The Career Inbox

“How can I make the most out of my upcoming conference?”

Going to an event of any size involves an investment of your most precious resource — time. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of them.

Updated August 20, 2019

I often field questions from designers who are working through professional dilemma’s that don’t fit nicely into a textbook. Many have volunteered to open our conversations up to the public. Identifying information was removed for specific individuals or companies.

Designer Hi Chris, I was wondering if you had any tips on attending UX conferences and what to do and not to do while building my network. I come from an education background and have attended many conferences in this realm, but have not done anything specific with UX. Thanks for any information you can provide!

Stock photo of conference attendees Stock photo, but basically every conference you've ever attended. source:

Chris Conference networking is always a mixed bag. Regardless of the industry, there will always be two types of attendees. Those who are there to grow and those who are there to be seen.

Aside from planning out a schedule of sessions to attend, try to scope out who will be there. Some conferences produce an attendee list ahead of time, but many don’t. That leaves you searching social media to see who is talking about being there, but you can always start your research with the speakers.

Generally, speakers are there to be seen, but they are also highly invested in doing a good job. This means that they relish speaking afterward with anyone whom their talk resonated with. If there is an opportunity for you to talk with a speaker after their session, you should take advantage — but only if you found their talk genuinely interesting.

Have a follow-up question based on their talk ready and walk up. The speaker will be more than happy to answer your question AND likely connect further.

I’m saying all of this from the perspective of a speaker because preparing a talk typically involves days of prep work (sometimes weeks). Interacting with the audience and answering questions is the payoff. Otherwise, we probably wouldn't do it.

The second thing I would suggest doing (and something I typically do as a cheerleader for my fellow speakers) is to post to social media from any talk that you’re attending. This will raise your profile to both the speaker and to other attendees — just remember to use the correct event hashtag and try to keep it professional.

You’d be wise to begin your interaction with others at the conference on social media. It’s far easier to continue a conversation in person that started online that it is to start talking to a complete stranger. Just be sure to mention the prior discussion or post, so you set the context correctly.

Also, do networking events but avoid the alcohol trap. If you follow the speakers online, you’ll find a number of them that value wellness far more than getting hammered. In short, alcohol at the conference is generally a rookie move. Stick with the water and stay for the conversation.

Finally, not everything you talk about at a conference or networking event will be or needs to be industry related. Family, health, vacations, pets, and more are open topics. Just hang out and realize you’re getting to know your industry peers which will lead to more in-depth conversations later.

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