by Leah Rader

Last year, at IxDA15, I was an excited first-time conference speaker. Looking for some camaraderie, I walked around asking other attendees if they were going to be presenting talks as well. I’d ask, “So, what are you presenting?” But they were all aghast. “Who me? I can’t do that! I wish I could do that, but I can’t do that!” That’s what inspired me to create my current workshop,  “Your Killer IxDA Talk”, about how to get into conferences, which I’ll be presenting at IxDA16 in Helsinki this March.

“Your Killer Talk” is a workshop that uses the principles of design thinking to help you make a game plan to create your own talk and get chosen as a conference speaker. Have you been wanting to give a conference talk but feel overwhelmed at the prospect of applying? Or have you spoken at lots of conferences and wonder how to make your talk more inspiring? If your answer to either of those questions is yes, and you’re heading to the Helsinki IxDA16 conference in March, take my workshop. I’d love to meet you, share ideas and stay in touch so we can share even more ideas. If you can’t make it to Helsinki, that’s ok. Here are some pointers from the workshop that will help you get started on your own Killer Talk.

My IxDA talk in 2015

My IxDA talk in 2015

Just Do It

A recent article in The Harvard Business Review talked about how lots of men and women won’t apply to a job unless they feel 100% qualified. This is incredibly limiting because the only way to be 100% qualified, is to have done the exact job before, which makes it impossible to expand your horizons. What’s more, according to the article, these people are totally wrong about the rules of the job application process. Do you actually have to be 100% qualified to get hired? No!!! Of course not. Being chosen to speak at a conference is no different. Challenge yourself to grow and try new things. Create a workshop and apply to a UX conference. The design community needs your contribution.

Expert Shmexpert

Forget about being an expert. Many in the UX community think they would have to be a published author or have thousands of twitter followers to be chosen to speak at a conference. That’s not at all true. In fact, design conferences have shifted over the past decade to embrace more diversity in order to stand out and attract attendees. It’s not in anyone’s interest to repeat the same few voices at every conference. Let this embolden you to toss your hat in the ring. I consider myself an expert in some parts of my job and a learner in other areas. Essentially, we can all function as teachers and learners– conferences are no exception. We need to truly get over the idea that only experts can be teachers. As Jeff Atwood, Co-Founder of Stack Overflow said, “Teaching peers is one of the best ways to develop mastery.” In my experience, that’s 100% true—if you want to be an expert, you have to teach your way there.

My fancy conference bio photo

My fancy conference bio photo

Know Your Conference – Serve Your Audience

Research conferences to figure out which ones are the best match for you. Next, read the blurbs of past participants to glean the spirit of winning submissions. That way, you can learn from those proposals, which will give you a road in. Use the bios of past presenters as a skeleton for your own bio. Remember, your talk is not for you…it’s for your audience, so you should focus on serving them. It’s a great way to get outside yourself and relate to those you plan to teach.  

Check out the topics of past conference presenters to get a sense of what’s trending, then compare your interests with those workshops and consider a topic mashup!

Use Personas

Your workshop proposal is no different from any other design project. First and foremost, who are you designing for? Create personas for the typical conference attendee and, of course, the conference organizer. Those are the people your proposal should target. Explore their needs and motivations and think about what they’d benefit from learning.

Know your audience.

Know your audience.

Encourage Active Learning

Plan a workshop or talk where attendees are fully engaged. There are still too many lectures with a silent audience out there. Don’t commit this deadly conference sin! Have them interview each other to figure out what problem to solve. Once they know what to solve for, ask them to body storm solutions. Use worksheets and creative prototyping to help them get out of their adult heads, so they can be empathic and innovative. Offer chances for them to ask questions throughout, not just at the end. Have them share their emerging insights to the audience. Finally, have them role play to test out their ideas on each other. Encourage lots of feedback and iterating throughout.

Workshops are a fun way to engage participants.

Workshops are a fun way to engage participants.

Provide a Goody Bag

Empower your audience to return to their jobs and teach their colleagues what they learned at your workshop or talk. Plan out what attendees will need to recreate the learning back home, and provide printouts or links to online material that give them process steps and content, so your ideas live on after the conference as more than just a memory. The more info your attendees can take away with them, the better, so provide plenty of resources.

Make Friends and Share

Continuing to share knowledge should be your biggest goal. Encourage your audience to connect with you and with each other. The end of your workshop is just the beginning of the journey. Staying connected with conference attendees is a great way to get feedback on your work, offer your continued support, and keep your audience posted on new opportunities to hear you speak.

Conferences are a great way to meet people.

Conferences are a great way to network.

So, are you ready? You’re standing right on the starting line and all you need to do now is take that first step. Your skills and point of view are truly worth sharing with the design community, so I heartily encourage you to create your own killer talk and start speaking at conferences. I hope to see you at IxDA16 in Helsinki!