Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer Headline Dreamforce 2013

12.02.2013 | Heather Campbell

Early in November, I was lucky enough to acquire a few passes to attend Dreamforce,’s annual conference. The four-day conference, which takes place in San Francisco, drew more than 100,000 attendees from the technology industry and is considered the third biggest tech industry event, following TED and CES. Big-name speakers from this year’s event included Deepak Chopra (Founder of the Chopra Foundation) and Laurent Lamothe (Prime Minister of Haiti).

I was fortunate to attend the keynotes of two leaders in the technology industry whom we often read about, but that I’ve never heard speak in person: Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. We’ve read and discussed Sheryl’s book, “Lean In,” at Communiqué PR, and continue to see a constant stream of news about Marissa Mayer’s direction for Yahoo. As such, I was excited to hear what they would offer up in their keynotes.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo (formerly a long-time executive and key spokesperson for Google), has received quite a bit of media attention over the past few years, especially with her ascendancy as CEO of Yahoo. She was listed as No. eight in Fortune’s 2013 list of most powerful businesswomen, No. 32 on Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, and was the first woman listed as number one on Fortune’s annual list of the top 40 business stars under 40.

Employee number 20 at Google, Marissa is a powerful and impressive figure in the technology world. Under her supervision, the stock price of Yahoo has doubled and the trajectory of Yahoo continues to be an interesting one, especially with the semi-recent acquisition of Tumblr.

In her keynote, Marissa focused on the importance of design and mobile in technology, and gave some insight into how Yahoo operates internally as well as the future of the brand. Marissa’s full keynote at Salesforce is here; my own takeaways follow:

  • Design needs to be user- and mobile-centric. Marissa’s keynote focused especially on design, something that used to be an afterthought, but is now a core component for how companies think about products. We’ve heard again and again that mobile is the future and this point was emphasized by Marissa—Yahoo is completely on board with mobile.

Marissa stated specifically that when defining the Yahoo brand, it became clear that Yahoo aims to entertain, inform and inspire—three things that translate into its mobile products. In addition to designing for mobile, Marissa emphasized the idea that, for a product to gain traction, the design needs to be user-centric, meaning that it is “useful” to the user, not just “usable.”

We work with quite a few companies that focus on the mobile space—to name a few: Medio, a predictive analytics provider centered on mobile; Mobidia, a mobile data usage provider; and Smartsheet, a collaboration tool that emphasizes the functionality of its mobile app. Given the developments we’ve seen in our own clients’ businesses over the past year toward mobile, it was interesting to hear Marissa’s perspective on designing for mobile for a large business like Yahoo.

  • Expert level attainable within 1–2 weeks. According to Marissa, you’ll know you have a well-designed product if people feel comfortable using it within 1–2 weeks. As an example, she discussed Xerox. While Xerox has plenty of features, we all know what the big green button does. Design should prioritize the “big green button” piece of a product. This anecdote reminded me of Smartsheet, which we’ve discussed on the blog before—the intuitive design is what makes it such a great tool for us at Communiqué PR.
  • Operational transparency and efficiency are top priorities at Yahoo. The keynote gave insight into how business has changed at Yahoo since Marissa took charge. In order to maximize efficiency, Marissa has involved all employees in operational tasks like reporting issues that are making their jobs more difficult, and providing input on the decks that are presented to the Board of Directors.

One particularly interesting method Marissa has employed is “PB&J,” (process, bureaucracy and jams), a system through which employees are able to report roadblocks they experience during tasks. Once something is reported 100 times, management addresses the issue.

  • On a personal note: prioritizing and “balance.” While the keynote focused primarily on Yahoo’s direction and current work, Marissa did offer an anecdote that was interesting and inspiring, especially for people that may feel overwhelmed by the idea of maintaining a work-life balance. Marissa noted that she’s constantly asked how she maintains balance in her own life, and for her, it’s all about setting priorities—literally, by listing them out everyday.

However, Marissa made an interesting point—rather than being upset that you never get to the items at the bottom of your list, think of this as a good thing. You wouldn’t want to be wasting time on things that you consider relatively unimportant. As someone who makes a to-do list at the beginning of everyday, I found this to be a refreshing perspective.

Sheryl Sandberg

Unlike Marissa Mayer’s keynote, the “Lean In” author spoke mostly about her book and message of female empowerment in the workplace. The only insight onlookers received into Facebook was through occasional anecdotes. This was to be expected, as the keynote was titled “Lean In With Sheryl Sandberg.”

I was particularly excited to see this interview, as I’ve read Sheryl’s book twice now (once when it was released, courtesy of my father, and again this year in book club). I’ve discussed the subject matter and perspective at length with family, co-workers and peers, and was excited to see Sheryl discuss her ideas in an open, conversational forum.

Sheryl’s full “Lean In” keynote can be viewed here. I had the following takeaways:

  • Open the dialogue. Sheryl’s message of “leaning in” is not just to inspire people to take action, but to get people talking about issues of gender bias and insecurities. Solving these problems requires active discussion and Sheryl is encouraging the development of “Lean In Circles” everywhere—and the equal participation of men and women in these.
  • Leaning in—it’s about men, too. Sheryl mentioned explicitly that men should take an active interest in workplace equality, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it can benefit their careers. Being viewed as able to work well with women can only help men in their careers.
  • Let’s try it. One of the quotes that really stuck with me following the keynote was Sheryl’s response to a question she constantly gets asked: Do you really think the world/business/fill in the blank would be better with more women in power? Sheryl’s answer: Let’s try it and see what happens.
  • Addressing insecurity. Another inspirational point Sheryl made was addressing insecurities by identifying fears. Sheryl has a Tumblr dedicated to the idea of “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” She shared an anecdote of a teenage girl she met who is keeping a list of everything she’s avoided because she was afraid—with the goal of crossing each of those things off.

It was inspiring to hear both of these technology leaders speak, and I hope I’ll attend Dreamforce again in the future.


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Filed under: COMMUNIQUÉ PR, EXPERTISE, PR trends

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