Not one for women's only events, Bobbie Carlton, founder of Carlton PR and Marketing, Mass Innovation Nights, and Innovation Women, is a fixture in the Boston start-up scene. One technology event after another, she kept encountering what she calls DAMP: dreaded all male panel. "I heard all the tales of woe from conference organizers, making excuses such as 'I had women but they cancelled,'" says Carlton. And when there were women on stage, it was always the same few. Sick and tired of the excuses, she set out to solve the problem. She started Innovation Women, an online speakers bureau for event managers to find technical and entrepreneurial women for their events.

Carlton has found her entrepreneurial calling by helping the underdog. This set her up nicely to help technical and entrepreneurial women get on more stages and help event coordinators connect with a wider variety of experts by focusing on the underserved populations, the underdogs, in both the demand and supply sides of event speakers.

Demand for Qualified Speakers

When it comes to event planning, the underdogs Carlton serves are those who are booking for grassroots events and event managers looking for speakers new to audiences of big venue and on-site events. "There is a speaker's paradise happening right now," says Carlton. With 1.5 million events through Eventbrite last year, 92,000 business and professional associations, and 550,000 meet-ups every month, not to mention the 50,000 Tedx talks from around the world over the past six years, there is no shortage of opportunities for experts to earn their speaker stripes.

In 2009, Carlton started Mass Innovation Nights, which has since been syndicated in other geographies outside of Boston, as a way for cash-strapped entrepreneurs to launch their products to customers, investors, and industry influencers. Her model worked. Participants have launched over 800 new products and have been awarded $1 billion in funding. Through this model, Carlton has learned the event business from the inside out: who the players are, how they operate, where they struggle and where they don't.

Carlton and her business partner, Betsy Dupre, are calling upon their network of long-standing relationships with event organizers and journalists to actively create demand for the expert speakers registered on Innovation Women. The demand has quickly expanded nationally into other cities across the country, where ambassadors help deploy locally. Carlton and Dupre are starting to roll-out in San Francisco Bay area, NYC, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The response has been highly enthusiastic, confirming that there is a need across the country for event planners to find and book qualified women speakers who don't normally show up on the speaking circuit lists.

Supply of Qualified Speakers

"Being on stage is powerful. The issue for many women is that they don't know how to get there," says Carlton. Event coordinators have a lot on their plates; they tend to work in a vacuum, following the same recipe for cultivating events. "When you are a known quantity, you are on the right lists and get booked regularly for speaking engagements. When you are not, it's harder," says Carlton. Unknown speakers tend to be late to the game, when event coordinators have already hired their targeted speakers, from well known speaker bureaus or because they had seen that speaker at another event.

Innovation Women is a platform for the rest of us. Using her marketing channels including the 7,000 followers quickly captured on the Innovation Women Twitter handle, email lists, and other highly cultivated marketing channels, the speakers on Innovation Women are getting their profiles in front of a broad, rich, and captive audiences eager for deep expertise. "You are always an expert with an audience in front of you. Audiences assume you were expertly vetted because of your earned thought leadership," says Carlton.

Your Next Steps

With the platform in place, it's time to get to work. Just like having a great product does not necessarily make a great company, creating a presentation deck for your keynote or describing yourself as a speaker on LinkedIn won't land you a paid keynote right out of the gate. You have to do the hard work of marketing yourself to get booked for engagements. Carlton suggests the following steps:

  • Refine your pitch and your presentation. Make sure your expertise is supported with a good story, key facts, and your unique point of view.
  • Create a consistent brand presence across social media accounts (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and your speaker profiles: share what your unique topics are; post pictures and videos that show you speaking in front of audiences; and ask attendees to share quotes about your presentations that add to your credibility as an effective presenter.
  • Work on your stage presence and build your brand by taking unpaid speaking gigs. You never know who is in the audience.

By cultivating supply and demand, Carlton is entrepreneuring a solution to get more women on the speaking circuit while helping grassroots organizers find the right expertise for their events. One speaking event usually leads to another. With plenty of opportunities and a platform to connect aspiring presenters with the people booking event talent, you will have your speaking card filled in no time.