Michele Heyward uses the HeySummit virtual event platform to host a supportive space for Women of Color in STEM, reaching a global audience. The post shares how she efficiently drives traffic, finds speakers, and maximizes engagement.
Content Contributor, HeySummit
If you’ve got a community to serve, virtual events are a quick, easy and efficient way to reach as many people as possible. For Michele Heyward of PositiveHire, maximizing community participation was the main driver for launching her event series, Women of Color in STEM.
Michele is no stranger to being a trailblazer. As a civil engineer, she noticed that so few of her colleagues, especially superiors, were Latina, Black or Indigenous women. She watched many of her brilliant peers leave STEM professions in their early to mid 30s because they weren't getting promoted - despite having the right qualifications. Not one to sit by and watch, Michele started PositiveHire, a tech company that focuses on connecting experienced Latina, Black and Indigenous women holding STEM degrees with management roles in the USA. PositiveHire focuses on building community and imparting knowledge and training to help women advance in their careers.
“There are national or regional conferences available, but a lot of women can't travel to these places because they have additional responsibilities, whether it's taking care of their children or elderly parents”.
Recognizing that a lot of women of color aren’t usually first in line for executive training, Michele wanted her online events to fill this gap. Her events equip women with the skills they need to move up the career ladder, bringing in experts to help them identify and develop resources and tactics for success. Topics include: how to have executive presence, how to negotiate salary, and how to be a negotiator in business.
Apart from making knowledge more accessible, another key reason Michele wanted to host online events was to create a platform for women of color to tell their stories and share experiences. Having women of colour both as speakers and attendees was central to Michele’s vision.
“A free virtual event, lasting around 90 minutes does not seem like a long time, but for very strategic and action oriented people, it’s literally that push they need to make that one change in their career.”
With an audience this niche, you’d have thought that finding them would be a piece of cake. That was not the case.
“Prior to my first event, I paid a lot of money for Facebook ads. If you don’t know enough about your audience, don't do it! Unless you have a product or service meant for everyone, you won’t reach who you’re looking for.”
Her breakthrough? Using the analytics provided by HeySummit, which let her know exactly where her registrant traffic was coming from. Despite marketing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, 70% of her traffic was coming from LinkedIn, so she was able to shift her focus and energy to amplifying her business there. Michele posts almost daily, using relevant hashtags to draw attention to her posts and lead her target audience to her. For Michele, revenue is not the focus of her events: instead it’s all about getting her name out there, showcasing her business and positioning herself as the go-to person for all things ‘Women in STEM’.
Through her events, Michele has been able to harness the power of word-of-mouth advertising. She’s had engineers, managers and recruiters - among others - messaging her asking to share her events on company newsletters and internal sites. She’s even got people getting in touch with new leads - contact details of people they think would benefit from attending her events.
Besides her main events, Michele extends her reach even further by offering events of all shapes and sizes throughout the year. Through monthly webinars and weekly newsletters, she keeps her community consistently engaged. That may sound like a ton of work, but Michele has a strategy that helps her maximize her resources and save time:
“I believe that a single piece of content should be used at least four times”.
Here’s what she means: if Michele does a LinkedIn Live video, it will also - at minimum - be turned into a blogpost, a YouTube video and a podcast episode. The benefit? She’s able to reach people no matter their preference for where they consume content - and she’s able to prepare that content quickly.
When it comes down to the event content itself, Michele’s priorities are always ensuring speaker diversity, so she can offer talks on a wide variety of topics, and cover different career stages and transitions. Each event is, essentially, a guide on how to advance your career, starting from the bottom and finally reaching the top.
Here’s Michele’s rule of thumb: if you're looking for speakers, you should start a relationship at least six months beforehand. She does have some exceptions, of course - friends and colleagues she’s known for years, or people she meets by chance at conferences or masterminds. But, she suggests, six months is a good length of time to get to know your potential speaker and let them get to know you and your brand. If you don’t have the luxury of time, ensure you personalize your speaker invitation and make it clear why you think they would make a great speaker, and how their involvement will be mutually beneficial. After all, the last thing a speaker would want to read is a ‘cut-and-paste’ cold email invite. When identifying potential speakers, Michele ensures she does her homework. She looks at social media pages, areas of expertise, and past speaking arrangements. Only then does she reach out to those who best fit her event’s theme, its purpose, and her attendee persona.
Going online doesn't mean compromising on event quality. Michele ensures she’s catering to the needs of her registrants by using HeySummit’s built-in custom registration questions functionality, which allows Event Organizers to pose tailored questions to attendees as they register for the event. She prides herself on achieving above 70% response rate! Her secret? Start with light-hearted questions.
“I love doing fun questions such as ‘How are you dressed: PJs, business on top/ casual on the bottom, or all casual?”.
Following her icebreaker questions, the more serious questions include things like: industry, age, career goal, biggest struggle. This information helps Michele plan her future content, but it also gives her an idea of who exactly her audience is. Michele is a firm believer in the power of feedback: she’s also a member of several Facebook groups for women of color in STEM, and actively asks for input on the type of skills and tools members feel they need to make bold career moves. Since Michele keeps a pretty short window between her events, it’s this continuous cycle of feedback that helps her create and source the content most in-demand amongst her audience.
Her sessions are all ‘live’ as well, to ensure maximum engagement. This way, speakers are able to respond to questions as they come in.
“Too often the women that I serve are the only ones they know in their field. They’re excited to connect with each other because they don't get to do that, ever. It’s not the same as reading about somebody in a magazine - engaging with others in a niche and specific situation is the most powerful thing”.
As women of color in the STEM industry, it was important for Michele that her attendees felt heard during the event, something that may not always happen for them at work. She wanted to ensure her speakers were able to engage virtually with fellow speakers and attendees. Michele finds that live talks work better for her audience, helping build community and carving out space for those who don’t always have it in their own workplace.
Ultimately, events are a great way to keep a community connected, engaged and active. While social media and email marketing can be helpful, events marketing will give you that interactive, personal touch and add an extra ‘oomph’.
If you’re a community leader looking to provide continuous value-add to your audience, or if you’re just starting out and looking for a way to get your name out there, HeySummit will help propel you to greater heights - without the need to start from scratch. The best part? Events can work hand in hand with your other marketing and content creation efforts. If you’re ready to launch your own event, start your 14-day trial today.
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