I also discussed the many rewarding benefits of presenting at a UX conference, as follows:
- It feels good to share your knowledge and experience with others in the field of user experience.
- Presenting brings you professional recognition and advances your career.
- Presenting is a great way to network.
- Presenting helps you attend conferences by reducing your registration fees and giving your employer greater incentive to pay for your travel.
In this part of my series on publishing and presenting, I’ll discuss how to generate ideas for conference topics, find the right conference at which to present, submit a proposal, and create a presentation, and what to do during a conference where you’re presenting.
How I Got Started Presenting at Conferences
Before I gave my first conference presentation, I made the same excuses and had the same doubts that I’ve described. It took a pushy manager, who encouraged me to present at a conference, to finally get me to overcome my excuses and submit a proposal. I was nervous, but I figured that I probably wouldn’t get accepted anyway. So, all I had to do was to submit a proposal, and that would get my manager off my back.
Months later, I received notice that my presentation had been accepted. It felt like a great honor, but it was also scary. I was filled with self-doubt. Can I do this? Who am I to present about this topic? What if no one shows up? The notion that calmed me was that the reviewers and conference organizers wouldn’t have accepted my topic if they didn’t think it would be a good session. So, I accepted the situation and got ready to give my presentation.
Putting the presentation together was a lot of work, and presenting did seem scary at first, but once I got up to present, it actually felt great to be sharing my perspectives and experiences with an appreciative audience. I found that just being at the conference as a presenter conferred a kind of expert status upon me, which was a big ego boost. People came up to me after my presentation with questions and compliments. This made the whole experience very worthwhile and gave me the desire to present again the next year, which started the cycle of submitting and presenting all over again.
Submitting a Proposal to a Conference
Although each conference has a slightly different process for submitting proposals and the types of sessions they include can vary, I’ll now describe a general process for submitting a proposal to a conference. For my example, I’ll focus on the most common type of session: a presentation at a practitioner-oriented conference. But the same process applies to submitting a proposal for most types of sessions.
Generate Ideas for Topics
Each year, it seems like there is only a short time between your first hearing about a call for proposals and a conference’s submission deadline. For most conferences, it’s only about a month, which isn’t much time unless you’ve already thought of an idea. So it’s best to generate ideas for conference presentations throughout each year instead of waiting for a conference’s call for proposals.
List Ideas as They Occur to You
Start a list of possible presentation ideas and add to it as ideas come to you throughout the year. Don’t censor or judge the ideas in this list initially, just capture them as they occur to you. Ideas could come from your work or your personal life, including
- interesting projects
- new methods that you’ve tried
- difficulties and problems you’ve faced
- unique situations
- humorous situations
- questions that you have
In addition to noting your ideas as they occur to you, it’s also helpful to sit down and brainstorm ideas for topics. Add these ideas to the same list.
Get Ideas from What Others Have Already Presented
Of course, you won’t want to copy what others have already done, but it is helpful to find out what types of topics people have recently presented at the conferences you’re considering. Reviewing those topics can show you what the conference specializes in, what topics people are interested in, and which topics have gotten overexposed. Doing this can spark new ideas to add to your list.
Evaluate Your Ideas
At some point, you’ll need to choose one or more ideas to develop further. Look through the ideas on your list and evaluate them. Not every idea will be appropriate for a presentation by itself. You may find that several ideas combine together into a theme. So, organizing your ideas into groups of related ideas may help you to form a larger theme. And sometimes, simply looking through your ideas may spark new ideas. Roughly rank the ideas in your list by putting the most promising ones at the top of the list. Don’t delete your less promising ideas. Just put them at the bottom of your list. Later on, you may find that they’ll help you to generate additional ideas or move up in priority, or that you can combine them with other ideas.
Find Appropriate Conferences
Next, you’ll need to find the right conference for your topic. UX conferences vary across several dimensions:
- academic oriented versus practitioner oriented
- design focused versus user-research focused
- covering a wide range of topics versus having a narrow focus on a particular subject
- the ease or difficulty of getting a proposal accepted
Look at the schedule from the previous year’s conference to determine where a particular conference sits across these dimensions. Also, look at the types of submissions they accept to see the variety of available formats for presenting your topic—such as presentations, papers, posters, videos, panels, workshops, or tutorials.
Consider the Major UX Conferences
I’ve collected the major conferences of UX organizations into Table 1, but things change over time, so you might also want to do a general search for user experience conferences.
|Conference||Primary Focus||Primary Audience|
User experience research and design
Human-computer interaction research and design
Academics and practitioners
Information architecture and user experience strategy and design
Information architecture and user experience strategy and design
|Technical communication, with tracks on user experience, accessibility, content strategy, and Web design||Practitioners|
HFES (Human Factors and Ergonomics Society)
|Human factors, ergonomics, human-computer interaction||Academics and practitioners|
Look for Other Conferences and Events
In addition to the major UX conferences, every year seems to bring new ones. Many of these are local UX events or conferences that focus on a specialty topic. It’s difficult to keep track of all them without some help. The following resources are great places to find out about upcoming events:
- Find UX Events—@finduxevents
- Interaction Design Foundation’s Calendar of Conferences and Events
- HCI Bibliography
Consider Local Events
Conferences aren’t the only places to speak about user experience topics. Many organizations have local chapters that are in constant need of speakers for their monthly events. Speaking at such events is a great way to make connections with local people in our industry. The following are links to the local chapters of the major UX organizations:
- IxDA (Interaction Design Association)
- SIGCHI (Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction)
- UXPA (User Experience Professionals’ Association)
- AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts)
- STC (Society for Technical Communication)
Sign Up for Conference Updates
Once you find some conferences that you’re interested in, get on their email lists or follow them on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss their call for proposals or other important deadlines.
Submit Your Proposals
When a conference’s call for proposals goes out, submit as many high-quality proposals as you can. The more you submit, the greater the chance that you’ll get one accepted. The reviewers—often different reviewers—will evaluate each proposal separately and often review submissions blindly, so they won’t know about your other proposals.
The more traditional, academic-oriented conferences usually require you to submit a formal paper, but most of the practitioner-oriented UX conferences require only that you submit a proposal that includes a summary of your topic. Creating a proposal is a lot less work than writing a paper, but you should still give it a lot of thought and be sure to that you have enough material to create an interesting presentation.
A great way to learn how to create an effective proposal is to volunteer to review conference proposals. Looking at others’ proposals from the viewpoint of a reviewer gives you a good perspective on what works well and what leads to rejection.
If your proposal gets rejected, don’t feel bad. You’re in good company because most proposals do get rejected. Try submitting your rejected proposals to another conference. Just because they didn’t get accepted at one conference doesn’t mean that they might not be appropriate for another. But pay close attention to reviewers’ feedback. Good reviewers provide constructive criticism that can help you to refine your proposal and make it even stronger. On the positive side, once you’ve created a proposal for one conference, you’ve done most of the hard work. Adapting it to the submission requirements of another conference is easy in comparison.
Confirm Your Acceptance
If your proposal gets accepted, congratulations! Now you have to confirm your acceptance of their invitation to speak at the conference. A lot of doubt and fear can creep in at this point, but try to push that fear out of your mind for the time being and confirm your acceptance. If necessary, think about this as scheduling your fear for another time—several months from now, at a date that’s closer to the conference.