Publishing and Presenting, Part 1: Yes, You Can!

Practical Usability

Moving toward a more usable world

A column by Jim Ross
November 12, 2012

You! Yes, you! You can publish. You can present at conferences. Yes, I do mean you, the person reading this article.

Perhaps, as I once did, you think that you don’t have anything to say—at least not anything new that others haven’t already written or talked about. Maybe you think: Who am I to write anything or present at a conference? Who’s going to listen to me? Maybe you fear public speaking. Maybe you think you’re too busy. Or maybe you intend to write or present, but just never get around to it.

That’s how I felt, until one day—to get my manager off my back—I submitted a proposal to the UPA (Usability Professionals’ Association) Conference, thinking: This will never get accepted. To my surprise, it did get accepted, and that has led me to where I am today. I’ve published 20 articles and presented at three conferences. I don’t say this to brag, and I don’t profess to be a publishing or presenting expert. I’m just a regular guy who has the same doubts and fears that most people experience. But I faced those fears and succeeded. In this column, I’d like to share my experiences to help others get started publishing and presenting.

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In this three-part series, I’ll explain how you, too, can publish and present on the field of user experience. In Part 1, I’ll discuss the benefits of publishing and presenting, as well as explore the excuses that prevent people from doing either. In Part 2, I’ll share my experiences and my approach to writing and getting published. And in Part 3, I’ll give advice on presenting at conferences and other events.

Why Publish and Present?

Publishing and presenting is a lot of work, especially when you’re already a busy UX professional. So why bother? Here are a few reasons you should.

It’s the Right Thing to Do

All of us in the UX community benefit when we share our knowledge and experiences. If you benefit from reading articles and attending conferences, you may feel the desire to give back and share your own knowledge.

It Feels Good

It’s a nice ego boost to share your knowledge and have others appreciate it. You get a sense of pride and accomplishment in achieving something very difficult.

It Looks Good

Writing and publishing gives you professional recognition and raises your profile in the UX community. It looks good on your resume, on Twitter, and on your LinkedIn profile. It’s an accomplishment that will impress your current employer, clients, and coworkers, as well as prospective clients and employers.

It’s a Great Way to Network

At a conference, it’s easier to meet people and have conversations on interesting topics when you’re a presenter. Publishing gets your name out there in the UX community and beyond, opens opportunities in the field of user experience, connects you with others, and gives you things to talk about with people. Both publishing and presenting generate activity and gain you followers on Twitter and other social media.

It Helps You to Attend Conferences

Presenters usually receive a free or discounted registration for conferences, and it’s easier to get your employer to pay your travel and conference fees if you’re presenting rather than simply attending.¬†

Money shouldn’t be your motivation for publishing and presenting. Few UX Web sites, magazines, or journals pay for articles. Those that do pay, don’t pay very much. Conferences give you a discount, but don’t pay speakers. Don’t expect to make a lot of money from publishing and presenting, unless you eventually become a famous user experience guru.

Excuses Not to Publish or Present

With all of these benefits, why don’t more people publish or present? It usually comes down to one or more of the following reasons.

You Feel That You Don’t Have Anything to Say

Before you begin publishing and presenting, it can be difficult to think of subjects to write about. Write about what you know may be a clich√©, but it’s true. We all have a variety of experiences to draw upon. Think about the situations that you’ve faced in your career—difficult clients, difficult coworkers, mistakes you’ve made, terrible projects, successes, failures, funny anecdotes, odd research participants—and the things you’ve learned from such situations. The longer you’ve been working in the field of user experience, the more experiences you can draw upon—but even people who are new to the field have things to say and write about. For example, a new UX professional could write about transitioning into the field, educational experiences, working in user experience from the perspective of a new employee, and many other topics.

Everything’s Already Been Written About

At times, it may seem like everything that you could publish or present has already been covered by others, but it isn’t true. Yes, there are times when certain topics become so overexposed that their possibilities become exhausted, and it’s best to avoid them for a while. But there are always new topics to discuss and new perspectives on existing topics. For example, just because a lot of people have written about usability testing, that doesn’t mean no one will ever write about it again. Even if you do write an article that is similar to one that someone else has published in the past, it’s doubtful that your take on the subject will be exactly the same as theirs.

Who Wants to Hear What I Have to Say?

You might think, Who am I to talk about this topic? I’m not an expert or UX guru. Why would people want to listen to me? Most people who have published or presented have experienced similar self-doubts at first. But this is a fear that never comes true. Usually, the opposite is true: people do show up to hear your presentation—and simply because you’re standing up at the front of the room, they tend to view you as an expert on your topic. Afterward, people come up to thank you and ask for your advice. It’s a great ego boost when audience members come up after your talk to thank you and ask for your help. And that’s what motivates you to continue presenting and publishing.

I’ll Never Get Accepted

Sure, there are publications and conferences that are difficult to get into, but you’d be surprised about the many publications and conferences by which it’s relatively easy to get accepted—if you have good content. Publications and conferences depend on UX professionals to provide a steady stream of content, so they actively look for new authors and presenters.

Even if you don’t think you’ll get accepted, it’s worth a try. At least you’ll have the satisfaction of trying, and you can use the feedback that you receive to improve your next submission. Sometimes the thought that you won’t get accepted can even work for you—as it did for me. If you’re afraid of public speaking, the notion that you won’t get accepted anyway gives you the courage to try.

I Don’t Have Time

It’s true that people in user experience are very busy, but most of us have at least occasional moments when things slow down for a while. Maybe it’s between projects, once you’ve finished a deliverable, when you’re on the train, or just when you’re between meetings. It may seem like you need days of uninterrupted time to write or create a presentation, but by breaking your task down into manageable steps, you can get a lot done in even short periods of time.

Of course, it’s a lot easier if you’re able to work on your writing or presentations for longer stretches of time. The ideal situation is for you to work for a company that encourages you to publish and present, so allows you to write during your free time at work, when you’re between projects. Perhaps you can make the case to your company that encouraging their employees to publish and present promotes the company by portraying its employees as thought leaders in their field.

However, if you can’t work on your writing or presentations during work hours, try to set aside time at night and on weekends. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but since you’re writing on the side, you may not be on a publishing schedule. Hopefully, you can take your time and get it done over time.

Writing Is Difficult

Yes, writing can be difficult. But when you focus on getting one step done at a time, it seems less intimidating. It’s also helpful to have an editor—whether that’s an official title or not—to review your writing and give you critical feedback. That lets you focus simply on getting your ideas down. Later, an editor can help you organize them and make them coherent. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll provide more details on how to develop an effective writing process.

Some people just aren’t writers, so they may never become comfortable with writing. If you’re one of those people, that’s okay. Instead, you can focus on speaking at conferences and other events. Creating a presentation can be easier than writing an article because you can simply plan what you want to say and use visual examples to illustrate your points. If you do use text, it’s usually just brief headings and bullet points.

I Don’t Like Public Speaking

If public speaking makes you anxious, you’re not alone. I would guess that most of the people who present at conferences are nervous at first. But, unless you have a true phobia, you can do it. Fear of public speaking isn’t something that you get over; it’s something that you work through. You can learn to accept your fear as part of the experience of speaking. You’ll feel the fear, but get up and speak anyway—and over time, public speaking will become less threatening. Who knows, you might even come to enjoy it!

There are two ways to get started presenting—despite your fear of public speaking—either ease into it or just dive right in.

If you want to ease into presenting, you could start with a format that doesn’t put you on stage—such as creating a poster for a conference. Or you could participate in a panel, for which you’re one of several panelists instead of the center of attention. Because panelists usually sit at a table, it somehow feels less intimidating than standing in front of an audience. When you’re finally ready to begin presenting, it’s easier if you partner up with someone. Not only does it feel better to share the burden, it’s nice to have someone to share the experience with.

You can minimize your fear of diving into presenting if you think about taking just one step at a time. The first step, submitting a proposal for a conference, isn’t scary. You’re not committing to speak yet. You’re just submitting a proposal. Even if your proposal doesn’t get accepted, you’ll feel good that you tried. If you do get accepted, you may feel nervous, but again, think about taking it one step at a time. Sending in your acceptance, creating a presentation, and preparing for a conference aren’t scary activities, so think about them as individual steps.

When you finally do present, you’ll probably be nervous—but it’s likely that you’ll also feel an adrenaline rush of excitement. Despite experiencing some fear, like most people, you’ll find that it feels good to be in front of an appreciative audience—seeing them nodding along, laughing at your jokes, and asking you questions. Once you’ve finished your presentation, you’ll feel good about what you’ve accomplished. And that’s the feeling that will bring you back to present again and again, despite your fear.


I hope I’ve convinced you that the benefits of publishing and presenting far outweigh any excuses for not doing it. However, despite all of the advantages that I’ve described, publishing and presenting are not for everyone. Some people are perfectly happy in the work they do—without ever publishing or presenting at a conference. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for the rest of us, it’s definitely worth giving publishing and presenting a try.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll provide detailed advice about how to get started writing, how to establish an effective writing process, and how and where to get your writing published. 

Publisher’s note—If Jim has convinced you that writing an article on a user experience topic would be the right thing for you to do, please submit an article proposal to UXmatters by contacting us at:

Principal UX Researcher at AnswerLab

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Jim RossJim has spent most of the 21st Century researching and designing intuitive and satisfying user experiences. As a UX consultant, he has worked on Web sites, mobile apps, intranets, Web applications, software, and business applications for financial, pharmaceutical, medical, entertainment, retail, technology, and government clients. He has a Masters of Science degree in Human-Computer Interaction from DePaul University.  Read More

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