018
Inspired, that evening, I spun up a website.
And I wrote a blog post.
Over the following months a whole community of established speakers created profiles and offered their mentoring services (for free). Many new speakers used the site to find a mentor. I’m proud that so many folks made their speaking debuts with help from the folks on this site. Some of those new speakers went on to become Microsoft MVPs!
There was a wonderful rush of excitement in the early days. I personally met with lots of wonderful new speakers. With some I only exchanged a few messages, while with others we scheduled weekly catchups to review abstracts, slides, demos, and to go through practice runs together. Whatever they needed. It was a tremendously rewarding experience.
However, I was naive. I had a “build it and they will come” attitude. This idea just made so much sense to me that I thought it would basically run itself. Conferences wanted to promote mentoring and experienced speakers wanted to help the next generation. At the same time new speakers were eager to learn from those same experienced speakers.
People just needed a landing page – I assumed. If all the speakers popped a reference to the site into their “about me” or “thank you” slides, and if conferences referenced Speaking Mentors in their CFPs, I assumed it would market itself.
However, as it turns out, marketing and community building isn’t quite that simple. After the initial rush of excitement, things quietened down somewhat. We have a Slack workspace, but it’s pretty quiet. Some mentoring is still happening, but not nearly as much as I had initially hoped.
I still believe that Speaking Mentors can do so much more great work. I believe there is space for an independent, community-driven, de facto speaker mentoring hub in the tech conferencing space. I’m imagining a wonderful website, that allows you to easily search for mentors by style, technology, sector, location etc. I imagine active forums and training for mentors. Blogs and youtube channels aimed at new speakers. I want all the tech conferences to come to us and ask for help. I can imagine partnerships with organisations like Sessionize, Microsoft, Meetup…
But that all takes time, and energy. It’s not a simple case of “build it and they will come”. And, having realised how much work was involved, I now understand that, currently, I don’t realistically have the time or energy to do justice to my vision. I used to be guilty of saying yes to too many things and spreading myself to thin. I’m now at a time in my life where I’d like to focus on fewer things, and to make sure I do them really well.
A few days ago I posted on our quiet Slack workspace to ask how many folks were actively or recently mentoring folks from speakingmentors.com. To my delight, there were a few replies, telling some lovely stories. However, the numbers weren’t overwhealming. The vision and the reality weren’t very close together.
I told the community that I was considering either passing the site on to someone else, or shutting it down. To my delight, a couple of folks wanted to take it on. I was so happy that Tracy Boggiano and Dwayne Natwick shared my excitement for the site, and had ideas of their own.
So, earlier today I transfered ownership of the site, hosting, domain, email, Slack, and anything else we could think of. I’ll hang around as a mentor. The tweet at the top of this blog post is still accurate. These days, I get a much bigger kick out of helping other folks to speak, than I do out of getting up on stage myself. I’m excited, personally, to focus on mentoring individual speakers, rather than hosting the website or guiding the wider community. (So, if you’d like some help getting into speaking, please do feel free to get in touch!)
I can’t wait to see where Tracy and Dwayne take this wonderful mentoring community. I encourage anyone who would like to get involved with Speaking Mentors, either as a mentor or a new speaker, to contact them. It’s a tremendously valuable experience for everyone.