Many of us web designers tend to be a self-taught bunch. Most of our early career stories involve a lot of books, tutorials, and late nights of feverishly learning as much we could. For me, one of the biggest influences of my career was attending local meet-ups. As much as Google and books were helpful, I learned so much more as a result of getting involved with local web design groups.
Shortly after getting into this web design thing about 10 years ago, I discovered a local group that met each month to talk about exactly the things I was reading books and tutorials about. Real people talking about all these things I was so interested in!? I was psyched!
I started going to meetings regularly, checking out the monthly presentations and chatting with as many like-minded folks as I could. Every once in awhile I’d think it might be cool to do a talk, but I quickly talked myself out of it. I was way too shy, and was just starting out with all this. What could I possibly have to share with a roomful of colleagues who were better at this stuff than I was?
It took a long time, but I finally worked up the nerve to put myself out there. They were looking for volunteers to present pre-written tutorials at the next meeting and that sounded easy enough. So I volunteered!
When it came time to do that first presentation, it was scary. I can’t even remember what the topic was anymore, but I can remember being too nervous to even eat dinner beforehand. Funny how memory works. Once I got up there and got started, the initial nervousness subsided, and I quickly realized that I was speaking to a room full of friendly faces. After that, it wasn’t so bad; it was even a bit fun.
That little push spurred me to think up my own topic and present my own material at a meeting a few months later.
Running the Show
I started presenting at meetings more often, moved on to become an assistant manager and then manager of my very own group for the first time.
A funny thing happens when you’re in charge of a group that requires monthly presentations. If no one else steps up to present for whatever reason, you have to step in. Yes, you! Well, in this case, me. If I didn’t do it, there’d be no meeting, and that’s just not any fun.
I did a lot of presentations in my two years as manager of that group. There were some terrifying moments, like when my speaker notes disappeared and I had to completely wing it at the last minute. But there were great moments, too: There were talks where everyone was interested, where I felt like I even entertained everyone a little, and talks that sparked some great conversations afterwards.
The experience presenting at meet-ups gave me the confidence to submit my first proposal to an actual conference. And it was accepted!
A Sea of Friendly Faces
One of the best things about speaking at meet-ups is that you’re never talking to a room of strangers. When everyone is local, there’s bound to be a lot of familiar faces in the room. You most definitely have something to share with your local peers! If the group isn’t full of familiar faces already, just attend a few meetings in a row to get a feel for the group dynamic. Now you’re a regular. Done!
Hopefully I’ve convinced at least some of you to speak at one of your local web design meet-ups. There are so many of them out there and they’d love to have you. As someone who currently co-manages Refresh Pittsburgh, I can tell you that groups like ours are always on the lookout for new speakers.
You can find local groups on listings like refreshingcities.com or even meetup.com. If you know of other great meet-up listing sites, leave them in the comments. Attend a couple meetings then take a little leap and offer to do a talk. You won’t regret it!