While there are more and more UX courses available, there are few better ways to learn about specific topics and improve UX skills than attending conferences. But conferences take time to attend, and for many people conferences are overwhelming, overstimulating, and not worth the time and money.
How can you make sure your next conference experience is worthwhile?
Before the conference
Without adding too much work to your plate, there are still things you can do before a conference to make sure you get the most out of it.
- Review the schedule
I find that knowing when breaks and lunch are planned, when and where I need to get registered, and where the talks will be dramatically decreases my stress the day the conference begins. That means I can focus my conference time on more important things.
- Pick your talks
Some talks look great from the title, but the talk itself is too basic, too detailed, or just not what you’d expect. That’s why talks have descriptions! Unfortunately, 5 or 10 minutes before a talk is not enough time to review all the talk options. So take a look a week or so before the conference, and jot down the talks you’re most likely to attend.
- Let teammates know you’ll be unavailable
There’s nothing worse than getting to a conference and being booked with calls or meetings during all the talks you wanted to attend. Let your team know you’ll be at the conference and not at work.
At the conference
My first conference was amazing. I learned so much… but a week later I couldn’t remember a thing. The problem was mental overload. Since then I’ve learned how to retain what I learn.
- Turn off distractions
For me, I keep my laptop on for Twitter, following the conference hashtag, but I turn off my email and close out of chat. You might prefer to close your laptop altogether. The point is to focus on the conference – not work emails or Facebook.
- Take notes
4-6 talks in a day is a LOT! Too much for your brain to process. But if you take notes, you’ll have something to reference later. Plus, back in 2014 a ton of research came out that taking notes by hand actually improves your likelihood of remembering information. Personally, I’ve found that even taking notes on my laptop greatly improves my ability to remember what I’ve heard. And of course, it helps me go back and reference what I vaguely took in at the time.
After the conference
- Review your notes
Skimming through your notes, typing up the handwritten ones, or going to the links you copied down at the time will all improve your ability to make use of what you heard.
- Consider how this impacts your work
Conference lessons aren’t intended to live in a vacuum. I often write up how something in each talk can impact my day-to-day. Then I make a game plan to implement what I’ve learned.
- Share what you’ve learned
When I think about who else could make use of what I’ve heard, I also open myself up to further conversations on interesting topics, and learning more from colleagues and friends who have their own perspectives or other information on the conference topics.
None of these tips should add more than 5-10 minutes to your day, but they’ll make your next conference a much better educational experience. What have you found helps you get the most out of conferences and events?