How to Land Your First UX Speaking Gig
A guide to landing your first speaking gig—whether it’s at your local meet-up, your alma mater or SXSW, here’s what you need to know.
There are hundreds of opportunities for UX designers to share their insights with others in the industry, and turning notes on a page into lessons on the stage is often easier than you might think.
Whether you’ve been sitting on a particular idea for a while or this is something that is completely new to you, this guide will walk you through the steps it takes to not only land your first speaking gig but to make an impact while you’re there. It is one thing to get up there and say something and another to do it with grace, passion and confidence.
If you’re an experienced communicator looking to shift from the boardroom to the conference room, feel free to skip a few steps. But if you’re new to this, read on to learn more about professional communication.
1. Practice Makes Progress
Very few people are natural-born communicators and commanders of the stage. Most of us need practice, and like anything else, the key to becoming a dynamite public speaker is to get as much of this practice as possible. This often includes creating your own opportunities to begin harnessing the power of your voice.
A few ways to practice public speaking include:
- Speak up at work. One way to begin stepping outside of the comfort zone is to simply start speaking more. Whether it’s in the meeting room or to a member of your team, start vocalizing your approaches to a design, for example, and sharing your opinions. Seize these tiny opportunities.
- Volunteer to present your research, prototypes or projects at your next team/company meeting. Find out what opportunities exist on both company and client sides so you can begin to experience speaking to a variety of audiences.
- Talk to your leadership team about your desire to share your insights and find out what professional development opportunities exist at your company. Depending on where you work, there may be workshops or courses in place to aid employees in the development of leadership skills, or other opportunities to promote this growth.
- Join an organization like Toastmasters to further develop your public speaking skills while also learning how to capture your audience and stop saying unintentional things like “um” and “ah.” These expressions can rob us of our impact in the public forum. Many workplaces have their own internal Toastmasters club, so find out if there’s already one in place at your company or partner up with a few others and consider starting one of your own.
- Meetup.com is another avenue of opportunity. Find out if there are any events or workshops in your area geared to help you hone the art of public speaking.
2. Conduct User Research
You’re a designer, which means you likely have some experience with research. Use this to your advantage by applying this practice to your budding speaking career. Start going to industry conferences, meet-ups, workshops and events and take notes on how others communicate with their audiences. Do they combine visual components, use humor, or other cues to engage their audience? How does the audience respond?
More importantly, what is the speaker talking about? Are they presenting trends or findings, sharing stories of their experiences, motivating or inspiring others in the audience? What is it that brought them to that stage? Do you find their story compelling? Also, who is in the audience? Try to get a feel for the types of people who are interested in the style of content you want to share. How do they respond and what tools can you incorporate from other speakers to help keep your audience inspired and engaged? Don’t be afraid to take field notes.
3. Identify Your Hook
Start thinking not just about how to become a speaker with more conviction, but a speaker with something to say. What topics are you passionate about and why do you feel this desire to share them with others? Have you discovered something unique about your process, products or users that you can’t stop thinking about?
This is what’s called “a hook,” or a niche, that you can leverage to land your first speaking gig. Offering a take on something others haven’t seen before is one way to get your foot in the door. What can you provide that is worthwhile or beneficial to your audience?
4. Network, Network, Network
Speaking opportunities rarely manifest out of thin air, especially at the beginning. Most speakers have to work their way up to the level of a keynote speaker; so don’t be afraid to start small. Be proactive by actively seeking an opportunity rather than waiting for one to come to you.
Some ideas to get you started:
- Reach our to your college or university to find out what speaking opportunities exist there. Academia is always looking for alumni to return to campus to share their lessons and success stories.
- Look to panel discussions. Joining a panel as a panelist will give you experience in the public eye without the weight of the presentation falling solely on you. Ask your company if they are participating in any upcoming conferences or events to see if there is an opportunity for you to step in.
- Connect with colleagues that have spoken at events and get their advice on who to connect with about related opportunities.
- Reach out to organizing committees of meet-ups, industry events, mixers, tradeshows and so on. Find out how you could potentially become involved in sitting on a panel or presenting your own work.
- Ask Google. Use search terms like “call for speakers,” “speakers wanted,” “panelists wanted” and so on to see who is actively searching. Geo-target the search to your location to improve your results.
- Be active in the community. Being engaged online through social media, writing blog posts, or by attending in-person events gives presence and exposure to your ideas. When organizers are booking speakers and panelists, they like knowing that person is involved in the industry and connected with the community.
5. Let Your Speaking Career Take Flight
That first speaking gig doesn’t have to be a mind-blowing TED Talk; it’s more about getting experience in the public eye.
Though it might be ideal if it’s related to your career or the topics that you want to talk about, if that seems unrealistic at this moment don’t fret. Dig into your hobbies and see what opportunities exist there. Perhaps you can speak to your local bird-watching group about where to spot the elusive Snow Goose, or whatever else niche interest you may have.
Remember, all of this comes back to the simple principle of having something say.
The worst speech you’ll ever give will be far better than the one you never give.
~ Fred Miller