Four reasons to attend (UX) conferences

Stefan Ivanov / Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Conferences are all about learning and sharing ideas 

If you are new to the field of UX, I salute you for your curiosity and eagerness to learn. If you are a seasoned researcher or designer, you most likely have a myriad of things to teach. If you feel that you fall anywhere between these, like myself, your experience has taught you a few lessons, but you probably lack the confidence to share it yet. The one thing I adore about conferences is the way they diminish the borders and put everyone in a safe environment of learning and sharing. If that sounds too vague for you, below are my four personal reasons to attend UX and Design conferences.

I proudly represented Infragistics and Bulgaria at this international gathering of UX talent and expertise. Image attributed to the author. 

Stay in Sync 

Conferences with an international line up of speakers are the best way to stay in sync with the global trends in UX and designIn my work, I frequently find myself questioning what would be the best design decision, or whether a particular research activity is sufficient to inform the decisions we need to make. At conferencessome of the case studies and speakers’ personal stories reveal that many people fall victim to such thoughts and these questions are part of our lives as UX researchers and designers. Workshop sessions are particularly helpful in this regard, because hearing from other professionals is a reminder about the many different ways to achieve the same output. Very recently I experienced this at UXIndia when talking about prioritization, which I usually do via card sorting, I remembered about another prioritization exercise – buying features with a $100 purseAnother example is brainstorming, which can be equally successful with sticky notes and the crazy eights technique. Yet again, my takeaway was to avoid falling in a silo, because design never succeeds in silos.

In 2017 UXIndia welcomed almost 600 people among which more than half were students or employed in the field of design. Image attributed to . 

Listen Between the Slides 

Learn to read between the lines, or in our case listen between the slides. Similar to the reading of a book, if you attentively listen to the speaker on stage there will be just as much insightful inspiration out of his script and slides as written into them. Specifically, the Q&A section after every talk, which I personally adore, is a treasure of knowledge and insight that always makes me open my notebook and take rigorous notes. Even if I do not have anything to ask in particularby listening to others’ inquiries, I frequently find answers to questions that, until that moment, I did not even realize as interesting to me.

Expand Your Professional Network

Conferences are perfect way to expand your professional network, and get acquainted with other talented people in your domain. Contacts are key, not only for the design apprentice making his first steps in the field of UX and looking for a mentor, but also for the seasoned expert looking for ways to spread his own processes, tools, and ideas. I was told once that relationships are best built around food, and thereafter I began using every lunch and coffee break to socialize, and must admit it actually works.

The cosy cafe inside the hotel right next to the seminar rooms where tons of one-on-one and small group meetings took place throughout the conference. Image attributed to . 

I pick a small group of people to make sure that my presence will be spottedsmile, and politely ask if I may join. begin by asking questions, to find a common ground, and pay attention not to overtake the conversation. As the conversation begins to wrap up, I tell them how much I enjoyed my time with them and exchange business cards, to allow our discussion to go on after the event. crucial point is to be authentic. If you find that you do not feel comfortable in a particular group, find an excuse to move to another one and start over. People always sense when someone is fake, and it prevents you from building relationships with the awesome people around youProfessional networks give you a huge leverage regardless of whether they are for knowledge sharing, organization of smaller groups and gatherings, or for testing hypothesis.  

Approach Speakers Off Stage 

My final reason for attending conferences is hidden in the following piece of advice. Be proactive and approach the speakers once they are off the stage. I see that very few people do this, but those who do are usually the hungriest learners, with the most to-the-point questions. It is also very flattering for the speakers, and they are more comfortable in sharing interesting insights. Talking with the speakers is a wonderful opportunity to network with recognized professionals. You might have heard that the highest value always comes at the smallest gatherings. When speakers are off stage, out of the public focus and any recordings that may be made, they are open to share ideas that they normally would never mentionAt every event, I’ve learned at least a couple of insights from speakers, which began with a statement like the following “Just make sure that what I am about to say will not go public tomorrow, and you will use it only for your personal needs”. Everybody, speakers included, loves curious, intelligent people hungry for knowledge, and I find that most speakers will never say no to a proactive person in front of them. 

On the left you can see Mario van der Meulen from Foolproof and Yuseung Kim from Salesforce with one attendee, while on the right is everyone’s favorite Steve Fadden from Salesforce answering attendees’ questions during the break. Images attributed to . 

These are my four main reasons for attending conferences, and I am confident of their high value, but have you ever thought about yours? Do you agree with me that you should “commit yourself to lifelong learning…” as Brian Tracy once said? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below... 

There is a slight possibility, having read this far, that you are still skeptical when it comes to conferences. All I would like to ask you in that case, would be to walk in my shoes for a day. You may have your own reasons for or against conferencesbut I firmly believe that you will get value out of my four reasons, irrelevant of your attitudeFinally, I would like to wrap up this blog with another quote from the great thinker and inventor Albert Einstein who once said: “Once you stop learning, you start dying. Conferences are inarguably still one of the best sources of knowledge and ideas and you can read more about my learnings from UXIndia in another blog published earlier.