How To Make Friends And Influence Speakers At UX Events
When I speak at events — I just recently returned from SoCal UX Camp — I’m always surprised what I get asked after the presentation. I put the deck online (that’s usually the first request), but much of the information I disseminate is of the spoken variety. I’m kind of like Michael Stipe, who is famous for forgetting lyrics. Every time I do the presentation, I might say something different because I don’t have a script.
At the last few events, there’s been a line of people that wanted to talk to me after the presentation. I do these events for personal branding and because I love reaching out, but I can’t help everyone. The people I love helping show an effort at getting to know me. They also ask great questions that go beyond the standard, “How do I write a resume.” They show they’ve researched. Anyone can do this.
Based on my personal experience, here’s a few things that will help you make friends with speakers and make them your advocate.
Research them and read their blogs
The schedule for most events is usually up on the website for a month or two before the event. If there are particular speakers that you want to interact with, research them. Read their twitter feeds, go through their blogs, find out who they are and what information they are disseminating to their audience, and know it so you can comment it.
You don’t have to read all of their stuff, but be familiar with what they are saying.
What frustrates me is that I have roughly 45,000 words on my blog on the topic of writing resumes and UX careers with a big fat button that reads “UX Career Guide,” and no one seems to read it. When you search for my name, I’m roughly the first five pages of results on Google. Many of the posts are for my blog. I still routinely get the “How do I make my resume better” or “Where do I find the resume template” questions.
Please, read and research! The first thing any interaction designer should do to prepare for a conference is research the speakers.
Say something nice about the side project
Almost every single designer I know that hits the road on the speaking circuit has some kind of side project. Sometimes it’s a labor of love, or it might be an end goal for their career, but showing that you care means a lot.
I have the UX Drinking Game, something that I have spent a considerable amount of time and money building into what it is today. I’m neurotic about everything I do (at least everyone said I did a good job this weekend) because of that INTP thing (I’m very introverted, and I need data for most decisions). Positive feedback means a lot.
Know how you can make me your best friend in the world? Talk about how you love the UX Drinking Game and share it with your friends.
Buy their stuff
Do they have a book for $19.99? Are they doing a low-cost class? Do they have an application or two in the iPhone App Store for $2.99?
Do them a favor — buy it.
We may love User Experience, but it also pays our bills. We try to price these items at a price point almost anyone can reach, and many of us see sales or site engagement as how we are providing value to the community at large.
Some speakers actually pimp out the work of other designers. I spoke highly about Russ Unger’s A Project Guide for UX Design Saturday, and I’m starting to use Laura Klein’s book UX for Lean Startups for startup types. I have a library of books by other designers that I routinely speak about and share at events. Many speakers hit the circuit specifically to sell books, and after a while the flights and hotels get to be draining.
I’m not saying you have to go to every $1,400 event that comes along, but spending $19.95 for an eBook doesn’t seem to be much of an ask.
Offer to buy them a drink
It could be a coffee or a whiskey, but a small token of appreciation is awesome. The best conversations I have had at events have been outside of actual sessions.
At the SoCal UX Camp, a designer with a sociology background, Sara De La Cruz, offered me a cup of coffee. We had a wonderful conversation at a nearby coffee shop about how our careers were similar, and we talked through great ideas about how she could make a career shift to UX design. I offered several suggestions, and further questions showed that she was really taking steps to break into the field.
It wasn’t a long conversation (I think about 30 minutes), but with that small sign of gratitude she gained a friend for life. And the drink didn’t even have any whiskey in it.
Bring business cards
In our virtual world, I know it sounds kind of odd, but a small card is a great way to introduce yourself. There’s almost no friction, it’s an easy way to make an introduction. They don’t have to have your business on them. I paid something like $40 for mine, and I think they look great.
Your cards should list your name, what you do, and a contact method, like your Twitter address or website. It also works with recruiters — if you meet one at an event, you can give them a business card and they’ll usually reach out to you the next week.
Another thing — I remember faces, but I have a really, really hard time with names. If you meet me, ask me about the time I forgot a C-Level mamager’s name, six months after working at the company.
Have your shit together
If you’re an interaction designer that has done a bunch of work, or want to be one and have relevant experience, I want to talk to you! We can discuss your difficulties in finding a job, and you become an ideal candidate for user research.
If you have just graduated college and have three college projects in your portfolio, or you’re a used car salesman that’s never touched Dreamweaver or Omnigraffle before, I can’t help you.
There are a ton of resources on the web that talk about how to prototype, start side projects, and learn about the field. If the first question you ask is, “How do I break into User Experience” I know you didn’t do your research, because the first few results on Google include an article that I wrote on the subject.
User Experience is not a passing hobby, it’s something you have to live and breathe. That’s an investment. Respect ours.