I love industry conferences.
Maybe it’s because the craft of user experience is so new that meeting other people who do what you do is so exciting. Maybe it’s because at a UX conference you can explain what you do for a living without being met by blank, unknowing stares. Maybe it’s the thrill of being able to meet and share a drink or karaoke microphone with people whose books you’ve bought and articles you’ve read.
Maybe it’s being part of a community interested in solving problems, in sharing their successes and failures with anyone who’ll listen, in debating how best to do this with people who are as invested as they are.
Maybe it’s having a platform to present lessons you’ve learned the hard way to people who care enough to listen, to challenge you, to apply and even extend your work.
Whatever it is, I’m hooked. And I got hooked pretty early in my career. Soon after the very first usability study I got paid to do, I found myself presenting a case study on the project to a roomful of folks at the Web Development Institute held at Salisbury University in 2003. I don’t recall how I found out about the conference or what prompted me to send a proposal or why I thought anybody might be interested in what I had to say. But I did it and I loved it. I’m sure I must have felt extremely stressed out about creating and giving the presentation–I do every time. Every single time–but I always seem to forget about that part when I find myself submitting another conference presentation proposal.
I’ve had always had a positive experience at every industry conference I’ve attended. If you’re looking for venues to present your work–and you should absolutely use conference presentations as a way to stretch yourself professionally–the fine folks responsible for putting together the following conferences and presentations have succeeded in creating a supportive, nurturing environment for me as a presenter and attendee:
- Content Strategy Forum
- IA Summit
- PLAIN (Plain Language Association International)
- UPA (Usability Professionals Association)
- UPA-DC and NEOUPA (UPA chapters in Washington DC and Northeast Ohio)
- STC Technical Communication Summit (Society for Technical Communication)
I won’t lie to you. Presenting can be a nerve-wracking, time-consuming endeavor. Stage fright is an absolute bitch. Your audience can–and probably will–include people who just don’t buy your argument or feel threatened by your ideas. They may challenge you, vigorously. The best advice I have to offer is to listen to them, really listen. Because if your argument isn’t convincing to an audience of your peers, it probably won’t be to your clients either. Hard as it may be to hear, your work will be the stronger for it.
What have I gotten out of presenting? Making professional contacts and meeting great people is at the top of the list. But I’ve also been interviewed for podcasts, published articles, and been asked to contribute to two books as a direct result of my conference participation. Most of all, I’m a better practitioner because of it.
Take the plunge. You’ll be so glad you did.