Bobbie Carlton | The Introvert’s Guide to Public Speaking 

In this age of digital marketing, you can’t forget the value of making a personal connection, says Bobbie Carlton, founder of a trifecta of important organizations in the Boston startup scene, including Carlton PR and Marketing, Mass Innovation Nights, and Innovation Women.

Bobbie says social networks must go beyond the online world.

And with Mass Innovation Nights, which has brought together startups and established tech companies for 10 years, she has helped foster a real community. One that’s resulted in more than $2 billion in funding for Boston-area startups.

As if that wasn’t enough, Bobbie is also involved in bringing a diversity of viewpoints to Boston events with a speaker bureau that connects event managers directly with potential speakers, Innovation Women.

We talk about…

  • The “dating website” for speakers
  • Why Visibility = Opportunity, and other “Bobbie-isms”
  • How events have become an integral part of digital marketing
  • Exponential networking through public speaking
  • And more


Mike Delany: Hey guys, this is Mike Delany with The Hub of Success Podcast. Our guest today is Bobbie Carlton. Bobbie is the founder of Carlton PR & Marketing, Innovation Nights, and Innovation Women. She’s an award-winning marketing, PR, and social media professional. She’s also a Mass High Tech All-Star and a Boston Business Journal Woman to Watch. A self-described “nerd-friendly tech wannabe,” she’s also been called the “den mother of startups” and the “fairy godmother of entrepreneurs.” So, without further delay, I bring you Bobbie Carlton. Hey, Bobbie, welcome to the show.

Bobbie Carlton: Hey there. You think anybody’s left after sitting through that?

Mike Delany: We’ll just edit it all out. Well, thanks for coming on and speaking with me today. I really appreciate it.

Bobbie Carlton: Any time.

Mike Delany: So, we have a mutual friend in common, Rochelle Nemrow, the founder and CEO of FamilyID. How do you guys know each other?

Bobbie Carlton: Ooh, we go way, way back, so I know Rochelle from her first startup, Press Access. So, long ago and far away, I just focused on public relations, and Press Access was one of the first companies to put a media directory basically in my computer, so I didn’t have to use the big fat books that, at the time, we all used, so I was an early customer of her client. And more recently, she’s been a customer of Carlton PR & Marketing.

Mike Delany: I thought there was some connection there. Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, we go back and forth. Plus, now we’re roomies. We share an office.

Mike Delany: That’s true, we do the technology for FamilyID, so I have been in your office, I’ve seen the Minion collection that you have going on in there.

Bobbie Carlton: I do have a few Minions: real live ones, and the ones that are on the walls.

Mike Delany: Couple of Minion employees?

Bobbie Carlton: Couple of Minion employees.

Mike Delany: Well, I want to do just a kind of a full circle. I like to get a little bit of your background, and then kind of build up to you founding the three businesses.

Bobbie Carlton: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Delany: So, I mentioned them kind of in your bio at the beginning, but give us a little bit of your background, like where did you grow up, where did you go to school, that sort of thing.

Bobbie Carlton: Sure, so I grew up in upstate New York — go to Albany and go north — and I went to Ithaca College for broadcasting. I also have an advertising and public relations minor. I also have a minor in audio engineering, in case you need any help editing this later on.

Mike Delany: I’ll talk to you, yeah, for the show.

Bobbie Carlton: Yup. And after that, I moved out to the Boston area, where I worked for companies like the Deerskin Trading Post; I wrote their catalog. And I got into public relations starting work with a company that focused almost entirely on technology companies, and at that point, it was like, “Ooh, I’ve found my people.” So I’ve worked with all kinds of technology companies. I headed up global PR for Cognos, and for Parametric Technology Corporation; I worked with a number of local agencies. And in 1994, as I was faxing in my driver’s license to get a domain for my then-employer, I realized everything is going to change. The Internet is now ours. We don’t have to wait for a gatekeeper to write a story about our company; we can write a story ourselves.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: So that led me down the path of digital marketing, and just looking at all of the opportunities that were becoming available with social media. And so, I was working with a startup in 2008 that ran out of money to pay me. A lot of startups ran out of money around that time.

Mike Delany: It happens, yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: Yup, and as the economy was falling off a cliff, there were no jobs, so that’s when I started my own company.

Mike Delany: Okay, yeah, that’s great, because I was going to ask you, how did you make the transition to being sort of like the behind-the-scenes PR person, to then kind of getting out there and being the founder, getting in front of audiences? How did that happen?

Bobbie Carlton: I was forced to.

Mike Delany: Okay. So the recession happened.

Bobbie Carlton: The Great Recession happened, yeah.

Mike Delany: Yeah, no jobs, and you felt the need, so how … I guess, how did you prepare yourself, or how did you make that transition to doing that sort of work?

Bobbie Carlton: So, it was really more the focus on social media. You know, we all think about social media as a digital thing, but really, it’s just another tool to bring communities together.

Mike Delany: Yes.

Bobbie Carlton: So I was experimenting with social media, didn’t want to experiment on a client — they kind of frown on that — and so I started Mass Innovation Nights as a way to bring more foot traffic into the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham. I’ve been on the board there for many years.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: But also to support a lot of the startups that were coming around at that point. When people are unemployed, you see an uptick in people starting their own companies. There were a lot of people who were unemployed then. So we started Mass Innovation Nights as a way to experiment with social media and see what we could do with it. Would it put people in the room? Would it connect companies with customers and partners and investors? And it did, and that first experiment, Mass Innovation Nights, MIN — and it didn’t even have a number then, now we have numbers for each of the events — pulled in about 200 people, and we had 10 products launching. And the companies were doing tabletop demos, and people were like, “So, can we present?” “Sure.”

Mike Delany: Yeah, knock yourself out.

Bobbie Carlton: “Yeah, knock yourself out. There’s a theater over there, you can set up, and … Jeez, I guess I’m going to have to be the MC for this. Okay. Oh, this is not my thing.”

Mike Delany: I can relate.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, I’d always been the person getting someone else on stage. It’s still my job, get other people on stage, but I had to do it myself. And I’m pretty sure that video and pictures exist of that night; I’m hoping that somebody will go out and burn them, because boy, it’s an uncomfortable-looking me. But our next event is Mass Innovation Nights number 115.

Mike Delany: I saw that on the website. It’s pretty impressive.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, if you have to do something every single month, you better get good at it. Or, you can think of it this way: If I wasn’t good at it by now, maybe I should have stopped, and I haven’t. So we keep going, and every month, I kind of hone what I’m doing, get a little bit better, and practice, practice, practice. You get more comfortable with it. I’m actually a screaming introvert, and being forced to do this is sometimes wildly uncomfortable, but I’ve gotten used to it.

Mike Delany: Yeah, I was going to ask you a little bit about that, because I read somewhere that you were saying you were an introvert, and I guess, myself, I’m also pretty introverted, and for me to even do something like this is … You know, it’s nerve-racking. What were some of the tips, or some of the advice that you got from people, or did you just sort of find your stride while you were doing it? Like, was there a moment where you’re like, “Oh, okay, I figured out how to get over,” you know, whatever it is, “the nervousness, the jitters, and just do my thing?” Or did it just kind of slowly progress, and then one day you’re like, “Oh, I’m pretty good”?

Bobbie Carlton: Probably more of the latter. I tend to do what I call “going to school” on things, and one benefit of having this marvelous thing called the Internet is you can go to school on some of the best in the business. And back in the day when I was doing just public relations, I would watch the talk shows, and see how interviews went, and so I could better prepare my clients. Today, I watch TED talks, or I see how the MCs do things at other events, and I’m constantly taking mental notes, “Oh, I can try that, maybe a little of that.” And again, I’ve got 115 events that I’ve been able to practice with, so that’s helped out a tremendous amount. I also think there’s not good knowledge of what it really means to be an introvert.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: So, for me, the skillset and the things that I’ve done for work, being a public relations person, have actually fit right in with being an introvert. I’m very good writer, I’m a really good researcher, I’m thoughtful about things, and I think before I speak. So those are all actually introverted qualities, but if you look at public relations as a career and as a calling, a lot of people really are like, “Oh my gosh, you must be the extroverted party person, because you’re in PR.”

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, that’s not really a good understanding of what PR people do. You know, we’re the ones pushing other people to be up front. So, my introverted qualities also make it so that it takes me a long time to recover, and if you’ve ever done Myers-Briggs assessments, one of the things that you learn is that introverted qualities mean that your recovery needs to be by yourself.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: Some people gain energy from being around other people. For me, it saps my energy, so after I’m done with an event, oh, I am so done, but other people are energized by that. Those are more extroverted people.

Mike Delany: I would completely agree with that. I mean, when I go out on a sales call or something, and I’m forced to speak and share ideas, it’s like afterwards, I’m like, “Oof, that was a mental workout. I need to just go home and chill at this point.”

Bobbie Carlton: Yup.

Mike Delany: Okay, so, we can get into … We could keep talking about Mass Innovation Nights, because we’re already kind of there, so, to date, you guys have launched a thousand products?

Bobbie Carlton: It’s actually well more than a thousand. We’re probably upwards of around 1,200 at this point.

Mike Delany: That is an insane number.

Bobbie Carlton: Well, you try doing something for almost 10 years, and there’s 10 to 15 products every month. Do the math.

Mike Delany: Is that right? Okay. So you’re doing an event, what? You’re doing …

Bobbie Carlton: Every single month.

Mike Delany: Wow, okay. So, I also found out something in the ballpark of two billion in funding raised for these companies?

Bobbie Carlton: Collective funding. So, last year, in July, we celebrated our 100th event, a huge blowout event at the Museum of Science.

Mike Delany: Nice.

Bobbie Carlton: It was kind of like my dream.

Mike Delany: Yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: Draper helped make that possible, and the Museum of Science Innovators. And we did the research; we had an intern who worked for us, oh my gosh, I think about six weeks before the event, who did nothing but research and add to our knowledge of the companies that have launched with us over the years. And at that point, so this is over a year and a half ago, we were at something like $2.1 billion, so that number just keeps going up.

Mike Delany: That’s insane. So, I guess, what are some of the products, what are some of the memorable products for you, or what are some of the products that people might be aware of?

Bobbie Carlton: It’s interesting, that’s like asking me which is my favorite kid.

Mike Delany: I won’t ask you that.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, don’t ask me that.

Mike Delany: I won’t make you to do a Sophie’s Choice.

Bobbie Carlton: My boys are much bigger than me, yeah. But, you know, it’s interesting, over the years, so many different products have come through, and they’ve ranged from apps and enterprise software and medical devices to physical products. We used to do a foodie event every year, and then it got so popular, and there were so many food products in the queue, we had to do it twice a year. But it was really hard to get that sponsored, so we had to actually cut back on that, and now we just kind of sprinkle those products in and amongst the other products. It’s also not always startups that come through Mass Innovation Nights.

Mike Delany: Oh, interesting, okay.

Bobbie Carlton: So, Mass Innovation Nights is a product launch program.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a startup. IBM has launched six products with us, Intuit launched two products with us, LogMeIn launched four products with us. So these are all good-size companies.

Mike Delany: For sure, yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: And I encourage that, because for a startup to be able to sit next to a IBM person all evening, well, number one, that’s educational, and number two, ooh, good partnership opportunities.

Mike Delany: Yeah, you’re sitting around with the big boys at that point.

Bobbie Carlton: Yup, and also, the big boys are the ones who are sponsoring and hosting the events. So, our last event was with MathWorks; we’ve done events with Dassault, Autodesk, IBM, Microsoft, Google. So, a lot of the big players have sponsored Mass Innovation Nights events. They look at it as a way to get connected with the startup community, with new innovations, but also, it’s a recruiting opportunity. You know, we go in to, say, TripAdvisor, and people look around and go, “Oh, I could see myself working here,” so that’s what these companies are looking for. They’re looking to make those connections into the community.

Mike Delany: Okay, so I just picked up … So you do the Mass Innovation Nights at the company that’s sponsoring it.

Bobbie Carlton: Yup.

Mike Delany: Very interesting, okay.

Bobbie Carlton: Not always.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: We have some spaces like District Hall that host us for some events, but we will actually move around every single month, go to a different place, and be right inside the location. One of the other things that allows us to do is showcase all the great companies that are here in Boston, so our community follows us around. And we also go a little broader and farther out, I think, than most events, so you find a lot of events in Cambridge and Boston, but you might not find as many events out in Waltham or Haverhill or Lowell or Natick. Those are places that we visited this year, and there are great local clusters and local startup communities in all those places.

Mike Delany: That’s interesting. I would not think of Haverhill or Lowell as startup ventures.

Bobbie Carlton: Oh my gosh, they’re great.

Mike Delany: But, I mean, there’s entrepreneurs everywhere, yeah. It makes sense.

Bobbie Carlton: Yup, there are entrepreneurs everywhere, and the university system often gives you a hub and a location that the entrepreneurs congregate and interact with students. Any community that has a community center or a large business there can host an Innovation Nights event. So, last month we were at Natick, at MathWorks, but the month before that, we were in Natick as well, at TCAN, which is their arts center.

Mike Delany: Oh.

Bobbie Carlton: Great theater, great big open space. It was terrific for a Mass Innovation Nights event. Also had plenty of parking.

Mike Delany: Parking’s always a plus, yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: Parking is good.

Mike Delany: Yeah. I want to go back, because you mentioned 2.1 billion in collective funding.

Bobbie Carlton: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Mike Delany: So what is the term “collective funding”? What are you talking about there?

Bobbie Carlton: Oh. Well, when I said “collective funding,” I meant that all 1,200 companies hadn’t each gotten two billion in funding, it was a combined number of all of the companies that have come through Mass Innovation Nights, and it’s also just the publicly available numbers.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: So there may be companies out there that are getting other funding sources, or have gotten funding maybe through friends and family, or from angel investors, that I just haven’t seen.

Mike Delany: Right, and a lot of that stuff would be private. I mean, you would only hear about companies that go public, you know, that-

Bobbie Carlton: Oh, no, you hear about the investments that are done through angel groups. We were looking at press releases that companies were issuing on their own, but also the filings that these companies and their investors are doing.

Mike Delany: Okay. Well, let’s kind of back up a little bit, because you talked about starting Carlton PR & Marketing as sort of your first foray into being a founder entrepreneur. Tell us a little bit about Carlton PR & Marketing. What kind of things are you guys up to over there?

Bobbie Carlton: Sure, so when I first started it, it was the quickly available name, mine.

Mike Delany: It works.

Bobbie Carlton: It works, it works. And at first, it was just me doing some consulting work, and at first, I don’t think anybody really knew what was going to happen with the recession. And so, at first, I was saying, “Okay, you know, I’ll hang up a shingle while I’m looking for a full-time job.”

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: It literally never occurred to me that I was going to be running my own business.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: Which is interesting, because my dad was an entrepreneur.

Mike Delany: Oh, interesting, okay.

Bobbie Carlton: And it literally just never even crossed my mind until all of a sudden, I am one. So, my background and what people knew me for was heavily public relations, but today, that’s only a small part of what we do. We’ve done a lot in social media marketing, we’ve done a lot in digital marketing and marketing programs. Content creation is huge. Obviously, being public relations people, we have some really good writers on the team.

Mike Delany: I bet.

Bobbie Carlton: And so we’re able to produce white papers and website content. And I think one of the bonuses about being across the board in terms of our marketing chops is that we understand things like search engine optimization, we understand marketing as a whole. A lot of the stuff that we do could be probably more general business consulting. You know, after you’ve spent 30-something years doing marketing, you see a lot, and you learn a lot. I was doing some mentoring recently for a class at Harvard, and the professor introduced me, and originally it was very focused on my marketing skills and my public relations skills, and I think the team that I ended up working with was very surprised to hear me talking in depth about manufacturing and industrial issues. I’m like, “Well, I worked with a company at one point that did this type of work, and I know a lot about molding techniques and supply chain,” and we got in pretty deep on this stuff. And afterwards, I think they were, you know, “What’s your background again?” You know, that’s-

Mike Delany: “Who are you?”

Bobbie Carlton: “Who are you, and did we get your bio wrong?” I’m like, “No, no, I’ve worked in this space.” And, you know, over the years, so many different companies have come to us for marketing, and we’ve gotten very in depth on their overall business strategy, because the marketing strategy and the marketing goals have to come from the business strategy and the business goals.

So, we also connect startups with investors, we help connect them with different communities, and because we own Innovation Nights and Innovation Women, we also have these really nice channels that we can tap on behalf of our clients and the Boston community as a whole. I was talking last week with a nonprofit who was trying to get the word out about an upcoming event, and I said, “Okay, we can put an announcement in the Innovation Nights newsletter that comes out on Monday, and that goes out to about 14,000 people, and we can put a notice in the Innovation Women newsletter, there’s another 10,000, and our social media reaches about 40,000.” And they were like, “Oh my gosh, what is that going to cost us?” I’m like, “Nothing. I’m just going to do it for you.” Yeah, and I think they were getting a little teary on the other end of the phone. I’m like, “It’s okay, this is just what we do.”

Our Mass Innovation Nights newsletter is very focused on events in the local community, so people who sign up for the newsletter get a weekly update on what’s cool and happening in Boston, and the key events that they should be attending, and different opportunities, perhaps for contests and incubators and accelerators. Right now, we’re working with Techstars to encourage more women to sign up for their accelerator. So, lots of different things are coming through this channel.

Mike Delany: So, when you become a client of Carlton PR & Marketing, you’re automatically sort of plugged into the network of Innovation Nights and Innovation Women.

Bobbie Carlton: A lot of them come through our relationships there as well.

Mike Delany: Right, I would imagine.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, and when we do a Mass Innovation Nights event, we have a team meeting with all of the launching entrepreneurs before the doors open, and one of the things we tell them is they should consider themselves part of our family. They’ve been adopted, and like all parents, we want to be able to brag about the kids, so tell us when you get funding, tell us when you win an award, tell us when you got this great coverage in Forbes. And we have a section in the Mass Innovation Nights newsletter for alumni news, and it’s never empty. So those are the types of things that we do for the community at large.

Mike Delany: Yeah, it always helps startups to look at these success stories and say, “You know, that could be me one day. If I put in the hard work and I do the marketing, this is the outcome.”

Bobbie Carlton: Yup, and for Innovation Women, that entity … So, we haven’t really talked about that, but Innovation Women-

Mike Delany: Yeah, we can go into it, yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: … yeah, is this online speakers’ bureau, but unlike a traditional speakers’ bureau — we actually sometimes call it a visibility bureau — we are working with speakers who are not necessarily a paid speaker. They may be speaking for visibility for themselves and their companies. Speaking engagements are a great career boost. Speaking engagements are also the way that an entrepreneur can connect with customers, with partners, and with investors. And maybe when you’re a senior-level person, you do a speaking engagement, and someone sees you, and they invite you to be part of their advisory board, or on their regular board. So these all provide opportunities, and I think one of the things about those speaking engagements is it really is all about the visibility. You know, there are definitely people out there who are getting paid to speak, but we’re really more focused on the people who are speaking for their careers and for their companies.

Mike Delany: Yeah, I hesitate to use the term “real people,” but, you know, people that aren’t … that is their sole purpose is just to go and pitch certain things. People that, you know, solo entrepreneurs, or they launched a business, and they really, they just need to get that exposure. And one of the things that I’ve heard you say is visibility equals opportunity, so can you speak a little bit about … Did you coin that? Is that a Bobbie Carlton original?

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, I think so. That’s a Bobbie-ism.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: So, when people get out there and they have the ability to tell their story, they’re connecting with a community. They’re not just connecting with the people in the room; they’re connecting with the people in the room and everyone that those people are connected with. So, if I say something astute or astounding when I’m up on stage … Doesn’t always happen, but if I-

Mike Delany: You hope it does.

Bobbie Carlton: I hope it does, magically happens. Words come from my mouth, somebody tweets it, and it goes out to their community, or they go home and share it with their family, or they go back to the office and they share it with their coworkers. You’re not just talking to the people in the room; you’re talking to the people they’re connected with. And every time you get to tell your story, you’re creating more opportunity, more opportunity to connect with customers and partners and investors and the media. You know, when we talk to our speakers, we ask them, “What happened because you spoke?”

Mike Delany: Interesting, okay.

Bobbie Carlton: “What other opportunities did you get because you spoke?” And often, those are more opportunities to speak, so when you get up on stage and you blow it out of the water, you do a great job, there’s probably somebody in the audience thinking, “Oh, what will it take to get this person to speak at my company or my event?” You get on the circuit, and more speaking begets more speaking. The more you speak, the more you will speak, and sometimes it just takes that first opportunity. We had a woman who was chosen to speak by WGBH on their BostonTalks series. They pick one of our speakers for pretty much most of their events, and she said that was really the first time that she had done any serious public speaking about her current company, and she said that led to a speaking engagement, which led to another speaking engagement, and now she’s out there speaking regularly. She gets called a lot, and she’s like, “I can pinpoint it right back to that first opportunity.”

And every time you’re on stage, you’re seen as an expert. You get incredible credibility from being on stage. Everybody in the audience assumes you’re an expert.

Mike Delany: Right. Right.

Bobbie Carlton: You know, you’ve been vetted. Somebody thought enough of you to invite you to speak.

Mike Delany: Someone let you up here with a microphone; you must know what you’re talking about.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, somebody gave you a microphone; you’re all-powerful and knowledgeable.

Mike Delany: So, let’s go back, let’s talk about Innovation Women, and let’s just kind of talk about how it works, like the mission of Innovation Women. We kind of got into it a little bit, but maybe just give me the pitch.

Bobbie Carlton: Sure, so I’m going to go back one step further and tell you actually how it started.

Mike Delany: Okay, I would like to hear that as well.

Bobbie Carlton: So, Mass Innovation Nights is a social media-powered visibility event, okay?

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: We’re not actually just doing an event, we’re creating a month-long marketing program for free for these startups. And it’s the newsletter, and the social media, and the website, and it all leads up to a live event, and that happens over the course of a month.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: Once we’re finished with one event, we start promoting the next one. We literally have what we call “swap-out day,” and swap-out day means the folks that just got finished with an event last night are archived on the website, and we put up a whole new group, and so we start promoting that new group. So it’s really very focused on visibility, where I think a lot of other events are focused on being an event.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: We are doing everything we can to drive visibility, to drive social media to help expand the universe that these companies can touch, so we have a program that we give out to everybody who’s at the event. It includes their Twitter handles, it includes their logos, it includes a link to their website. We’re trying to do everything we can to make it easy for people to blog about them, tweet about them, post something on LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook. We’re doing everything we can to increase their visibility, and we drive around three million views a month through this program.

Mike Delany: That’s insane.

Bobbie Carlton: So, because this is all social media-driven, I kind of have a lot of social media power in my pocket every day, so I get invited to events, other people’s events, because people know that when I go to an event, I will often live tweet it, I’ll post pictures, I help promote it through my newsletters. So I do all of these things to promote other people’s events as well, and I spend a lot of time in the audience watching the — forgive me — all-male, all-pale, and often all-stale-

Mike Delany: I love that.

Bobbie Carlton: … same guys at the front of the room.

Mike Delany: Is that another Bobbie, or …

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, that’s …

Mike Delany: Yeah. I love the “all-stale.”

Bobbie Carlton: It’s just, it’s the same voices.

Mike Delany: It is.

Bobbie Carlton: Like, I’ve heard that story before, I’ve heard that story six times.

Mike Delany: We’ve done this already.

Bobbie Carlton: Yes, Boston’s not that big, and when you keep seeing the same people, when the same people get on the circuit, and this happens naturally: An event manager will see someone speak, they do a good job, they get invited to the next event, and the next event, and the next event, and the next event.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: So it’s hard for new voices to break in, and those new voices are often what we tend to think of as the diversity and inclusion play, because you keep seeing the same people who are the CEOs of companies, you get to see the people who are the spokesperson for the companies, and those are often the guys who have been in charge forever. But meanwhile, there’s a little bit of a catch-22 here, because that visibility, that being on stage, that being a spokesperson, remember, it drives credibility, it drives … You’re an expert. I think the key is to hear new voices, because they’re going to be the ones bringing you new ideas.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: So if you keep hearing the same voices, you’re going to keep hearing the same ideas. And you know what’s really boring? A panel with a whole bunch of people agreeing with each other. And you kind of need different people on the panel to bring in different perspectives, and it’s not just the panels, it’s also the featured speakers and the keynotes. And, you know, there was a movement, probably comes up on a semi-regular basis, to get rid of panels. “Panels are boring at conferences and events.” Well-

Mike Delany: What would you replace them with? Just a free-for-all?

Bobbie Carlton: A free-for-all? Yeah, there’s a lot of free-for-all out there on panels too. But there are lots of different ways that you can have more than one person on stage at any given time.

Mike Delany: Sure.

Bobbie Carlton: And I think that having those opportunities to be on stage in a group is super helpful for people who are just getting started as speakers, as subject matter experts at conferences and events.

Mike Delany: Right, it’s not just them up there rattling on; they have a support network, they have people that can talk. It doesn’t just have to be them.

Bobbie Carlton: Right, but it’s more than that. It’s actually a numbers game.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: You have to be on stage as part of a panel a lot of times before someone picks you out and says, “Okay, you’ve done all those panels, now let’s see you be a featured speaker.”

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: And you have to be a featured speaker a number of times before you’re going to be a keynote speaker. So it’s like that prep work, that foundation that you have to build.

Mike Delany: It’s like the minor leagues.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, it’s the minor leagues, but it’s also just a case of, how many times are you going to be at bat before you can be the person swinging for the fences?

Mike Delany: So, tell us kind of … How does this work? So, say I’m a woman that’s interested in speaking. Where do I find out more about this? And kind of tell me a little bit about the process.

Bobbie Carlton: Sure, so is what I created. It’s an online self-service platform. You can literally go right in at any time and sign up to be either an event manager or a speaker. So, the event manager profiles are just a simple account; you can go in, sign up, and once we approve you, you can go and browse and directly invite speakers. A traditional speakers’ bureau is going to make you go through some hoops. You’re going to have to talk to the speakers’ bureau, and then they will connect with the speaker. We let you go direct, and cuts out the middleman.

Mike Delany: Okay. This is from the event manager’s perspective?

Bobbie Carlton: This is the event manager, right.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: They can go direct. Once they find the speaker they want, they can browse the database, they can search the database, they can search by industry, by topic. They can watch videos from the speakers, they can look at example talks, they can read about the person’s origin story, some of their best stories. And they can say, “Oh yeah, I would like this person to speak at my conference or event.” They push the little red Invite button, and they open up a dialogue directly with that person.

Mike Delany: It’s like a dating website, kind of, for speaking.

Bobbie Carlton: Okay. I’ve been married so long, I don’t know yet about dating websites, but sure.

Mike Delany: I don’t either. I’ve been married, I don’t know what’s going on out there. This is what I hear.

Bobbie Carlton: This is what I hear.

Mike Delany: Anyways …

Bobbie Carlton: So, from the speaker’s perspective, they come in, and we ask them to pay $100 a year.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: It’s coffee money. It really ensures that we have committed speakers.

Mike Delany: Okay.

Bobbie Carlton: They are someone who will update their profile, they will respond when an event manager reaches out to them. Even if it’s not something they’re interested in, they will still respond, because they paid a nominal amount. One of the things that I learned from running Mass Innovation Nights for almost 10 years is people who don’t have skin in the game don’t take it seriously. They aren’t responsible to anyone or anything. “Oh, it’s just a free event, I’ll blow it off.”

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: And so, we wanted to make sure that this stepped up the level. Obviously, it also gives us money that we use to promote the database as a whole, to connect it with different marketing programs. We have a team that actually researches speaking opportunities and calls for speakers, and so every week, our speakers also get a weekly email, and that email contains links to almost a hundred different speaking opportunities that they can apply for every week.

Mike Delany: Every week?

Bobbie Carlton: Every week.

Mike Delany: Oh, wow.

Bobbie Carlton: In addition to that-

Mike Delany: There’s that many events?

Bobbie Carlton: Oh my God, yes.

Mike Delany: Wow.

Bobbie Carlton: Oh, hundreds. Well, let me give you some numbers, okay?

Mike Delany: Okay, I like numbers.

Bobbie Carlton: Meetup, there are actually more than half a million Meetup events run every month. There are more than two million events that sold tickets on Eventbrite last year.

Mike Delany: Wow.

Bobbie Carlton: There are 92,000 professional organizations in the US. Okay? That doesn’t even take into account the $27 billion events industry. I mean, nuts. We call it the Speaker’s Paradise. There are so many new opportunities to connect with speaking engagements now that we have digital marketing. You’re like, “Wait a minute, what? How do those two things connect?”

Mike Delany: Connect those things for me, Bobbie.

Bobbie Carlton: All right, happy to do so. As a marketer, I am creating a funnel where I drop leads into the top of the funnel, and I move people through our marketing and our sales process until they become magically a customer. I hate to say it: We often can’t do all of that online. People buy from people, and especially if you’re looking at an enterprise sale, or something a little bit larger than pens on Amazon, often you have to connect with a person. And people are using events because they have all of these digital leads at the top of their funnel, so they want to move people through their sales and marketing process, and they’re doing that by creating events. Event marketing and experiential marketing has gone through the roof, and it is helping to create a huge market for speakers.

Mike Delany: Very interesting. I was not aware of how big of a business that was.

Bobbie Carlton: It’s gigantic.

Mike Delany: I don’t think most people are, if you’re not in marketing, or you’re not a speaker or something, running events.

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, but a lot of people don’t identify, self-identify as a speaker.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: If you ask me what I do, I do marketing, I create communities, I do public relations; I would never tell you I’m a speaker.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: I speak probably now, I’m in heavy mode right now, two or three times a week. I’m doing a fireside chat, I’m doing a conference or event, I’m doing a workshop or a class, I’m speaking at a conference or an event. I mean, I’m doing a lot of speaking, but I still don’t think of myself as a speaker.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: I’m out there advocating for other women to speak, I’m trying to encourage them to do it, but I’m not a speaker, until I am. So, if we think of ourselves as subject matter experts, speaking becomes part of the package, and it’s what we have to do to market ourselves and our business.

Mike Delany: It becomes the most effective way to communicate your thoughts to another person, other than the digital realm, but that, like you say, doesn’t always connect with people in the way that you would want to.

Bobbie Carlton: Yup, there’s a point in time where a lot of people just want to shake somebody’s hand, they want to be face to face with you, they want to be able to ask their question live and know that you’re right there to answer it, and that happens through public speaking.

Mike Delany: Okay, so I have just some random questions for you to sort of start wrapping it-

Bobbie Carlton: Rapid-fire?

Mike Delany: I’m not going to do the lightning round or anything on you, but … So, just kind of curious, how has the business landscape changed for women specifically over the arc of your career? Because you’re coming from … You worked in sort of, I would say, corporate PR and marketing. You went out on your own; now you’re involved in this Innovation Women. I mean, there does seem to be a positive trend with more women’s voices being heard. How do you see that?

Bobbie Carlton: So, when I started my career — we’re talking about the ’80s — I literally got out of college thinking, “The gender problems have been solved. I don’t need to worry about this.”

Mike Delany: Wow.

Bobbie Carlton: “Thanks, Mom, your generation did all of this work for us, and now I can go forth, and my life is going to be on equal footing as any guy.” Wow, that so didn’t happen. In fact, if you start looking at some of the numbers, especially in the last 10 years, there’s a lot of backsliding.

Mike Delany: Really?

Bobbie Carlton: Yeah, the numbers have actually gone down in some industries. The number of women who have just given up, opted out, you know, “This is too hard.” Yeah, there are crazy things that happen, because women are still more likely to be the ones at home with the kids, taking care of family, especially if you talk about the Sandwich Generation, taking care of aging parents and kids at the same time. And some of that is actually not gender-specific. My husband stayed home with our kids. From day one, he was the primary stay-at-home parent. And, you know, our older son is 21 now; my husband’s been out of the workforce for years.

And there was a point where our kids were both old enough that they didn’t need constant care, they were at school a lot of the day. Okay, let’s look at my husband going back to work. It’d be great to have two incomes again.

Mike Delany: Yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: And we still needed to have somebody who was there when the kids got sick, or they needed to get picked up after school.

Mike Delany: There’s always something going on, yeah.

Bobbie Carlton: Oh, the amount of chauffeuring that goes on.

Mike Delany: Yeah, you’re an Uber driver and a parent at the same time.

Bobbie Carlton: But at the same time, my husband had been out of the workforce for 15 years. No one wanted to hire him. And as he said, technology has changed so much.

Mike Delany: Huge, huge.

Bobbie Carlton: And no one was giving him the credit for the amount of soft skills that he had developed: multitasking, management of small people who are completely unreasonable at any given moment.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: You know, there was no credit for that. So, my husband works for me now. He works for my company, he works with a number of our clients. He’s great. A lot of the women who work for me, a lot of them parents that work for me, similar situation. They may have been out of the workforce for a while, or they may have been the parent that was primarily responsible for kid pickup and things like that, and that definitely keeps you back in your career. So, we look at, also, speaking engagements. There are reasons women say no to speaking engagements, even though they know it’s good for their career. They are more likely to work for smaller companies. They’re more likely to work part-time. It’s hard to be out of the office for a day to go to a conference if you only work three days a week, or you only work for a tiny little company that doesn’t have somebody to back you up.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: Or, you know, think about, are you going to be available to do that breakfast keynote? Probably not, if you have to drop off a small person at kindergarten at 8:00 a.m. Just not going to work.

Mike Delany: Right, and you can easily justify it, be like, “I got to take care of my kid. This keynote, it’s great if I can do it, but, I mean, you know …”

Bobbie Carlton: “It’ll come around some other time.”

Mike Delany: Yeah. “What am I going to do?”

Bobbie Carlton: And if you wait for those opportunities to come back around, they often don’t, because you have managed to bypass that, and those opportunities were given to somebody else, and that other person got on the circuit. And just because we want women to be out there more, and there’s more awareness of women, doesn’t mean the people who are on the circuit are going to give up those opportunities easily. There’s a lot of work that’s done on these pledges where men say, “I will not serve on a panel that is all male.” Well, the ones that actually give up those opportunities are probably the guys I want on stage. You know, they’re the aware ones.

Mike Delany: Right.

Bobbie Carlton: So I don’t want you to give up that opportunity to be on stage, because you’re probably the person I want to have a conversation with.

Mike Delany: It’s not really their fault either.

Bobbie Carlton: No.

Mike Delany: I mean, they’re kind of there, and-

Bobbie Carlton: But if they can go back to the event organizer and say, “Hey, you’ve got an all-male panel here, this is going to be boring, this is going to be the same perspectives, the same people. Let’s add to the panel, let’s rejigger this panel and turn it into two panels, and add more diverse perspectives. Hey, there’s this platform called Innovation Women. You can go there, and they’ve got 1,200 female speakers, and you can choose from amongst them.” Maybe that might work.

Mike Delany: You’ve got to make it easy for them.

Bobbie Carlton: Absolutely.

Mike Delany: And that’s what you’ve done at Innovation Women. I’m just going to wrap it up. I have other questions, but it’s okay.

Bobbie Carlton: I can come back another day.

Mike Delany: We’ll do it again sometime.

Bobbie Carlton: Thanks for having me.

Mike Delany: Yeah, thank you for coming in, Bobbie. Is there anything that I missed, anything that you want to plug? Where can people find you?

Bobbie Carlton:,, mass.innovationnights, or you can follow me on Twitter as @BobbieC, B-O-B-B-I-E-C.

Mike Delany: All right, thanks again, Bobbie. Really appreciate it.

Bobbie Carlton: Thank you. Have a good one.

Mike Delany: Thanks for listening, everyone. This has been The Hub of Success with Mike Delany.