How to find cool conferences and events

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One of the biggest secrets to success is curiosity. It’s giving yourself permission to learn new things, and be open to different perspectives. It’s allowing yourself to “geek out” on a subject and see where it takes you.

In 2017 I came to the realization that one of my favorite excuses to travel was to learn something new. That’s the beauty of travel, you can’t help but learn by having new experiences and seeing how something may be done elsewhere. That year my learning was a bit more literal with attending talks, workshops, and conferences in other cities, and countries. A reader asked me in a comment on a different post how I find these cool things. I answered it there, but also felt it warranted a post of its own.

Word of mouth is always the best way to learn about anything. This can happen with people you see and know personally (that’s how I found the design thinking facilitation training I did in Amsterdam—a colleague/friend told me), or people whose work you follow and respect online (that’s how I discovered the awesome Nordic Design conference in Stockholm from the photo above—someone I followed online mentioned it).

It’s helpful to follow the “leaders” in the fields who are interesting to you. (I use Twitter lists to make it easier to find people.) These often are the people sharing ideas, writing books, or giving talks. When they announce online that they’re going to be speaking at a conference, it’s a great way to discover “new” conferences. Before long it becomes a rabbit hole of discovery.

The beauty about the times we live in is that often you don’t even have to spend money or leave the house to take advantage of what people are talking about at events. During certain conferences I’m addicted to my Twitter feed, following the official hashtag to pick up nuggets of inspiration being shared by the speakers. I click around to see what else the speaker has shared or written. I’ll often even re-share great ideas, even when I’m not at the event myself. I’ll also keep my eyes open for if and when a certain talk gets posted online. It’s no where near as fun as seeing it live in person, and takes more discipline to watch a talk after the fact, but it can be a fantastic way to stay on top of what’s happening in that industry.

Even if you’re not on Twitter there are loads of other ways to discover cool events. Neon Moiré is a website that curates the best design events. For UX, I’ve found a handful of great posts on Medium listing the “best UX/design conferences”. There are all sorts of roundups on the web. A random Google search can be your best friend.

Facebook has become a great tool for finding local events. When a friend marks that they’re “interested” or “going” to an event it often will show up in my feed too. It helps too to sign up for newsletters for places that often host events. Creative Mornings is an awesome free talk series that happens worldwide, and you can also watch the talks online. Look out for Pecha Kucha and Ignite events featuring short form talks too. (My networking, co-working, and crafting post on PAV has lots more ideas too! Even if you’re not in Paris, it may help spark some ideas.).

Podcasts have been another fantastic way I’ve discovered the people, books, and events in the industry that I would never have known about before. Often the guest, who I’m discovering for the first time on the podcast, will mention something they’re working on or have attended. I’ll jot down a little note while I’m walking. Later, when I’m back at my computer, I be sure to look up that thing. Taking the little extra step has exponentially expanded the possibilities of “eavesdropping” on a conversation that in fact has been shared with the world. I’ll often reverse engineer from podcast guests and books I love to see if there are any related talks on YouTube or Vimeo, and to look into what other podcasts they’ve been a guest on.

In my post how to network smarter, I brought up my “talk to strangers” tactic. Instead of asking a question about the work of the person, why not let the event you’re at be the conversation ice breaker. Ask how they found it, what they thought or it, and if they have any other recommendations for great events to check out. You never know who you may get the next great idea from.

In recent years I’ve also learned the value of looking outside my industry for inspiration. Due to my own curiosity, I signed up for a 3-day storytelling masterclass focused around screenwriting. It came recommended by a friend, and I was already reading the book (Story) by the author. While the event did come to Paris, I found it more fun to have an excuse to travel to London for this one. (For the record, that was one of the more exhausting events I ever attended, as it was more like a 3-day monologue, than the interactive dynamic events I was used to. I’m spoiled by events created by designers.).

What’s important to remember is what’s “cool” in the mainstream may not always speak to you. Figure out what’s “cool” for you. What are you curious to learn more about? You may find out how hate a certain topic, or love something outside of your comfort zone you never imagined, but you’ll never know until you try. And if you struggle to find an event that speaks to you, maybe it’s a sign you should start your own…

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