We’ve heard from our two SpeakEasy speakers for CAST 2016, Pete Bartlett and Julie Lebo. I caught up with one of their mentors to hear about the other side of helping new voices to take the stage this year. Eric Proegler had this to share:

Have you mentored a Speak Easy mentee before, or was this the first time? Why do you choose to work with Speak Easy?

This is my fourth Speak Easy mentee this far, and the third I’ve been able to guide to speaking at a conference.

I chose to work with Speak Easy to pay forward mentoring given to me, and because I strongly believe we need more diversity in conference speakers. I don’t like the state of tech in general with it comes to diversity, and this feels like something I can do about it.

Conference speaking can sometimes be “clubby”, so I appreciate when conferences are willing to do blind reviews to help expose compelling talks. It also means that there is a whole set of unwritten rules and manners around how to position an abstract. In this way, the barriers are higher for outsiders, just as with the executive suite and the boardroom. Without ill intent (usually), there is unequal opportunity.

The career development that arises from speaking at a conference can really help someone, and it’s possible I could help them break through to the next phase of their career. That seems pretty cool to me.  

How do you establish a successful the mentor-mentee relationship? How do you talk about, and set, expectations?

I start with an email describing how I’ve mentored before, and ask for the mentee to help me find the right kind and amount of help so that I can avoid inflicting it. I try to be present by checking in, but not nag too much.

Each person I’ve worked with has had different needs. I think I can help a lot in sharpening an abstract submission, a little in helping structuring a talk and with slides, and not much if I try to tell them what I think they should do.

Did you choose to work with a mentee specifically for the CAST conference, or did you suggest that your mentee submit a proposal to CAST specifically?

I was asked to mentor a person submitting a talk to CAST. Like my other mentees, they had plenty of talent and desire, and just needed a map and maybe a little encouragement.

CAST can be a tough place to speak, because speaking makes you very vulnerable, and then along comes Open Season. Almost everyone is compassionate and polite, but it can be hard to take criticism from people you admire.

What suggestions do you have for others considering becoming mentors?

First, do it! It is a chance to do something good – and not like sending a check, but maybe directly impacting someone’s life.

I’d also suggest they focus on remembering who and what it is all about. It’s not your project, and it’s not about you.

What did you learn yourself as a Speak Easy mentor? What was your biggest takeaway?

It’s a good lesson to mentor – because you are not teaching, don’t control the agenda, and can only help so much. It challenged me to say less, stand back, and let most of the process happen organically.

One Problem Solving Leadership (PSL) lesson that really resonated for me was to always treat people like adults. That reminds me not to be invested in whether they heed my advice. If I mention an opportunity, opinion, or suggestion once, that’s enough. People will generally do what they want to do, and what little impact I can make is with careful words at the right time. That’s enough to help.