I recommended to many of the early career professionals at UX Day today that they should think about how to get the most out of conferences they go to by valuing the different kinds of activities they can be involved in. If a session is going to be an exact replication of papers that they can read in the conference Proceedings, then they are wasting a valuable opportunity by attending that session. If there is a panel discussion that will go beyond the proceedings paper, then it adds value. Otherwise, they should spend the hour in the lobby introducing themselves to people, starting conversation, and getting their name out. Not only do they meet people who may be good professional contacts later, but they also get great practice building their self-branding skills, communication skills, conversational skills, body language reading skills, and more. That is the real secret of attending conferences – not going to technical sessions.
That is why we have as one of the primary missions of User Experience Day to create these networking opportunities, personal branding opportunities, and professional development opportunities. We have some that are heavy on the professional side, such as our invitation-only leadership development initiative. We have some that are an equal balance, such as the mentoring lunch. And then we have some that are heavy on the social side like our happy hour.
I personally make sure that we enough fluid-enhancement (e.g. open bar) to make sure that our risk perception goes down, our risk tolerance goes up, and everyone gets into the mood for meeting new people and making new professional connections. Tonight was a great example. Thanks to the generous support of Whirlpool, we had our capstone happy hour at their penthouse showroom in downtown Chicago. We had 200 people in attendance and the group consensus was that it was the best event of week, technical or otherwise. We made sure to introduce everyone to the people that were best for them to meet and in a venue that made it easy to start up a conversation. If we had some way to measure the value to the attendees’ career development, I think we would be totally off the charts. It makes the whole trip worth it for me – that is why I am here. And to tell you the truth, I feel really good right now that I could help make it happen.