New Speaker Mentoring: Why You Should Be Doing It! – Myra Roldan

This guest post comes to us from Myra Roldan, an Instructional Designer at Amazon. She’s also an upcoming speaker at our 2018 Realities360 Conference, where she’ll be speaking about rapid development for both augmented reality and virtual reality.

As a now seasoned speaker, I have been able to look at L&D conferences through a new lens. I’ve met many talented conference attendees with unique skills and they often approach me with the same question: “How did you get started speaking?” My answer is always the same. I had a great mentor who was a seasoned speaker that helped me along the way. After one of these many conversations this year, I had an “aha” moment – I could mentor and coach new conference speakers too. I knew first-hand just how well this kind of mentoring works and it was time to pay-it-forward.

A year ago I formally entered the conference circuit as a speaker. My good friend Ann Rollins, who had been speaking at different industry events, mentored and coached me the first time I wrote a conference speaker proposal. At first I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t feel I fit the profile of a conference speaker. Although I had written a few articles that were published on a number of industry sites and publication, I did not share the beliefs of several industry “Thought Leaders” when it comes to academic theories. I’m also a Hispanic female. When I looked at the speaking rosters of many L&D conferences, not all of them had equal representation for female speakers and many of them had very few minority speakers. However, my mentor helped me break through my imposter syndrome – my belief that I didn’t fit in or meet the minimum requirements.

Ann continues to mentor and coach me on the speaker circuit: you’re never too seasoned to have a mentor. I have gone on to submit proposals for Realities360 2017, DevLearn 2017, Learning Solutions 2018, and several other conferences and have been accepted for all of them.

A few months ago, I reached out to Bianca Woods to have a conversation about a proposal I wanted to submit. I wanted to propose an all-female speaker panel with women from different backgrounds who would share their challenges and their wins. I really wanted to know if the topic would be a fit. Our conversation quickly turned into my soapbox on the fact that there are so few female and almost no minority speakers at many conferences. After that conversation, I decided I wanted take some action to help change the speaker profile of conference speakers.

When the call for speakers for DevLearn 2018 was announced, I jumped into action and began to encourage other women and minorities in our industry to submit speaker proposals for conference. I didn’t just forward the announcement to them, I began to reach out to individuals who I knew had some great experience and unique topics to share. People who were masters of their domain and were completely unknown in the industry. People who were reluctant to share, but who had a solid depth of knowledge. To these individuals I offered mentorship. I helped brainstorm potential topics and shared resources to help them complete the speaker proposal form. I also read and copyedited about 10 proposals.

Mentorship and coaching is a great way for seasoned conference speakers to help promote inclusion and diversity for industry conferences. We are in the weeds and have the ability to identify individuals who have a different perspective or unique skills that they can share with their peers at conference. I know that time constraints make it difficult for many of us to interact on this level with our peers, but here are five simple steps to get started:

  1. Offer to coach new speakers when a call for speakers is announced. I work at Amazon, so I forwarded the Guild’s call for speakers to our Learning Design email list along with an offer to coach anyone interested in submitting a proposal. I did the same on LinkedIn and Twitter for specific groups I interact with on a regular basis.
  2. Provide initial coaching. For those who expressed interest in submitting a speaker proposal, I had them setup 15 minute calls with me so they could discuss their topics and ask me questions.
  3. Provide resources. After our chat, I forwarded a sample completed speaker proposal, a blank Word speaker proposal template, and additional resources available on the Guild website. I tasked them with writing their proposals using the template and then requested they send them to me for review and feedback.
  4. Read your mentee’s proposals and provide feedback. The first time you write a proposal it can be nerve-wracking. You’re never sure if you provided too much or too little of the right details. So reading your mentee’s proposals and providing feedback along with useful edits and suggestions is important. Don’t just provide feedback like, “I’d reword this.” Share suggestions for how you would reword it. This is all part of the coaching process.
  5. Be a cheerleader. I know this sounds cliche, but trust me, we all need a cheerleader. Someone who believes in you. Who will tell you that you are a rockstar. Someone who has faith in you. You may think this is ego stroking. It’s not, it’s a motivator to follow through. It can help someone avoid getting stuck in inaction. It’s all part of our social construct.  

Remember, we were all new to the process at one time. As a seasoned speaker you have probably picked up some tricks and nifty tips that you can share with a newbie speaker. You also have the power to change the speaker profile of our conferences, making them more diverse and inclusive of different cultural backgrounds, schools of thought, and skills.


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