These days I tend to know quite a few people at any conference I attend, even it’s just those (wonderful, gorgeous, intelligent) people who have invited me to speak. In the case of UXLibs, which I chair and co-organise, I know heaps and heaps of people, either serial attendees (thank you for keeping on coming back!) or people who I have met before elsewhere (at workshops or other events), or who I have connected with on Twitter. However, I have never forgotten how I felt early on in my career when I used to attend conferences with some fear and trepidation.
I used to be much less confident and I’d ask myself questions beforehand like: ‘Will I make friends?’ ‘Shall I skip the social events so I don’t have to make small talk?’ ‘How will I cope if no-one talks to me?’ Thankfully most of the time, despite a few wobbles, I’d make connections. I’d have a laugh. I’d meet people with common interests, And I’d meet people who probably felt similarly awkward. However, lots of the time I still felt like the cool party was going on elsewhere and I was envious of the cliques and those people who seemed to know everyone.
Gradually over the years as my confidence grew (largely through having to start to supervise and then manage staff, and later having to negotiate and tussle with senior management outside of the library) I found conferences to be a welcome break from my day job and looked forward to reconnecting with people I’d met before. Nevertheless, I still struggled a bit with small talk, especially with people I didn’t know. Even today I wouldn’t say it’s my strongest suit.
So why am I telling you this? Well I guess I just want you to be mindful of others at events who may not be feeling part of things, who may feel dejected and alone, who may really struggle to socialise. And to say that if you see someone on their own, connect with them, introduce them to people you know. Some people need help with this stuff. I certainly did.
Last year quite a few UXLibs attendees didn’t come to our Gala Dinner. While some of them may have been meeting up with people they knew in Glasgow, I’m guessing that others decided to stay away because of the prospect of having to meet new people or having to sit with people they didn’t know. While I completely respect a decision not to engage – the social programme is by no means compulsory – I don’t like to think of anyone missing out or feeling separate.
If you’re reading this, attending UXLibs (or indeed any conference) for the first time and thinking I’m describing you, then I’d heartily encourage you just to try to say hello to other people. At UXLibs that absolutely means to me, to Matt, to Bryony, as well. We want everyone to feel as welcome as possible. Also check out this year’s conference badges which now come with special identifiers to show who has attended before. This way you can quickly connect with other newbies. This year nearly 70% of delegates have not attended before so you’re definitely not alone!
We talk about UXLibs being a community and in many ways it very much is, but in communities people can still fall through the cracks. Cliques can form and we’ve got to watch this. UXLibs’ theme this year is inclusivity and I hope that in addition to presentations embracing this theme, delegates too will look out for each other and ensure everyone feels included.