Q&A with the Founders of Shine Bootcamp
In just over a month, there will be a new cohort of amazingly talented womxn meeting up in Vancouver, BC for a 3-day weekend packed with nerves, networking, and unforgettable memories—all at Shine Bootcamp 2019.
When I first learned of Shine via Twitter in July 2018, I was immediately intrigued at the concept of an immersive incubator prioritizing womxn and building the skills necessary to secure large-scale speaking opportunities. I had given my first keynote ever just a few months earlier to a small audience of LGBTQIA+ graduates and their families, and with two standing ovations and a room full of tears, I felt just confident enough to apply. However, as with many other opportunities, I was concerned about how to afford it if accepted—it was in British Columbia, for 3 days, and as a Black womxn freelancing, my money rarely flows freely enough for me to reinvest it in myself. After reaching out to the organizers and hearing back almost immediately that there were scholarships available, I found the quietest part of my Bedstuy apartment, and in one take, made a video about why Shine, why then, and why me. Two months and one full scholarship later, I joined the 2018 cohort in what would be a truly defining and transformative moment for reshaping how I’d been showing up in my work and my world. Beyond the technical skills necessary to present an engaging talk, I learned how to really hear and stand by my own voice. Moved by my presentation calling for actionable inclusivity and non-performative access for marginalized communities, the Shine organizers hired me to consult on how they might strengthen the methods of their vision in time for the 2019 bootcamps and beyond.
I’m excited to share my interview with co-founders Amy Wood, Alejandra “Ale” Porta, and Stef Grieser with The Riveter, as I’ve benefited greatly from their genuine commitment to this work and the womxn they serve.
What is Shine Bootcamp in a sentence?
Shine Bootcamp is a professional speaker accelerator for womxn in tech, marketing, and startup environments who want to kickstart their speaking careers.
Why do you believe now is the time for Shine Bootcamp to exist?
As a former conference organizer, Stef found herself in a tricky situation. She wanted to get more women up on stage, but the pool of experienced speakers was predominantly made up of white men.
Many conference organizers today share Stef’s frustration; they want to develop diverse programming, but are hesitant to take a chance on up-and-coming speakers. It’s a classic catch 22: without experience you can’t secure gigs, but without gigs you can’t gain experience.
A conference organizer wants to get a feel for your stage presence, confidence, and overall talk quality. But many first-time or small-event speakers won’t have a professional video to demonstrate their skills and experience. Shine Bootcamp helps womxn bridge the gap between inexperienced and experienced, by providing attendees with first-class speaker coaching and an opportunity to present their talk in front of a live audience. After the event, they’re given a professionally-edited video of their talk, which they can use to pitch themselves, overcoming the catch-22 that may have previously held them back.
How do your different lived experiences show up in your mission?
Amy: My mom came out when I was around eight or nine, and I was raised primarily by two women from age 10 on. I remember flipping through Ms. Magazine at a young age, and not really understanding it but still feeling inspired by it.
When I got a little older, I realized how much I admired my mom’s strength and passion for social justice, and I started to ask myself how I could use my voice, talents, and inherited privilege to make a positive and lasting impact.
It’s lovely to be interviewed about my experience, but the reason I work on Shine is to give others a platform to speak. Specifically, it’s to give a platform to new voices, who we don’t often hear from.
Ale: I was born and raised in Nicaragua, Central America, and came to Canada at 17 to go to university, and stayed because of my career. Design is not a profitable career back home. Now I proudly call myself a Canadian citizen.
Living in Toronto for 10 years made me appreciate different cultures and understand how hard it can be for some people to have a voice. Coming from Latin America, I have experienced how, at times, we don’t get the same opportunities simply because we can’t articulate what we really mean as English is our second language, or we are too shy to speak up, as we might feel that others will make fun of us. I think it’s amazing how Shine is becoming a platform where we can empower anyone, no matter where they come from, to tell their stories and speak up.
I love working on Shine because you see a wide variety of womxn really putting themselves out there to be better, to challenge themselves with a big fear that they have, which is speaking in public. It is really inspiring. Watching the admission videos is really my favorite part of the year.
I am currently in eating disorder recovery, and it has opened up a world of opportunities in ways we could expand Shine, to give more tools to womxn to have higher self-esteem, and feel confident in their own skin, free themselves from attaining this “perfect body” and believe in themselves, be vulnerable and open and just go for it.
Stef: After one too many “can I pick your brain?” coffee requests, I knew that I had something to share with a wider audience. I wanted to share my knowledge on stage, but felt I wasn’t a “speaker” nor did I want to label myself as one. I don’t travel the world speaking at industry events or conferences. I spent highschool in theatre and if you ask anyone I am a huge extrovert, but speaking about your profession on stage with a group of very experienced professionals not only in their field, but also years of experience speaking, was intimidating (major understatement).
But I believe the path to growth is uncomfortable. So I put my hand up to speak at a conference. Well, not only a conference, but the very conference I created. In front of 1000+ people and my entire company. I raised my hand because I felt strongly that I had something to teach and share.
Realizing what I had done, I felt unprepared, so I sought out help and got coaching from two pros: Oli Gardner and Michael Aagaard. It's so important to get feedback on your talks. Feedback is the fastest path to excellence!
Fast-forward to the following year when a few dozen people asked me if I would speak again. Instead of putting my own hand up, I made an internal speaking slot where anyone could apply and pitch to speak at the company conference. I wanted to pay it forward and give others the opportunity and support I had. Since then, Alexa Hubley, Ainara Sainz, Larrissa Hildebrandt, and Bethany Singer-Baefsky (all women) spoke at our flagship conference in front of 1000+ attendees. And I love cheering each and every one of them on.
I still don’t *really* classify myself as a speaker. But I love helping others Shine. Like Ale, I love watching the application videos, but my absolute favorite part is the last day of the bootcamp where we have a mini-conference and speaker showcase. Not only is the support and energy in the room incredible, everyone presenting levels up. It’s game day and people really bring out their best.
Have you had much support, financially and/or otherwise with building Shine?
We have been very lucky to receive generous sponsorships from a number of companies including Unbounce, Wistia, Logitech, Google, Allocadia, Charlene Kate Events, and more. This combined with registration fees allows us to host a one-of-a-kind event for our attendees. We want them to have the full conference experience, and that’s what they get with Shine.
On top of that many of our coaches will volunteer their time. Some even pay their own flight and hotel if they’re coming in from out of town. We really couldn’t put on this even without the generosity of our sponsors and coaches.
Sometimes we get asked why people have to pay to attend, but in most cases a company will sponsor their employee to attend. For those who have financial barriers, we offer scholarships, including one full-ride (flight, hotel, and registration) and two local (registration). It’s important to us that barrier-free education be available to anyone, no matter their income or employment status.
At the end of the day, we make very little, and in fact, we’ve yet to pay ourselves out a single dime. To us, Shine Bootcamp is not about making money, but rather using our privilege to be better allies and provide others with the same opportunities that we've been afforded.
What is a typical day like for an attendee during the boot camp experience?
Each of the three days is quite different for attendees. The first day consists of only an evening welcome reception with a panel discussion, where coaches, organizers, and attendees can all mingle and get to know each other.
The second day is workshop day, where attendees break off into groups with their coach, run through their talk, receive feedback, and integrate the feedback. This can be a tough day for attendees, since they’ll be presenting their talks for the first time in front of their coach and peers. Often they’ll get a long list of notes and feedback to work through, which can be daunting. It’s not always pretty, but it’s a necessary process to get attendees ready to present in front of an audience.
The third day is the Speaker Showcase, where attendees get to present their talks in a super supportive and encouraging conference-style event.
How do you measure the success of Shine Bootcamp?
We measure the success of Shine Bootcamp in two ways, firstly attendee feedback, and secondly whether attendees go on to speak at events and conferences.
We always send out a survey at the end of an event, and (knock on wood) up to this point 100% of all attendees who responded said they would recommend Shine to a friend or co-worker. On top of that, many attendees have become huge advocates for Shine, sharing our posts on their social channels, writing articles about their experience, and even encouraging other womxn to attend an event. To us, this is the most important measure of success.
The second way we measure success is whether attendees use what they’ve learned and go on to speak at conferences and events. Since our first event, many past attendees have spoken at large-scale conferences and events, in-house lunch and learns, panels, and more. When this happens, we always try to share on our social channels—it’s another way we use our platform to elevate the voices of others.
What are the greatest takeaways for your attendees?
The most common feedback we get from attendees is that they gained the confidence—both technically and emotionally—to pursue speaking. Because the cohort is small and intimate, they also develop meaningful relationships with their peers and coaches, who will be their champions and cheerleaders at the Speaker Showcase and beyond. Finally, attendees receive a professionally edited video of their talk, which they can use to pitch conference organizers—and they do. That tiny video file represents so much hard work, determination, and potential, and it’s invaluable to conference organizers who want to bet on a sure thing.
What has been some of the more difficult feedback you’ve had to deal with and how have you dealt with it?
One of the most critical pieces of feedback we received early on is that our marketing materials were very white-centric. Initially the feedback stung—not because we were hurt, but because we knew it was true. More than anything we were grateful to receive this feedback, because it forced us to be more intentional about what we were creating, and how we could incrementally do better with each and every event.
The last thing we want is to dissuade anyone from applying to Shine Bootcamp, especially because they feel unrepresented in our materials. We take this piece of feedback into consideration with every post and every website update we make. Not only that, we hired a contractor to work with us on expanding our coach roster to include more womxn and particularly women of color. It’s been a slow and challenging process, but we’re committed to doing the work. We wholeheartedly believe that without intersectionality our mission falls flat, so it’s a constant north star for us.
What is some of the best advice you’ve received while on this journey?
We’d like to change the question to: “What is some of the best feedback and support we’ve received?”
Though we’ve received advice, I think the feedback and support we received has really fueled us to continue to make Shine happen and goes above and beyond advice—especially since we run Shine off the side of our desks as a passion project.
Support can come in many ways. And it’s as simple as someone taking the time to share with their audience or tell a friend, colleague or their company about it. Believe it or not — one tweet, Instagram post or Slack message can have a huge impact. I asked one of the women who attended our last bootcamp how she found out about Shine. Her response? It was a simple tweet. Another woman said she found out when someone posted it on their company Slack channel.
As far as feedback, some of the emails and messages we receive melt our hearts. It makes everything worth it.
What is one of the most notable memories from Shine that really capture the essence of your mission?
After the first Speaker Showcase we held, we noticed people just didn’t want to leave. Everyone was exhausted and we still had cleanup to do, and yet most of the cohort was still hanging around chatting and hugging. They just shared this really intense experience, which really bonded them to each other. It’s something we had hoped would happen, but honestly had no idea if it would. We made every effort to create a safe and supportive space for these womxn, and they made every effort to show up for themselves and each other. This memory perfectly represents what we hoped to achieve.
What do the next two years hold for Shine? What would you love to see happen for your cohorts and your organization?
Since we launched the bootcamp, we’ve only run one West Coast event per year. This year we’re kicking things up a notch and running a second bootcamp on the East Coast in Toronto. It’s our hope to continue running two bootcamps annually—one on either coast.
Beyond that we’d love to create a playbook for our event, so that others can recreate the experience in their cities—sort of like what Canada Learning Code or Tech Ladies has done with their programming. We’ve also had some interest in adapting the program for corporate events, so we’ll see where that goes.
We’ve had a number of conference organizers reach out to us asking to see each cohort’s speaker videos. We’d love to have more requests like this come in and grow our conference organizer community as well. We’d love to be the place where conference organizers go to get up-and-coming speakers with a range of backgrounds and perspectives.
As more womxn complete the bootcamp, our community grows. We want to continue adding to and enriching that community through consistent support and amplification. We also try to get past attendees involved whenever possible—whether as coaches, volunteers, or contractors. We get to meet such talented, kind and savvy womxn through Shine—it’d be a shame if we didn’t take every opportunity to learn from them as much as they learn from us. Not to mention, we are three women with full-time jobs, and we can’t do it all on our own.
How can Shine best be supported in its growth? How can the community help you?
We’re also looking to expand our coaching roster, so if you are or you know a womxn in tech, marketing, or a startup environment who would be a good fit, please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, Shine runs on a small amount of registration fees and sponsorships. We make enough to cover costs and that’s about it. More sponsorship dollars would allow us to offer more scholarships, bring in new coaches, and pay ourselves out a small stipend. After all, it’s important to us we recognize and value womxn’s work, including our own.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kristen McCallum is a writer, strategic visioning consultant and Founder of Brooklyn-based consulting firm - SafeWordSociety. While working as a visioning partner for her clients, Kristen also creates original content & products at SafeWordSociety such as: The SafeWordSociety Podcast which will be donated to the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History at Atlanta-Fulton Public Library in June 2019, The Visibility Packs - a discussion-based card game designed to encourage productive discourse and a creative skill-sharing workshop/learning lab series for youth & adults. She is the recipient of the 2018 Harvey Milk Alumnus Award from the University at Albany - SUNY for her continued commitment to honoring the authentic narratives of her communities.