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Creating a mentorship program for GroupBy

Virtual conferences can be a great chance for newer speakers to gain experience and get their name out there. For me, GroupBy was a stepping stone in my speaking career, and I’d love to see the same for other speakers. But presenting virtually is more difficult and more intimidating than speaking in person. So, to encourage new speakers, we are building out a mentorship program for newer speakers.

What is a speaking mentorship?

After having mentored a few speakers, I think a good mentorship comes down to five things, starting with the most important:

  1. Building a relationship
  2. Accountability
  3. Putting in the time
  4. Answering questions
  5. Providing expertise

A mentorship without a relationship will fail. Giving constructive criticism is hard to do well, and it’s impossible to do if the mentee doesn’t trust you. No one likes to hear the parts they need to work on, but it’s a lot easier if you can hear how the other person made the same mistakes and grew from them. You could be the worlds best speaker, but you also have to be able to connect with the person you are helping.

Next, a good mentor is providing simple, basic accountability. We are all doing this stuff in our spare time, and so it can be easy to put off working on these things. But, when you have someone following up every week to see how things are going, it’s much easier to make progress on those slides or that outline. There is nothing fancy or difficult about this part.

Another part that is also simple and straightforward is putting in the time. Reviewing the outline, reviewing the slides, doing a dry run, etc. So much of the relationship is simply showing up. You don’t have to be an expert speaker to accomplish this.

Now we get to the actual meat of being a speaking mentor. What I seem to find is that newer speakers will have a handful of very specific questions and are looking to get oriented a bit.

  • How do I manage my presentation time?
  • Is this the best way to design my slides?
  • What do I do if I lose my place?

Any good mentorship program should make space for these types of questions, instead of being rigidly focused.

Finally, there is focusing on best practices and providing personal expertise. And this is the least important, because often people just need someone walking alongside them, not in front of them. You don’t have to be an expert to be a good mentor. That said, it’s good to have opinions on what a good presentation looks like. Things like the following:

  1. Start with why the audience cares
  2. Define your core audience
  3. Avoid paragraphs of text
  4. Less is more

Very little of being a mentor requires you to be “The Expert”. Most of it is showing up, having some experience, and having some idea on how to make things better.

Creating a mentorship program

So here on the GroupBy committee, we’ve been thinking about how to foster these relationships and encourage new speakers. A lot of the things I mentioned before, we can’t really control. But there are two things we can help with: coordinating and creating structure.

The biggest thing we can do is simply help match up newer speaker with mentors. The other thing we can do is provide some minimal structure. Because a mentorship is a relationship, folks are encouraged to meet more often if they want to. But at a bare minimum, we’ve condensed the mentorship process to four parts and three meetings:

  1. Abstract review
  2. Outline design
  3. Slide design (via email)
  4. Presentation dry run

The goal here is to make sure that all the stages of the presentation design process are covered. It’s also designed to give a structure to folks who might be expert speakers, but new to mentoring other speakers. The hope is that these 4 parts provide the scaffolding to expand outwards.

I am excited to see how it all works out this year!

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