So you want to host Girl Geek Dinner at your company: Lessons I learned from hosting one at LinkedIn
Girl Geek Dinner, as the name suggests, is a dinner where Girl Geeks share their technical expertise, professional expertise, and career advice tailored toward women over dinner. It’s for Girl Geeks, by Girl Geeks, and of Girl Geeks!
In 2014, when I moved to the US from India to work for LinkedIn, I felt like an outsider, a stranger. Almost all the events I attended I felt like I didn’t belong… until I attended a Girl Geek Dinner. It was my first dinner, four months after I had moved to the Bay Area. I instantly felt like I belonged. Not only was I fascinated with the technical talks, but I was also instantly drawn into the community. It was a safe space. For example, at one of the dinners I attended, I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a raise or a new challenging project or that promotion. At the end of the event I even role-played a one-on-one conversation with the speaker who had shared her experience of asking for a promotion by gathering up the courage and listing all her contributions to her manager. The next morning I did the same with my manager and just like her I got promoted that cycle. From then I went on to attend many more dinners. Every time I attended, the desire to host one at LinkedIn grew more.
Once you have attended one such dinner, you’ll know why I am so fond of them. Most major cities have their local chapter of Girl Geek Dinners — Google it! I have only attended the ones organized by Bay Area chapter. However I am very certain that the other chapters have the same welcoming and inclusive nature.
For those interested in hosting a GGD, here are the steps I needed to take to host one at LinkedIn:
Pre-work for hosting a GGD (Eight to ten months before the dinner)
- Contact the organizers of your local GGD chapter to find out the availability to host the next dinner. Trust me, these sell out like hot cakes: I had to enlist for an October 2017 dinner in April 2016. Yep, ten months in advance!
- Once you have an idea of when you can most likely host the dinner, get to work to secure funding for it. You’ll need budget for dinner, set-up of the event space (if your office campus has large conference rooms, reserve it in advance; that will save you a lot of money and time as you don’t need to book an external space), swags for the attendees, and a photographer for the event (if you are tight on budget, reach out to coworkers who are photography enthusiasts so they help out with the event).
- Once you have secured a budget and locked in the date for the event, you are all set to put this on the back burner until four months to the date of the event.
Event Planning (Four months before the dinner)
- Begin to recruit a core team of volunteers (three to five colleagues) to help out with planning of the event — everything from catering to menu selection to set-up of the room to selecting and practicing with the speakers before the event to handle communications. I was blessed to have amazing Sarah Yu, Bijal Parikh, Jefferey Wong and Jo Chou as part of my core volunteer team.
- Reach out to the talent acquisition team at your company and ask them to be at the event. Generally recruiter volunteers help out with the registration on the day of the event as well and then they will personally follow up with the attendees to gauge if any of them might be interested in interviewing for open positions at your company. These events are a very good avenue for hiring female talent.
- Decide on the format of the presentation at the event. Some companies host a panel on career transformation or leadership, while some have full fledged technical talks around the most challenging and interesting projects and technologies being developed at the company.
- Once you have settled on a format of the presentations, solicit speakers (preferably female leaders and employees at your company). You might want to open a “call for proposals” at least three months advance to ensure a meritocratic, equal opportunity selection process. You could use a web form and ask the speakers to share a title of the talk, abstract and speaker bio. Once you and your team have selected four or five speakers, share the list of the talks with the organizers at least four weeks in advance so that they can set up an announcement page. For an example, check out the page for LinkedIn GGD.
- Now over to the most time consuming part of the planning process — catering and menu. You have an idea of the budget you have for the event, so try to find out catering options that would be able to serve food for at least a hundred attendees. Generally your event space determines how many attendees you can host, but the menu you choose can be another limitation. That said, you shouldn’t skimp on food — Try to get a filling dinner, not just salads or pizza. Also consider various dietary restrictions — vegan, gluten-free etc. When in doubt, go for Mediterranean cuisine; there is something for everyone.
- Depending on how much budget remains after you have selected your dinner option, find out various swag options for the attendees. You might want to check out Brandvia, as they have a lot of economical options to select from and you can get company-branded items. If your budget allows, you can get t-shirts or mugs; otherwise, settle for tote bags or chapsticks. Trust me chapsticks are pretty trendy and cute.
- Reach out to your colleagues or the photography group at your company to hire a photographer for the event, or if you have budget, hire a professional. At LinkedIn we have a photography club, Gordon Mak volunteered to be our event photographer and Jo Chou as our headshot photographer. Checkout the pictures from the event.
- Plan the layout of the room to allow for networking, dinner, and presentations. If your budget permits you can plan a nice stage and round tables with nice flower arrangements for dinner. Otherwise, you can set up a theatre-style seating layout with a basic AV setup.
Event Planning Part 2 (A week before the event)
- Get the list of attendees from the organizers and get name badges printed, if you’d like.
- If you are planning to have talks, ask the speakers to share their slides ahead of the event. Keep all the slides on one machine so that you don’t run into resolution and connectivity troubles with different machines. It also saves time as one person can introduce all the speakers.
- Practice with the speakers and ask them to keep the talk within 10 minutes, so that you can open it up for Q&A from audience at the end of each talk, like we did at the last GGD at LinkedIn. For reference, check out the video recording of our October 2017 dinner.
On the day of the event
- Recruit at least ten more volunteers apart from the core team to help out on the day of the event. Assign responsibilities to the volunteers ahead of time.
- Have a playlist with safe-for-work songs ready for the beginning of the event and any those situations when there might be an awkward silence.
- Have the dinner served at the beginning, before the talks itself.
- Prepare for surprises! Don’t forget to have fun and tweet :)
Hopefully at the end of the event you’ll have made a lot of new connections in the tech community and, apart from networking, you’ll have learned some new skills and although you’ll be exhausted, you’ll feel accomplished and confident as you “pay it forward.” For us here at LinkedIn, it was so energizing to be able to host a successful Girl Geek Dinner; the updates social media say it all. I feel quite content and am excited to host another Girl Geek Dinner next year in our new South Bay campus. See you all there!
PS. If you have hosted GirlGeekDinner at your office or have attended one, please share your experience in the comments.