Personal development with a difference: volunteering for conference event teams
The thought of presenting at a conference one day can be very daunting. I have started volunteering at conferences to get better insights, work on my professional development and work towards overcoming this fear.
Gaining event experience and progressing towards contributing to conferences
In the Prospective Student Web Content Team (PSWCT) we are encouraged to present our work and to contribute to conferences. But the latter especially can be a very scary thought.
On a personal level, I was also interested in getting involved with the organisation and administration of big events. So what about volunteering at a conference to gain experience and broaden my network, while also getting some better insights for the day job?
My line manager fully supported my idea and encouraged me to move into this direction.
Establishing contact with a conference organiser
I had heard about the SDinGov (Service Design in Government) conference, which was taking place at the University’s John McIntyre Conference Centre.
The SDinGov conference is an event for professional involved in designing and commissioning public services. Both Neil and Pete from our team attended as delegates.
Conference content that relates to my role as Content Designer and a local venue seemed like a great opportunity.
I contacted the conference organiser Software Acumen and asked if they might need another volunteer for this conference. Some emails and a Zoom meeting later and I was on board as event team volunteer for the SDinGov conference from 28 to 30 September 2022.
What I got out of the conference
New insights about my area of work
While there was limited opportunity to select the breakout sessions I helped to facilitate, all of them had a connection to my role as Content Designer. Learnings and new insights were available everywhere.
- How service ownership can help deliver better policy outcome: Charlotte Moore and Liam Hawkes from the Home Office explained how they are using service ownership to align policy, operations and delivery with the purpose of:
- understanding of the context and broader service
- agreeing outcomes and measure and monitoring them
- continuous feedback and improvements
- making decisions with an awareness of the impact they will have
- Co-design during a crisis: Katy Beale and Natasha Bhambhra reflected on how the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) embedded co-design practices across various disciplines and with users to support more inclusive products, policies and services while also facing the impact of the pandemic by:
- building trust and developing relationships
- including different perspectives and sharing the making of decisions
- learning from each other
- establishing a community of practice (for example, by welcoming everybody and having members with different experiences)
- gaining support (for example, from the team and leadership buy-in)
- creating a toolkit to improve the capability in the wider organisation
These presentations highlighted how important it is to see the bigger picture and not to work in silos.
Most presentations were shared on Slack, which allows me to refresh my memory, deepen my understanding of the topics and continue my development by referring back to the presentations.
An expanded network
I had plenty of opportunities to network. I met many experienced content and UX colleagues, who are passionate about the kind of work we do and showed how they overcame challenging situations or approached difficult projects. My connections on LinkedIn have increased significantly and I now get regularly valuable updates from UK and international colleagues.
My confidence in talking to delegates and handling the roving mic has improved. At the next conference I might even move towards a few introductory comments – and I do not even feel nervous about this. Somehow this level of involvement feels natural now.
Event experience at a University venue
I had the chance to integrate into a great event team consisting of very experienced Software Acumen staff and volunteers.
My involvement increased my knowledge about:
- required preparations by presenters
- how to assist them in the minutes before their presentations
- the cooperation between all staff on site to improve the delegates’ experience and to overcome challenges (for example, those of a technical nature)
I also enjoyed getting to work at a University venue for the conference, allowing me to bring in my local knowledge. It was lovely to hear from delegates how much they liked the Pollock Halls area and to speak to them about the great facilities the University provides. It was a moment to be proud to be University staff.
And most of all, it was fun to be part of the event team and I enjoyed every moment.
The journey continues
During the SDinGov conference I was asked if I could also help at the Lean Agile Conference a week later, and I managed to arrange to join the team for a further day.
As I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, my involvement at the UX Scotland conference in June 2023 is already arranged. I really look forward to being part of a fabulous team again.
This shows that it is possible to establish lasting connections during events.
Work towards your goals
If there is anything you want to achieve or learn, look out for opportunities and ways to work towards your goal(s). We can get closer to fulfilling our ambitions one step at a time.
If event volunteering sounds like something that might interest you, I’m happy to share more about my experiences. Feel free to contact me to discuss.