I recently volunteered to be a mentor for Speak Easy. Being accepted as a mentor is one of the proudest moments of my career.

In January, AST tweeted that no women had proposed for CAST2015. I had no trouble believing this, because of my experience as a conference organizer. Conferences are exposure to the world at large for speakers and their ideas, and they unlock career opportunities – directly and indirectly.

Indirectly in that only half of the phrase “thought leadership” is about ideas. That is important – study, research, and articulation are good practice and necessary skills. The other half is about self-confidence, persuading, connecting with an audience, and other skills that are necessary to lead, both formally and technically.

In the workplace, credibility and influence are both earned and given. Leadership dynamics are complicated, but everyone notices, at least subconciously, who talks, who gets interrupted, who is credible, who is challenged, who gets credit, and so forth. Who presents at conferences is a way these patterns are reinforced.

Many very qualified people don’t think they are ready to share what they know. We need their wisdom, both to improve the quality of conference content, and to help the most qualified people succeed.

I didn’t think I was worthy the first time I spoke, but the encouragement and mentoring that got me through submitting, preparing, and speaking for the first time got me past my fear and insecurity. Now I have the chance to pay that forward.