Getting the Most From Your HOW Design Live Experience

If you’ve attended a HOW event before, you know what it feels like to be among a crowd of your fellow creatives. Your people. You know the sensory overload of walking through the Resource Center, the brain bonanza you get from attending sessions led by your design heroes.

Attending an event like HOW Design Live can be, well, overwhelming—lots of people to meet, lots of activities to attend, lots of inspiration and information to take in. For all the programs have to offer, it’s up to you to make the most of your HOW experience. Conferences really are what you make of them. If you head to San Francisco in June with low expectations, with no gameplan, with no desire to forge new connections with other people—then you’ll miss so much of what HOW Design Live has to offer.

Instead? Grab your favorite notebook, a huge stack of business cards, your best smile and handshake, your curiosity and a few healthy snacks to keep you going. Here are some pointers for maximizing the return on your HOW Design Live investment, many of them courtesy of HOW Design Conference veterans.

Get comfortable networking. Brad Dressler, a HOW Design Conference regular, observes that not everyone is great at networking. “But I speak from years of experience that you’ll make both lifelong friends and tons of business contacts,” he says. Practice your “elevator pitch”—the quick sentence you use to describe what you do when you meet someone new. Plan to introduce yourself to at least one new person in every session or activity you attend.

Bring tons of business cards. Set a goal that you’ll give every one away by the time the conference ends. Whenever you sit at a table or in a row, exchange business cards with the two people on either side of you.

Plan your agenda in advance. Browse the conference website or print brochure and note the sessions that have most appeal, and download the HOW Design Live app (coming soon!) to plan your agenda. Go for a mix of sessions that are informational (learn a new tool) and inspirational (hear from someone whose work you admire). “Try to mix it up with some larger sessions and smaller sessions,” Dressler says. “And have back up sessions in case the one you want is really crowded.” If a session doesn’t meet your needs, find another down the hall.

Sam Harrison rocks the opening keynote to HOW Design Live 2012

Sam Harrison rocks the opening keynote to HOW Design Live 2012

Meet people via social media. Connect with other conference-goers via Twitter (follow @HOWBrand and search the hashtag #HOWLive) and on Facebook . “By the time I went to my first HOW, I connected with a few others, made plans to meet up, helped to organize events and contributed to the frenzy as much as possible,” says Kelly Parke.

Tap into the social scene—official and unofficial. For several years, unofficial party planners Keith Smith and Brad Dressler have organized pub crawls in the HOW host cities; you’ll find news about those activities posted on the HOW Design Live Facebook page. Officially on the conference program you’ll find networking activities like Lunch with a Speaker, a Networking Lunch, and opening and closing receptions to help you enjoy yourself and meet new people.

HOW Design Conference speaker Peleg Top networks with like-minded conference-goers

HOW Design Conference speaker Peleg Top networks with like-minded conference-goers

Open yourself up. “Everyone has a ‘cool’ mask that they wear to protect themselves from looking foolish or amateur in front of others,” says longtime HOW Design Conference speaker (and co-author of Caffeine for the Creative Mind) Stefan Mumaw. “In any extended experience like HOW, it takes a few days to take off that mask. My advice: Take off the mask as soon as you arrive. We are all uncool, just accept it and get whatever you need from the experience, whether that is information, affirmation, encouragement, empathy, commiseration or inspiration.

“Don’t wait until the closing party to let go. Do something ridiculous on Day 1. Approach a speaker and strike up a conversation. Ask for lunch dates. Make quick friends. Leave anonymous notes around the hotel bar.”

Introduce yourself to speakers. HOW Design Live has a reputation for being an event where design rock-stars are gracious and accommodating. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet them. Longtime HOW speaker Jeff Fisher has a great story: “Years ago I saw Milton Glaser across the room at a HOW Conference and I was momentarily stunned. In 1974 I came across his book ‘Graphic Design’ and it started me on my career path. I so wanted to go up to him, introduce myself and thank him for giving me inspiration in the form of his book. My feet seemed to be stuck in cement. With verbal encouragement from a couple friends, and a literal shove in the direction of Mr. Glaser, I walked up to him and introduced myself. He could not have been more gracious, even though I’m sure I came across as a bumbling idiot. The next time I saw him at a conference, he came up to me, acknowledged that he didn’t remember my name, but remembered me and wanted to say ‘hi.’”

HOW Design Live speaker Kevin McConkey hangs with fellow designers

HOW Design Live speaker Kevin McConkey hangs with fellow designers

Learn from the “in-between.” “A lot of times, it’s the conversations in the hallways, during lunch or at a ball game that can really make a bigger impact than the stuff you hear during some of the sessions,” says HOW Design Live regular Darcy Hinrichs. “You leave the conference not only with an armful of swag, notebooks and sketchbooks full of inspiration, tips and advice, tons of photos … you also leave with a new band of people who you can call friends and mentors, who you can talk shop with and accept you for the weirdo that you are and who may even one day become so close that they’re like family to you.”

Seek inputs. So much of our work as creative pros involves output—pouring out our ideas, our creativity, our energy. HOW Design Live is the opportunity to reverse that flow of energy. “A lot of us are the ‘experts’ in our companies, agencies, even our circles of friends. We spend a lot of time educating, coaching and mentoring others,” says Keith Smith, another regular on the HOW circuit. “HOW Design Live is an opportunity to take a break from being the ‘smartest kid in class.’ I relish the chances to ask questions of speakers, attendees, vendors and creatives from non-related industries. Instead of always having to be the guy with all the answers, I can just absorb the knowledge and experiences that HOW Live presents.”

HOW Design Live logosKeep a record. Bring a notebook (paper, digital, whatever). Use it. Write down phrases that catch your ear, that are helpful or inspiring. Snap photos of presentation slides that strike you. Sketch. “Take pictures constantly,” Mumaw says. “Record your thoughts. Be free and absorb.” Gather paper samples, product brochures, freebies and everything you can get your hands on in the Resource Center. Bring it all back to your office, and share it with others.

Ready to join the action? View the complete program, discover all the extra activities and start planning your conference experience on the HOW Design Live website.