This year, I had the privilege of attending the Information Architecture Summit in Chicago.
Working in the digital department at the Ad Council, I’ve noticed how digital experiences and content complexity has grown. This conference helps folks like me be more aware of the impact of User Interface and UX design decisions and the role we play to tame information environments at scale.
Here are my top 5 tips for going to the IA Summit or any conference for that matter.
1. Sign Up for Pre-Conference Workshop and Events
- The IA Summit provided pre-conference workshops. Being new to the IA community, I decided to take the Information Architecture Essentials course with Jorge Arango. This was an amazing workshop that gave me a solid foundation in understanding both the abstract/philosophical approaches to IA and some more practical ones.
- Another tip is that being in a workshop gives you some familiar faces to recognize within the masses of the conference. An easy way to find a partner in crime!
2. Join and Follow the Conversation
- Get the main hashtag for the conference – For IA summit, it was #ias18. I used it in my tweets and followed the conversation for talks I attended.
- Find out who the main influencers are – The great part about joining an online conversation is that you get to see who is giving some solid insights, besides the main speakers. I’ve found the best influencers to be those who not only quote from a speaker but also provide a POV on what it means in our environment. Find your favorite influencers in the conversation and follow them.
- Join the Slack channel – The IA summit does a fantastic job of fostering a community. Before the conference, they invite you to join their Slack community where you’ll find a variety of topics and channels, from major announcements to job search leads, to game night conversation. Don’t be shy about joining and chime in where you can!
3. Take a Break to Reflect
- The best piece of advice I received from this conference was from a long-time attendee:
- This conference is a firehose of information. It’s amazing, but take some time for yourself. Chill out in the hallways. Reflect on what you’ve learned.”
- This was so true. Because there are so many conferences and talks going on at the same time, you’ll get a serious sense of FOMO if you don’t attend everything. However, after getting this advice, I found my experience to be so much better. For the talks that I did attend, I took copious notes and listened intently. I then had a chance to take some time and look at my notes with fresh eyes. Doing this allowed me to synthesize my thoughts and tease out any themes from the conference that were relevant to my work at the Ad Council.
4. Take Time for Yourself
- We hear it all the time, self-care is super important. This is particularly true at an information-packed, multi-day conference like IA Summit. There are some simple ways to stay healthy, both emotionally and physically. If your hotel offers a gym/sauna/pool, take advantage of it! Are there community runs or yoga classes offered by the conference? These are usually sponsored by a company and provide snacks and water. Just spending 20-30 minutes being active will help. It can improve your mood and boost your energy level.
- If your conference is not close to home, I’ve also found it helpful to have a phone or video call with a friend or loved one. Tell them about your conference or how the city is. It may also be helpful to reach out to a co-worker to start reflecting on the experience you’re having so far!
5. Be a Bit Brave and Join One Conversation with a Stranger
- For introverts, this may be a little anxiety inducing. Talking to the strangers doesn’t come easy for everyone. Most conferences provide a badge with a name and company to break the barrier for you. Use it!, Meeting someone new can expand your network, enhance your sense of community, and even get you a new peer in the industry to bounce ideas off of. For me, I was able to finally feel like I wasn’t alone in some of the challenges I was facing and get even more recommendations for other conferences.