GUTS AND GUILE: THE BERLIN GEEKETTES’ JESS ERICKSON
Posted on September 2, 2013 by Kimberly L. Bryant
“Geekettes is about encouraging women to have the guts to speak up and say I’m not satisfied with the status quo and I want things to change and I deserve it.” – Jess Erickson
Smart n’ savvy, The Berlin Geekettes are a group of female change-makers out to conquer the tech world one code at a time. For women who love technology and big-thinking, the Geekettes serves as a healthy support system of friendly ladies who know their stuff and want to help their fellow peers succeed in the business and tech industries. Founder Jess Erickson is a globe-trotting entrepreneur who saw a glaring need to encourage more women into leadership roles. The Geekettes are changing Berlin’s young, male-dominated start-up scene into the new hot-spot for female techies to flourish. The Geekettes not only offer a strong support system of like-minded women, but also organize events, conferences, and mentorship programs . The group’s spread is wide and with Jess at the helm there’s no doubt they’re going to continue shaking things up for the tech startup scene. Jess’s passion for women entrepreneurs has even caught the attention of people like Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Skyping from Betahaus, one of Berlin’s many start-up hubs, Jess took some time to talk with me about Sheryl, The Geekettes, and the art of public speaking.
KB: What is your intention with Berlin Geekettes?
JE: I’m trying to create a healthy, natural, organic way of encouraging women to get into leadership roles, to found their own companies, to master code, to do things that are typically male-dominated, and do it based on their own volition and their own desire to want to be a part of it. As long as the women appreciate it and there are more and more women joining, I think that’s valid enough reason for me to continue doing this and really pushing the initiative.
You had the chance to speak with Sheryl Sandberg during one of her Lean In Women talks in Germany. What happened?
It was that serendipitous moment. I took a chance to ask a question and tell her what I was doing and she loved it. To have one of the most influential women in the world passionate about what you’re doing and validating your ideas was kind of a high point in my career. About Geekettes she said, “I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you’re binding women together because they will become each other’s role models. They will become mentors for one another, and they’re going to show the next generation of women that it’s possible to found a cool tech startup in Berlin.”
How do men relate to the Geekettes?
Men who come to Berlin Geekettes events want to improve the workplace and want to make it more interesting for women. I think it’s fair to say that these all male startups could benefit from having a bit more diversity.
You do a lot of public speaking engagements. What’s your secret to speaking in front of large crowds?
Preparation is everything. For me it’s rehearsing and knowing my key audience. Knowing what they really want out of the presentation or panel or whatnot. Whether I do a small workshop or a big conference in front of 1000 people, I’m always 100% ready!
Can you give some tips on giving great talks?
Igniting really good conversation is important. More and more these days I try to make my presentations interactive with the audience because I think it’s really boring to sit for 30 or 40 minutes just listening to someone talk the whole way through. I try to engage the audience by asking open-ended questions. People can shout out answers and then I’ll build on top of that. Sometimes the best is when it’s super spontaneous! As an exercise, sometimes right before I go onstage I’ll think of one or two ideas that I didn’t rehearse and I’ll just throw them in there and see how I can work it. The idea is that you want to give people knowledge but also a set of actionable items that they can take when they leave. As in, they understand the topic and they also know they need to do steps 1 through 6 to get there. I try to always create a pathway for people to take that knowledge and apply it. Interactivity is important and giving people a real set of actionable items is crucial!
Photos courtesy of Jess.ù