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You asked: Should I submit this conference proposal?

4 min read
Shayna Hodkin  •  Feb 1, 2019
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Editor’s note: This is the tenth post in our advice column. Have a question? Ask it here, and it may be answered in a future post.

I‘ve been at my job for six months and a new benefit’s kicked in: my conference budget.

Well, I say budget, but that’s not exactly the case. What it means is, I finally have the green light to start pitching design conferences to my manager. Ticket, travel, days away from screen and all.

But, between you and me, I don’t “get” the conference thing. Like…why shouldn’t I just binge the Awwwards YouTube channel?

In a world of webinars and pizza delivery, are conferences still worth going to?

Signed,

2 GenZ 2 travel


If you’re looking for the quick and dirty, yes. You should go. But that’s not what I think you’re asking for.

You’re asking two questions:

  1. Is there any value in talking to actual humans?
  2. Why should you ever leave your desk?

The tech world treats conferences like a rite of passage—but why?

What’s worse than sitting alone in a massive conference hall for hours without snacks?

No thanks, my dude.

You’re not in the office, but you’re not on vacation. You’re AFK at best, “slow to respond” at worst. If you’re a remote employee, it’s even more daunting to actually put on pants and go somewhere.

“Jobs aren’t forever—but learning lasts.”

Shayna Hodkin
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So what’s conference magic?

If you’re only going to conferences to see the talks, you’re right—head to Youtube and pop on some Awwwards classics. Done.

I mean, the talks are great. But they’re not the thing.

Introverts, I’m so sorry: people go to conferences to meet other people who go to conferences. That’s the whole bit. And it’s more important than it sounds.

Talking isn’t that scary once you get started!

What’s important is to know how to play the game—to balance watching the stage with meeting new people, to have an agenda but stay open-minded.

Can I speak from experience?

Learn to work the ticket

A few months after I started at InVision, I got a last-second opportunity to attend Awwwards NYC, a 24-talk 2-day designfest with every designer I’ve ever wanted to know and a schedule so packed that I didn’t know how I’d survive.

We came, we watched, we went home with a Dribbble basketball. My inbox hasn’t recovered, and my jet leg lasted two weeks, but I’d do it all again.

Why?

Be brave. Start a conversation.

When I play the highlight reel of the last conference I went to, I reflect on five conversations.

Someone chased vegan food with me for 30 minutes, someone told me the dirty about leading a team as a working dad, someone told me a horror story from a different conference, someone told me about being bullied by their whole team, someone made a standing snow angel…

Someone, someone, someone. Those memories are all of conversations with someone.

Those someones all live in different countries—never mind different cities. Email brings us close and Slack brings us closer but, sorry VR, there’s nothing like the real world.

Accept the conference gifts

These conversations weren’t laid out in the ticket price, and they weren’t in my proposal, but they’re why I’m telling you to go for it.

Whether you’re a designer or a copywriter or a developer or a dog walker, if you’re hungry to learn, something’s bound to stick.

“There are enough barriers to entry in tech. Don’t make yourself one of them. “

Shayna Hodkin
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No one’s going to make you feel small for asking a question. Talk to whoever interests you; talk to people who might not interest you yet.

Map your territory

Very few interesting things happen to a person by accident.

Like most influencer’s beach photoshoots, the best conference conversations are often (semi-)planned.

Come armed and come ready. Know whose ear you want to be in, and even if you can’t sit next to them, find a way to grab them for a coffee break.

The easiest, most underrated way to do this is at the end of the day, when attendees (and especially out-of-towners) are deciding on their next stop. Be friendly. Invite them for coffee. Take the subway with them. Make a friend.

Laugh a little. Design is fun. (Photo from InVision event in San Francisco)

Why would you not try?

Regardless of whether you’re itching to go or not, why won’t you just…ask?

I’m dead serious. There is no reason in the world for you not to send that proposal.

There are enough barriers to entry in tech. Don’t make yourself one of them. Whether you’re more interested in a leadership retreat or an un-conference networking conference ski trip or whatever else you’ll find, take these opportunities when you can, as often as you can.

“Whether you’re a designer or a copywriter or a developer or a dog walker, if you’re hungry to learn, something’s bound to stick.”

Shayna Hodkin
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Don’t be afraid to try. No one’s on the other end of this proposal waiting to make fun of you. No one wants to see you fail. Good managers want to show you off—to make you better than them. To make you greater than you are today.

Keep your eye on the prize. You’re the prize.

Even if you only know half the speakers; even if you only care about two of the talks. Get away from your desk and go.

Professional development doesn’t happen at your desk. It doesn’t happen in bed, either—I know where y’all watch your YouTube.

Ask, listen, rinse, repeat.

If I’ve learned anything about getting hired, it’s this:

You have to go outside sometimes.

Even if your job happens on Zoom and Slack, even if your job keeps you at your desk 10 hours/day (which might mean you need a new job), find a way to get away for a while.

Conferences are the perfect way to take a breather and come back better. It’s like standing up and stretching, but for a few days and with great people.

If you have the opportunity to go, do it. Happily, wholeheartedly. The teams working on these events do so with love—because they have their eyes on the prize.

And the prize here is you.

Push yourself. Learn more. Talk more. Ask questions. Answer questions. Meet people, meet more people.

Grow yourself at every opportunity.

Remember, jobs aren’t forever—but learning lasts.

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