If you're familiar with me or my work, you know that I speak a lot about the issues surrounding the lack of diversity in tech. Sometimes this means sharing articles, social commentary, or giving talks at conferences. Other times this may mean speaking up about the bad behavior of a person or company to draw attention to the issue and educate the community.
I'm one of a growing number of people that are speaking out loudly and publicly about these problems. In doing so, we receive a lot of responses in the form of emails, tweets, and blog post comments concerning both the way we chose to speak up as well as the response they expect us to have to this -- a form of silencing. Comments range from thanks to sympathy to dismissiveness to rudeness to physically threatening. Most incidents that get a reasonable amount of attention will see the whole gamut repeated multiple times, predictably so. As an example, the responses to a set of ignorant tweets made last night by someone are nearly identical to the responses today about a completely separate incident that fell in the same ballpark of poor behavior.
This post has been a long time coming; with each incident the feelings of frustration, sadness, and anger swell up again. The energy I and others have to explain the complexity of these issues gets quickly depleted dealing with the same reactions each time. I'm writing this to help you understand a little about what it's like to speak up as well as the kinds of responses we hope to get when we do.
Risk and Reward
Why do we speak up?
There are a lot of social problems in technical communities and companies. Homogeneity fueled by the thinly veiled ideal of "culture fit" has allowed companies and conferences to discriminate in a way that's become socially acceptable. Attrition rates are on the rise, new entry rates into the field are falling. We're seeing many of the most intelligent, talented, and driven people around us being pushed out of the only career they've ever known because of constant harassment, discrimination, and inequity.
We believe that the things many people are experiencing are not only unethical and illegal, but harm the industry and our ability to innovate. We want to see everyone have equal access and treatment in a field that is pushing the boundaries in every social context.
In speaking up about these things, we educate people about the reality of this behavior, why it's not okay, and what it's doing to people. Without people being exposed to this information, they may never realize it's a problem.
What do we risk speaking up?
Being a person in the minority and/or challenging the way things have always been comes with a lot of risks. We weigh these risks everytime we speak out: "choose your battles", "is this really worth it?", "what will I gain from this?", "how will this hurt me in the long run?" are all things that regularly go through our minds.
A taste of some of the risks we open ourselves up to include the following:
Financial and Professional
- losing a job for views deemed controversial to your employer's customer base
- failing to get a job because of the very thing you are speaking out against, for fear you may ruffle feathers, be difficult to work with, or will attract unwanted attention to yourself or the company
- being labeled as a trouble maker, angry, or fringe
- being seen as a risk to an employer, conference organizer, or any group that relies on the financial support of customers or members that do not hold equality in the same esteem that you do
- distancing friends and colleagues who are afraid to be ostracized or seen in the light detractors may see you in out of fear for their financial, professional, and social safety
- alienating people that otherwise enjoy your company because they'd rather not be exposed to the depressing reality of many people's lives
Physical and Emotional Risks
- receiving physical threats of violence, whether or not the person would actually act on them
- receiving threats toward your public, professional, or social image
- physical assault or confrontation
- receiving messages with abusive language
- doxxing, DDoSing, etc
- harassment of friends, family, and acquaintances in your name
"You should name and shame the people who harass you."
I see this most often when someone tweets or blogs about incidents while anonymizing the details of the event or person. The logic behind naming and shaming may seem simple - "tell us who this person is so we can put them into professional and social exile."
While this may sound like a great idea in the long run, doing this can expose yourself to even more harassment, especially if the person is a well-respected member of the community. Their voice - and "army" - can quickly overpower yours and you can be punished for daring to shed light on this person's poor behavior.
Of course the other thing to keep in mind about this is that the people who behave badly are free to then go on to continue doing it without reprisal. I commented yesterday on twitter that many of the women I know in the community talk to each other about bad experiences with individuals, companies, and conferences as a way of protecting each other and removing ourselves from potentially bad situations. The downside is that because many of us feel this has to be done underground to avoid the risks, this means you have to be in the trusted circle to get this information. We don't have a list we can share of bad things that have been committed by these people to keep everyone safe.
"The people who do these things are young, friendless losers; they can't actually hurt you."
This comment tends to be made in an effort to console the person, as if to say "this is just one person and they're not worth your time." Unfortunately this isn't the case - the people who commit some of the worst acts are your coworkers and friends, they own and run companies, are in charge of hiring/firing, choose who speak at conferences, are core maintainers of popular open source projects, are popular authors, or are cult personalities for any number of other reasons. People in power who do these things are the absolute worst case scenario - it's more likely that they will be able to effect your life or the lives of people like you. Plus they have a large following of people which means that there are more people to agree with them loudly. Think of this person as the popular kid at school who no one dared cross.
Dismissing these issues and stating that the people saying or doing these things are fringe or 4chan/reddit/HN trolls who aren't actually in the community or friendless losers or otherwise unimportant, inconsequential people takes the obligation off of us to revoke their power. In reality, these are the thought leaders of bullies (all lols intended).
"We're not all like that."
Not only is this reponse not helpful or supportive, it's not news. Think hard about why you're responding this way.
As an example: if it happens to be a man that sends a sexist remark my way and I comment that I'm tired of that happening, what are you accomplishing by stating "not all men make sexist remarks"?
"Don't let a few bad apples ruin your whole career/experience/hobby/whatever" or "Stay and fight to show that they're wrong." or "There will always be jerks."
While meant to be encouraging, remember that many of the people that are on the receiving end of rampant harassment see this stuff constantly. To us, it's not "a few bad apples", it's yet another person that people respect saying terrible things, one more scary email in our inboxes, another person that is slinging slurs in our direction. How long should a person endure that kind of punishment simply for daring to exist in the same space as these "bad apples"?
What's more, is it ethical to guilt people into staying in a field to stand in the face of these horrible events?
How You Can Help
The best way you can help is to work on being an ally. An ally is someone who is outside of a marginalized group, but empathizes with the things they experience and want to help create change. An ally may have privilege that people in that group don't have. Remember: having privilege doesn't make you a bad person, it just means you have to educate yourself about what that privilege gives you while it takes away from other people. You can start by learning more about being an ally as a person with privilege.
Start removing problematic language from your vocabulary
This is an ongoing process and one that all of us need to be concious of. For instance, I've been trying to stop saying words like "crazy" and "lame" because they are exclusionary, offensive, and derogatory to some people. For others, it may mean starting lower on the ladder by removing generalizations, stereotypes, and slurs about marginalized groups of people.
Be humble; practice apologizing
To go along with the previous tip, you're going to screw up. I do it all the time and I feel I'm better versed in these issues than the average person.
For instance, I was speaking at a conference recently and I accidentally said the word "crazy" in a derogatory manner. I stopped myself and said, "I'm sorry, I'm trying to stop using that word. I actually meant 'ridiculous'." It's as simple as that and provides good behavior modeling for bystanders :)
Eventually it's going to happen where someone calls you out for something you say. The way you respond says volumes about you as a person. Stopping and sincerely apologizing allows you to not only save face, but to earn back the respect of the person who called you out. Level up this skill by not needing someone to call you out to correct yourself.
Create change however you can
If you're a marginalized person, it's understandable that you may not necessarily feel you can speak up. The risks for some are far greater than for others and no one expects you to be potentially further punished because you happen to fall into an underrepresented group. What you can do is not make the situation worse. Far too many times I've seen someone remark plainly that they've experienced none of this - which I wish more of us could say! - so therefore they believe it never happens. Empathize with the people who haven't been as lucky as you have. Nothing is harder to deal with than someone from a marginalized group you belong to telling people that "those other people are making it up/it's not so bad." That gives fuel to the people that are hurting others and you end up being used as a tool against people like you, which you don't want.
If you're a person with privilege (which most of us are) and power, your actions have far more weight. If you feel you can loudly speak up, do so. Understand that as a person with privilege, though, that you want to be advocating based on what people within that group have said they want and need, not what you think they want or need. It's not impossible that someone may help you correct the way you speak out to be better aligned with the group's needs and desires.
If you aren't ready to speak out against others to change things, don't worry! Start at home. Educate yourself about the kinds of issues facing people different than you and do your best to not exacerbate them. Remember that being an ally isn't a permanent state nor a label you get to choose for youself - your actions prove you to be an ally.
See something, do something
Someone getting harassed in person or online? Ask the person how they'd like you to help. For some people, like me, all that means is blocking or reporting that person for abuse. When it comes to twitter, I will quickly block abusive people and then have to deal with a barrage of @replies from acquaintances who are replying to that person and leaving my name in the tweet, so I have to continue to be upset by it. For others, they may want people to stand up loudly beside them so they feel they aren't alone. Each person has different reasons for their approach and remember that you are trying to minimize the impact on the person on the receiving end, so ask what they want done and respect that.
Be a good friend
Have a friend that regularly goes through this? Ask them how you can help them deal with the stress, anxiety, anger, or depression that are byproducts of the process. An offer to screen emails, tweets, or tag along with them to events to act as a buffer can greatly decrease their anxiety. Helping to keep their mind off of the issue by talking to them about something else or distracting them with funny movies and pizza may be just what they need. Maybe being a person they can vent to in private to dump the adrenaline out of their system is how you can help. Above all, ask them what they need and how you can be most supportive.
Like many people, I've spent much of my life being terrified of public speaking.
My fears were stoked by anxiety-inducing experiences from middle and high school where I was thrust in front of an unkind class of my peers against my will, being told to read aloud from a book report I'd probably hastily written the night before. The teacher would ask for volunteers to speak and I'd slink down in my seat, doing my best impression of someone cooly bored (note: I am not, nor have I ever been cool). The second I heard my name, my hands would get shaky and a heavy weight would settle in somewhere deep in my stomach. After the dead man's walk to the front of the room, I'd stand in front of the class, red-faced, nervously rolling my feet outward onto the edges of my shoes and back in. How did my limbs work again? Everything felt like it was in the wrong place, not sitting right against my torso. And then I had to actually speak. My voice quavered, I quietly sped through what I'd written, tripping over words and pausing only when the last bit of air had been forced out of my lungs.
That is to say: it wasn't good.
Thankfully putting myself in these positions as an adult weren't nearly as bad. It takes a lot of practice to feel comfortable in front of a group of people and to leave people feeling educated/entertained, but I really believe that with enough practice everyone can be a great speaker.
The first couple times I spoke were at local user groups and barcamps. I was familiar with most of the people in my small audiences which added to the air of casualness. The open format made me feel less authoritarian standing in front of a group of people, which helped. My experiences with those first two talks served as good training wheels for the larger events that I wanted to speak at eventually.
Finding speaking opportunities
- local user groups - sites like meetup.com have lists of local user groups
- barcamps - there are barcamps all over the world, find one near you on barcamp.org
- lightning talks/pecha kecha/ignite - many conferences have opportunities for very short (10mins or less) talks. These provide an excellent opportunity for new and first-time speakers to practice being in front of people.
- lanyrd - you can find a list of conferences and other events near you through Lanyrd.
- Calling All Papers
Pro tip: Nobody is really "qualified" to give tech talks.We're all exploring and figuring it out. Just share what you've learned.
— Jeremy Kahn (@jeremyckahn) April 11, 2013
"I don't know enough to speak, I'm not an expert on anything." I hear variations on this pretty regularly. I think everyone feels this way before they speak for the first time. Looking at conference lineups and seeing the people you respect speaking can make you feel out of place and lacking the expertise to present. Remember that everyone started somewhere: once upon a time they were first-time speakers, too. They weren't always perceived as experts.
Many conferences are going out of their way to let people know they're looking for speakers of all experience and knowledge levels, which is great.
Coming up with ideas
Most of my talk ideas stem from lively conversations over random observations I've made. A good rule of thumb is if a bunch of people have more questions than answers (or more feels than facts), it'll make an interesting talk. People want to learn something new from a talk, even if it's just a different perspective on a long-standing issue.
I've heard many people say that they'll choose something they want to learn to create a talk around. Then they'll spend the time learning it and have the advantage of having the fresh knowledge and experiences of a beginner so they know what might trip other people up. Take notes while you're learning something new. How did you expect something to work? Did it work differently? How would you compare it to something similar that you know well? Channel your learning into a story.
Expertise and Abstracts
An abstract is the information about your presentation that you'll send in during a call for proposals (CFP) for a conference. Some people also call these papers.
Abstracts are complicated beasts. No matter how amazing your talk actually is, your abstract is what will likely get you accepted or rejected. Most conferences I've been involved with (and from what I hear from other organizers) judge based on the following criteria in this order:
- Talk title and abstract
- Showcased knowledge of the subject (blog posts, open source work, on-the-job experience)
- Previous speaking experience
- Person's relationship to the community, conference, or organizers
So if you haven't spoken before or aren't well known for your involvement in this area, it's important to have a killer abstract and to start making your knowledge of the subject visible through blog posts, tweets, open source work, etc.
Titling your talk
As my friend Brad says, naming things is hard. The title of your talk is what should immediately grab people and get them interested. It should be short, memorable, and give them an idea of what they're in for. I tend to name my talks after I've written the abstract because the tone and language I use in the abstract colors the way it should be titled.
Writing the Abstract
Abstracts should give you the mile-high view of your talk. What are the interesting topics that will be covered? Why is it interesting or controversial? What will the take-aways be? The first couple sentences may be the only thing a reviewer will read, so you should start out with something compelling.
Every conference has a slightly different requirement for the format of an abstract. Some call for a couple paragraphs, some a full paper. Others call for an outline in addition to the abstract or a list of objectives that will be achieved through your talk. If you have a conference in mind while creating this abstract, check to see what format they are looking for before you begin.
Your talk will likely get rejected at a bunch of conferences at first. Don't take this personally! Keep in mind that most conferences get between 4 and 5 times more proposals than they have speaking slots. Your talk won't be right for every conference or for every audience and that's just fine.
If your talk gets rejected, you may be able to reach out to the organizers to find out why so you can improve for next time. Thank them for reading your proposal and giving you an opportunity to submit, whether or not they are able to give you any feedback.
Additionally, ask friends who are in your potential audience how to improve it. Ask "would you be interested in seeing this talk? What would make this talk more interesting for you?". You may need to go through a few revisions before you find one that sticks.
Speaker Bio & Picture
Conferences will likely ask for your speaker bio and a picture at the same time you submit your proposal.
For many people, the bio is harder to write than the abstract. How do you write about yourself and make it sound interesting? I highly recommend having someone who knows you well either write this for you (offer to write theirs for them!) or give you ideas of what to include. Your bio should tell people what is unique about you: where do you work? What have you focused on in your career? What have you done that is unusual? Depending on the type of conference you may also want to include some personal details like unusual hobbies or a fun fact about you.
The picture is less difficult. It should be an unobscured shot of your face and be appropriate for the event. I personally like using the same picture I am using as my avatar on twitter + github because people are likely to recognize it. You should have access to the high resolution original (depending on the conference, they may be printing it in a program or projecting it onto a screen during the conference) as well as a few standard-use sizes. I like to keep a folder that includes the original along with various sizes (100x100, 200x200, 300x300) so I can send off whatever they prefer.
If you don't have any recent or appropriate pictures, ask a friend to take a few for you. Natural lighting is best, but an indoor area with good lighting works, too.
Before Creating Your Talk
Once your talk has been accepted, get as much information from the conference organizers/track chairs as possible. Here is a list of basic questions I ask for every talk:
- How many people will be in the audience?
- What is the experience level of the audience?
- Will there be a sign language or foreign language interpreter? Do I need to keep anything in mind for that?
- What kind of room is it?
- What is the configuration of the room?
- Is there a stage? How big is it?
- What is on the stage (podium, table, stool)?
- If the talk is being video recorded, am I discouraged from moving around the stage?
- Will water be provided for me on stage or should I bring a bottle up with me?
- Will the room be well lit or dark?
- What resolution is the projector?
- Are there any color issues with the projector?
- Will a power adapter for my laptop be provided?
- Will a projector dongle for my laptop be provided?
- Will there be wifi? Is there a separate access point for presenters?
- What kind of mic will I have (handheld wired/wireless, podium, lapel)? Have you had issues in the past with people being unable to hear a speaker?
- Will there be a monitor for me to view my slides, or just my computer on a podium?
- Will there be a timer?
- Have you had any issues with speakers in the past? Anything I should keep in mind?
- Can I see a copy of your code of conduct and speaker guidelines?
- Is swearing allowed in my talk or slides?
- What day and time is my talk?
Preparing Your Talk
Before I start preparing my talk, I look at the conference's past presentation videos to get a feel for what they're expecting. I sometimes give the same talk at different conferences, but I'll tweak it to fit the audience.
Additionally, if I'm not familiar with the audience I'll talk to the organizers to get a better idea of the knowledge level and demographic make-up. This is especially important if you are giving a talk to an audience that may not share your language or culture. You want to make sure that your talk is appropriate for the audience and that nothing you do or say will be in violation of the conference's code of conduct.
If you're giving a talk in a place whose dominant language or culture is not your own, I would also recommend finding someone who fits into that group to review your talk and slides to avoid things that would be inappropriate or not understood by the audience.
I start by opening up my abstract and starting an outline. I want to make sure that I'm going to cover everything that's mentioned in my abstract so people feel like they learned everything they expected to from my talk. I divide the outline into three areas.
The intro should cover a little bit about yourself (less than 30 seconds, don't be obnoxious). After that, speak to why this topic is important, why you are the right person to speak about it, and give a short teaser of the points you'll be covering.
The exposition is the meat of your talk. Each major point in your talk should have supporting information to prove or demonstrate that point. If I have a list of points, I will try to make sure that I am covering information in the same structure. For instance, if the first two points have a description of the point, a story, and a demonstration, I will try to make the third point fit the same format if appropriate.
The conclusion should quickly recap what was covered in the exposition, any calls to action (what you expect the audience to do with this newly learned information), and a thank you.
After I have a solid outline, I begin writing my talk as if it's a blog post. This helps me make sure that the talk will have a story arc, enough supporting information to get my points across, and I will know what I'll be saying in each section within the exposition. Additionally, this helps me make sure that things are in a logical order with smooth transitions between them.
Note: many people try to add humor into their talks, which is very hard to do well. If you want to do this, be sure to avoid self-deprecation (nothing is more uncomfortable than wathing someone you don't know put themselves down) as well as inside jokes or obscure references. Don't leave your audience feeling like they missed something.
Slide Deck Content
As soon as I am comfortable with my draft, I start breaking it down into slides. I err on the side of a ton of slides with very few words on each. Each slide should be able to read in a second or two by the audience, so avoid walls of text or bullet points. The slides are just there to support what you're saying, not the convey the message itself - that's your job!
For major points of interest, I may put more words on the slide to reinforce what I'm saying. The ideas on these slides should also be short enough to be tweetable.
If you're using an application like Keynote, it'll allow you to nest slides which I highly recommend. Nesting them for each major point in my exposition just like I would if they were an outline allows me to quickly and easily see the structure of my talk via my slides as well as rearrange groups as needed.
Slide Deck Design
I would highly recommend not using one of the default Keynote/PowerPoint themes. Sure, some of them aren't super terrible, but everyone uses them. Your slides should be unique to your talk and you don't want any part of it to come off as boring.
You can create your own Keynote theme very easily, and I highly recommend it. While you're at it, be sure to take some time and configure your presenter display for Keynote. You'll probably end up tweaking this a few times before you have it set up the way that works best for you.
Zack Holman is known for his awesome slide decks, especially in that he's a developer, not a designer. It goes to show that following some basic design principles, anyone can have interesting, eye-catching slides that add something to their talk. He wrote a post with some basic guidelines that I highly recommend. My favorite tip he suggests is to make text bigger. Like, gigantic. Make it as big as possible, at least 90pt.
Slide Design galleries:
Typefaces and type inspiration:
- I Font You - gallery of font combinations
- Font Squirrel - fonts free for commercial use
- Fontspace - freeware/shareware fonts
Color and palette ideas:
The last talk I gave, I practiced sitting alone in front of my computer a few times a week. I practiced walking home from work. I recited my talk in my head twice on the bus from Madison to Chicago. I practiced in my hotel room the few nights before the talk. I even gave the talk to my cats.
That is to say, I practiced a lot.
I like to know my material forward and backward. I practice and practice until I need very little in the way of presenter notes at all. It's important to me to not worry about forgetting something key to my point on stage.
Practicing alone will help eliminate as many problems as possible before you're ready to practice in front of people.
Try recording yourself (audio as well as video) so you can find the places that you say "um", "like", or otherwise uncomfortably pause. Those are the areas you'll need to focus on most.
You can always speak slower. Take a full breath between thoughts and think about your talk as if it's a conversation. You want to give people a moment to let a thought sink in before proceeding to the next.
Practice your talk all the way through. If you screw up halfway in, just keep going. You don't want to have practiced the beginning half of your presentation more than the end.
Once you start feeling comfortable with your delivery, start focusing on your pacing. Make sure you are within a couple minutes of your talk time.
Rehearsing with an audience
This is when things start to feel real. Schedule time with friends, colleagues, and coworkers to give your presentation to them. Before the last talk I gave, I practiced with a group of friends that were in the same demographic as my audience over a Google Hangout.
Let people know that you are giving a talk at a conference and you want help improving the presentation.
Write down questions that people ask at the end of your presentation; this will give you an idea of areas you didn't go into enough detail for the audience so you can go back and flesh out those areas.
Make sure you ask them for constructive feedback. For many, it's easier to get this anonymously. Setup a google form and ask people to tell you three good things about your talk as well as three things you could improve upon.
If you're able to give your talk to a user group or similar-sized audience before you have to give your talk "for real", do it. User groups are almost always looking for speakers. Try to schedule speaking at a user group as soon as your talk has been accepted so you can give it preferably a couple weeks before the conference. This gives you a deadline to have a solid talk completed by while still providing you time to make changes based on their suggestions and your experience giving the talk live.
Remember that this is a dress rehearsal, so try to replicate the circumstances you'll have at the conference as much as possible. Ask people to hold their questions until the end if the conference talk is structured that way. Use the same laptop and any other presentation tools you'll be using. You want to find all of the bugs now and not when you're at the conference.
When you've finished, let people know that you are giving this talk at a conference and you'd like constructive feedback to make it better. Provide them the link to your anonymized google form from earlier.
Where to put everything
For the Talk
If your laptop dies before your talk, what will you do? If you have a backup copy of your talk in a few places (such as a flash drive, Dropbox, or your email), you can recover pretty quickly with the help of a loaned machine. Similarly, if you use written notes, make sure you have a backup of those stored in a different place than your master copy. It'd be terrible if you lost your bag with *both* sets of your notes in it.
For the Audience
I try to make it easy for people to find all of the info related to my talks, so I generally create a post for each talk that includes any pertinent information, plus tweets, audio/video, the abstract, and any other related stuff. This way I can give people one link to everything. It also serves as a nice history that I might not have access to otherwise.
- SpeakerDeck - export your slides as PDF and upload them. Include any links in the notes section so people don't have to copy them by hand from your slides.
- SpeakerRate - allows people to rate your talk and give you feedback.
- Lanyrd - tracks what conferences you are attending and speaking at.
A lot of other speakers have put together information on getting started and improving yourself as a speaker. Here's a random smattering of things I and some friends have found useful.
Blog posts and Articles
- Advice for New and Aspiring Technical Speakers, by Nicholas C. Zakas
- Confessions of a Semi-Amateur Speaker, by Jen Myers
- Designing Presentations, by Idan Gazit
- How to Write a Conference Proposal, by Mike Moore
- Writing an Effective Tak Proposal, by Ben Ramsey
- A Developer's Guide to Presentations, by Joseph Wilk
- On Motivation - Becoming a Speaker, by Julie Ann Horvath
- Creating an Engaging Presentation, by Rick Scott
- Suggestions for Writing a Good Conference Presentation, by Adam Conner
- DevChix Speaker Notes, by DevChix
- 6 Tips for Public Speaking, by Neil Gaiman
- Presentation Patterns: Techniques for Crafting Better Presentations
- slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
- Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
- Confessions of a Public Speaker
- 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People
- The Secret Structure of Great Talks, by Nancy Duarte
- Presenting at Conferences (audio with transcript), by the Ruby Rogues
- Speaking Hacks (video, $18), by Scott Hanselman
Mailing Lists, irc, and Other Speaker Support
- Speak Up! - a mailing list and irc channel for new speakers
- We Are All Awesome - new speaker resources, including mentoring via irc once a week
- Women Who Code - speaking resources
What you need to know about speaking at conferences: bit.ly/XXnMyJ
— ashe dryden (@ashedryden) April 21, 2013
Welcome to the internet, my pretties. You're probably reading this because some shit just went down. Whoa, totally makes you lose your faith in humanity right? Declare the equivalent of moving to Canada via rage quit? I'm with ya.
So, take a deep breath and let the rage subside a little. What can we do so this incident repeats itself with less frequency?
Step one: check yourself before you wreck yourself
The hardest part about this whole process is that many people that are on the receiving end of this kind of stuff know it isn't an isolated incident - this isn't the first time it's happened, this is maybe just the first time you've noticed it. Additionally, the people who are on the receiving end of this kind of behavior on a regular basis are frustrated because people don't learn when other people make these mistakes. Think of it like a conveyor belt: you explain to one person why what they did was wrong, but there is an infinite line of people behind them ready to make the same mistake. It's tiring.
Let's get into personal responsibility. Take a seat and buckle up, we're expecting a little turbulence.
You've fucked up
Maybe someone couldn't handle speaking up to you about it (this is not an uncommon thing, considering the average reaction), but it's likely you've made this mistake in the past. Recognize it, own it. Realize that everyone makes mistakes and it isn't the end of the world. I consider myself pretty versed in a lot of issues and I've gotten rightly called out on twitter and in conversations for saying things that I shouldn't have. It happens to all of us.
This is hard for a lot of people (myself included) because the vast majority of us don't want to hurt others, we don't want to create an atmosphere where someone feels unwelcome or even physically threatened. Coming to terms with the fact that you may have done that sucks, there's no better way to put it.
Yeah, your pride is probably a little bruised, but you'll recover. Don't make it worse by calling people names, being verbally or physically threatening, or publicly harassing the person you've wronged. There's no coming back from that.
You have an opportunity to right the ship before you lose your shit, though. Oh man, I really hurt this person is on a different continent from OMFG NO U! So choose your next steps wisely.
Take a deep breath.
Learn how to apologize
- Acknowledge it.
- If confronted: You're right, that was out of line.
- If you realize it first: Actually, lemme stop for a second. What I just did was wrong.
- I'm sorry. (Yup, it's totes that easy.)
- Make amends.
- What can I do to make it up to you?
- Take time to fully understand why what you did was wrong.
Apologizing is more an art than a science. Sure, it has specific ingredients, but there are subtleties that the recipe misses. Mainly sincerity, which means all apologies should lack excuses. If you say the word "but" anywhere in your attempt, it is not an apology; stop yourself and start over again.
Everyone has received an apology that they didn't believe. Be mindful of your tone, your volume, your words, and the setting.
Step two: if you see something, say something
The person on the receiving end of poor or dangerous behavior can't always speak up for themselves without worrying about things like being treated worse, being ganged up on, or retribution. When you step in, say "hey, not cool", and employ your best mega-frown a la Grumpy Cat, you're saying other people recognize what they're doing and it's not acceptable. This takes the pressure off of the victim (for lack of a better term) who is already having to deal with a flood of their own emotions (insecurity, fear, anger, anxiety, panic, etc). Everyone is responsible for helping to uphold the Golden Rule.
The level of "call them out on that" varies depending on the person, relationship, context, and the situation. Use your best judgement according to this handy dandy escalation list:
- Pull them aside privately or email them and explain the situation to them.
- Stop them immediately and tell 'em what's up.
- Get an authority figure involved (boss, conference organizer, business owner, a respected third party - whatever is situationally appropriate).
- Take it to the the streets. If all other avenues have failed you or if the situation is severe enough, get help from wherever you can.
- Get the cops involved. If someone has done something illegal or has become physically, verbally, or emotionally threatening, drop everything and call the cops immediately.
If someone accuses you of White Knighting, remind them that you're a human that expects other humans to be treated with respect, full stop. Feel free to use this totally scientific equation:
When you did/said ________, I felt __________.
Letting bad behavior slide shows everyone in the community that it's acceptable to do those things. It's not. You don't want that in your community and I don't want it in mine.
Step three: dftba - don't forget to be awesome
You've graduated and are ready to go out into the world planting flowers everywhere you go and high fiving everyone you see. So what's next?
- Encourage people to get to know people who aren't like them. This is what I like to call the Empathy Trojan Horse. You're more likely to see a situation from someone else's perspective when you can put yourself or someone you know in their shoes.
- Proactively discuss community issues with friends and help them to see why it's an issue in the first place. The more we talk about these problems, the more we can start modeling good behavior and eradicating the bad stuff.
- Talk to conferences and companies about putting in a code of conduct. And offer to help!
- Make the world a better place. Volunteer to help with community-based organizations that aim to either help bring more people into the community or help support the people that are already here.
- Speak out publicly about these issues, explain how to combat them, and urge people to help you.