The intersection of technology and leadership

5 Things You Can Do to Be More Inclusive as a Conference Speaker

Several years ago I spoke at a conference, well known for being diverse and inclusive. One speaker, in front of the entire crowd, made a cheap joke of PHP on stage. Instead of the expected laughter, there was an empty, awkward silence. Immediately afterwards, the host called out this unwanted behaviour in front of everyone.

I remind myself of this super-awkward situation when I prepare talks these days. As a speaker, I recognise I have a platform. With this privilege, I can encourage more inclusive environments.

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”

Vernā Myers

Here are five actions you can take to be more inclusive as a conference speaker:

1. Use gender neutral names

When telling a story, I substitute gender neutral names. Unsure about what you can use? Check out these, BabyNames 1000 and Name Playground. Feeling even lazier? Try these three names: Casey, Kris, Morgan.

2. Use gender neutral pronouns

Avoid using “he” or “she” unless you’re referring to a very well-known person such as Ada Lovelace, Marissa Meyer or Bill Gates. Opt for terms like “you” or “they”. No one is going to notice and it’s more inclusive.

3. Increase your font size and use pictures, not (just) words

Imagine you’re sitting right at the back of an auditorium and you have bad eyesight. Imagine you have people’s heads in front of you. Huge text is simply more visible from way back. Don’t practice sitting in front of your computer. Practice from the other side of the room. Pictures can underscore what you’re saying and add to the story.

4. Avoid cheap jokes at the expense of others

It’s very human for communities to form around programming languages. It’s rude to make a cheap joke at the expense of another community. Be careful with your humour. What may be funny to you, may be offensive to others. Avoid being crass.

5. Encourage conferences to diversify representation and be more inclusive

I’ve declined speaking opportunities because speakers were 90% white men. Don’t accept the, “But it’s a pipeline problem,” excuse. Point them to Jez Humbles post, “How To Create A More Diverse Tech Conference.” Point them to examples like Craft Conference, Lead Dev London and GoTo Copenhagen. Ask if they have a Code of Conduct. Inquire about they do to be more inclusive. Some conferences offer vegan meals. Others offer child-minding facilities. Some offer diversity scholarships and conference guides. There are even conferences with a stenographer for live subtitles! It’s impressive to watch, particularly at a tech conference!

Your action can have a positive impact

We have made progress in improving D&I in some parts of the world and in some communities. If you speak at conferences or events, use your platform to nudge our industry in a better direction. We need all the help we can get.

I’d love to hear what worked for you in the past. Leave a comment about what you have done to increase inclusion.


  1. Klaus

    Hi Pat, thanks for you post! I saw the sign from the picture (“We welcome…”) at the ThoughtWorks Barcelona office the other day. We ended up changing the phrasing of “All spoken languages” to “All languages” to be more inclusive to sign language. I’m no expert, so I go with wikipedia:

    >> The term “spoken language” is sometimes used to mean only vocal languages, especially by linguists, making all three terms synonyms by excluding sign languages.

    Hope that helps 🙂

  2. Patrick

    Hi Klaus! Thanks for your comment and the update to that sign. I totally get the change to “All languages” too. Maybe you could send me an updated photo? 😉

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