by Teddy Basham-Witherington, Out & Equal CMO
One of Out & Equal’s strengths is as a convener, which is why events are such a key component of our strategy for workplace advocacy. The annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit is, indeed, a mountain top experience for us and so many of you. With over 130 separate educational offerings, three general sessions, an exhibit hall, a fun-run, ticketed lunches, hospitality suites, social events, special sessions and networking galore, there is an abundance of opportunities for enriching experiences.
Each year, we survey Workplace Summit attendees to see what they thought. On a scale of 1-5 we regularly score over 4 and in a good year, like 2013, around 4.5. But, lest we rest on our laurels, there is always a better job to be done.
One of my great pleasures is to read through the comments in the survey, noticing patterns and paying special attention to the minority opinion, lest we become the victims of groupthink. There was much to take away this year and, as always, the suggestions for future keynote speakers were an invigorating read.
So, how do we choose a keynote speaker?
Our keynote selection process is just that – a process. It starts with some general principles about categories: politicians, sports and entertainment celebrities, community leaders and CEOs. We then overlay our desire to find a good mix of LGBTA folks, people of color and so forth so that we have a diverse mix of keynotes. This matrix results in an admittedly impossible goal, realizing that we only have five slots available: two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday (not including our CEO) and one for the Gala Dinner on Thursday.
We begin the invitation process in earnest in February, making our way through targeted prospects, again with additional layers of constraints – speaker availability, budget etc. All the while, we receive an abundance of suggestions from staff, board members, constituents and sponsors. These are carefully considered and, where the process described above allows, folded into the process.
Because we have more suggestions, and good ones, than available slots, we look at the Summit in total, identifying where prospects can contribute in a meaningful way as Featured Panel speakers, honorees and, in the case of our presenting sponsors, the champion of that sponsor’s message during the presented plenary session.
We do our best to accommodate ideas and suggestions within the parameters of the task. Sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes the answer is “not this year.” Rarely, is it a “no,” unless the suggestion falls outside of the scope described above.
We work with our speakers to tailor their remarks for our audience, but every once in a while we’re surprised. This year, the tragic circumstances around the murder of gender non-conforming teen, Lawrence King in 2008 were misstated, not intentionally, but the categorization of this as a “gay” hate crime came as a disappointment to many of our Transgender attendees and their allies. So, it is with all due sensitivity and humbleness that I get to say “sorry” and, “we’re committed to doing better.” In future we will work even more closely with our speakers to help them fact check and ensure that the underrepresented are not further marginalized.
We may never get a perfect “5” in the post participant survey, but my colleagues and I are committed to raising our eyes to that goal and walking steadily and with purpose in that direction.
Chief Marketing Officer