People often ask me: “if you’re going to invite a guest speaker to one of your classes, what kind of speaker do you look for?” Typically, the answer would depend on what subject matter you are teaching. You wouldn’t invite the same person to your art/design class that you would invite to business class, right?
At least in my case. Whenever I’m looking for a guest speaker for my class, my go-to professional is a UX designer. Why? Three reasons.
UX Professionals Are Versatile
As professionals with a dizzying array of skill sets, UX professionals can often speak to a variety of different topics, ranging from effective communication to team-building strategies to how to design killer digital experiences for customers. They are jacks of all trades and masters of all of them. They are, quite simply, amazing people with a true passion for what they do.
Whether you’re teaching business, art, communication, or English, a UX professional can speak to your class topic by providing your students with real-world applications of your subject matter. Just prepare them ahead of time by collecting student questions for them to speak to.
UX Professionals Love Engagement and Learning
It’s happened to all of us who teach or train: you line up someone who you think is going to be a great guest speaker, and they turn out to be awful. They can’t tell a story or a joke to save their life. They can’t connect with your students.
I’ve never had this happen with a UXer. It’s not that they’re all the best speakers in the world (though many of them are), it’s that they’re so passionate about what they do. They translate that passion into stories and metaphors that students can understand and connect to, because that’s what they do for a living: connect with people about complex topics.
UX Professionals Have Colorful Backgrounds
Because degrees in UX are hard to come by, UXers are always great examples of how to mobilize a variety of degrees and professional backgrounds into a winning career. They start out in art or psychology or computer science or English. Almost none of them have degrees in “UX,” so they can speak to students honestly about how to make the (often difficult) transition from school to work.
One of my favorite things to do with UX guest speakers is to ask them to tell the story of how they became a UX professional. It’s always a great story filled with unpredictable twists and turns. The moral of the story, however, is always some version of lifelong learning: you have to get out there and learn what you need to know to be successful.
5 Different Types of Invitations
Another question that comes up is: how do you get all these guest speakers to come to your classes? Besides my winning personality (ahem), I give them a variety of flexible ways of interacting with my students.
- Mentor for Students: If someone really wants to work with students, I’ll give them a mentee or two, typically by doing a LinkedIn or email introduction.
- Co-Author an Article: If someone wants to help me get ideas out there, I offer to co-author an article for an academic or industry-based venue.
- Collaborate on a Conference Presentation: If someone is more interested in speaking to fellow professionals, I work with them to submit a proposal for a conference that both of us can make it to.
- Guest Speaker: If someone wants a more limited engagement, visiting a class (either in-person or virtually) can be a great experience for both them and the students.
- Interview as Reading: I regularly interview industry-based professionals for fodder for my blog, then use these blog posts as readings in my class. This is a great way to ensure sustainability in case they can’t make it to class the next time I teach.
Some Recent/Forthcoming Visitors
Fred Beecher is a Director of User Experience Design at The Nerdery who also teaches UX to industry professionals and pretty much anyone willing to learn. He visited my graduate-level UX course to talk about the qualities of a successful UX designer.
Susan Tacker is a User Experience Manager at Teradata who regularly works with students in the Human Factors in Information Design Program at Bentley University (which she also graduated from). She visited my undergraduate Writing for Business and Industry course to talk about team-building, the importance of communication in the professional world, and how UX is changing the business landscape.
Hanna Gnann is a Digital Marketing Manager at Global Knowledge who is also passionate about UX, learning, and a bunch of other stuff. She also plans to visit my Writing for Business and Industry course to talk about the intersections of digital marketing and business.
Nicholas Hall is a Project Coordinator for Global Partner and Technical Enablement at Red Hat who also has a passion for many things UX. He plans to visit my graduate Research Methods course to talk about how industry professionals conduct on-the-job research.