Advisory Group member Lauren Tormey shares her experience of IWMW 2019, from organising a conference run to giving a spontaneous lightning talk.

Third time’s a charm

2019 marked my 3rd time attending IWMW. The previous 2 years, I had facilitated workshops at the conference. This time, though, marked my first time as a member of the Advisory Group.

In my bio on the Advisory Group webpage, I said I wanted to make this year’s event the best yet. It was a cheesy line, but a very genuine statement. I think IWMW is a fabulous conference, and I wanted to do what I could to make it even better.

Based on the sheer number of things I have to talk about in this post, I think it’s safe to say, mission accomplished.

Conference run

By far, my top highlight of IWMW 2019 was the run I organised for the morning of day 2.

I encountered some sceptical reactions to the idea that anyone would wake up after the first night’s social activities for a 7am run.

Boy was this scepticism proven wrong. I got 12 people to join a 7am run. 12.

The run took us across some amazing scenery, from the top of Greenwich Park to passing the majestic University campus along the Thames.

We stopped for a group photo at the top of the Park with the London skyline behind us. It was truly a special moment to share with my fellow running delegates – some of whom I might not otherwise have met at the conference, and others who I already knew but bonded with more because of the run.

IWMW 2019 conference runner at Greenwich Park
Pausing mid-run for a group photo at the top of Greenwich Park

IWMW introduces you to so many great people, whether it’s the nightly socials or someone you start chatting to at a coffee break. I love that this run was another way for people to connect with each other, and I’m so happy I helped make that possible.

All this was topped off when, the day after the conference ended, I saw delegates already discussing on Slack where we can run in Dundee for IWMW 2020. It absolutely warmed my heart to read that.

Photo scavenger hunt

My other new addition to the social schedule this year was the photo scavenger hunt.

I drew up a list of places, things and actions to take pictures of around Greenwich. Teams had the challenge of trying to take pictures of these items over a 28-hour time period. All the items were worth points, and the winning team got a prize.

I was not prepared for the level of commitment displayed by the teams that participated. The winning team from the University of Dundee captured all 39 items. That’s a lot of photo-taking while trying to conference at the same time!

Pete from Dundee posing with a dog during the photo scavenger hunt
Pete from the winning team posing with a local dog for the photo scavenger hunt

It was all a bit of silly fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the entries that came in – especially the photos that got teams to walk up to strangers and ask for a photo.

Lean Coffee

Outside of the social sphere, I had also suggested a new session to the conference programme: Lean Coffee.

We use Lean Coffee at the University of Edinburgh for the user-focused lunchtime sessions we run. They’re a way to democratically set an agenda for an informal discussion.

Lean Coffee session vote tallying
Tallying the votes at Lean Coffee (photo credit: Gemma Wilks)

The Lean Coffee session I led ended up being one of my favourite parts of the conference, and I think the descriptor ‘informal’ was the reason for this.

Day 2 of the conference can feel quite long. Having the chance to come together in the afternoon in small groups to have an easy-going chat was really nice.

My room covered a variety of topics, from flexible ways of working, to building communities of practice, to collaborating with academics in our work.

Style guide workshop

It wouldn’t be an IWMW for me without running a workshop. This year, I ran a session centred around Content Design London’s Readability Guidelines project. Its aim is to create an evidence-based content style guide, determined by what styles are most usable and accessible.

We spent the session researching the usability evidence for certain styles and presenting our findings back to the group.

Participants at the Cascading Style Guides workshop
Researching usable and accessible styles at my workshop

Because my title was a CSS-based joke (I called the session ‘Cascading style guides’), I seemed to have tricked some developers into the room who were expecting a more technical session.

This ended up being great, though, because this was all new to them and was definitely something they should know about. Content is part of everyone’s job, and we all need to get on board with creating content that’s usable and accessible.

Lightning talk

The most unexpected moment of the conference had to be giving a spontaneous lightning talk on day 2. I was fully not expecting to speak, but when a slot became available, I took the opportunity to follow up on a point made in Gareth Edwards’s plenary.

Gareth mentioned that only 3% of employees in the HE sector are under the age of 25. We were then discussing among the Advisory Group about getting someone under 25 to do a plenary next year.

I thought this was a great idea, but mentioned how your average under-25-year-old is not going to think to submit a proposal to a conference.

I used the lightning talk slot to give a lightning call to action. If we want more involvement from younger employees in the sector, we have to encourage them and tell them they have something of value to say.

I shared my own experience of facilitating my first IWMW workshop at the age of 24, but that I wouldn’t have done so without the encouragement from my manager to do so.

Kevin Mears's sketch of Lauren Tormey's lightning talk
Kevin Mears’s sketch of my lightning talk

I couldn’t believe the number of people who came up to me afterwards giving such positive feedback on my talk. It was so nice to hear, especially listening to people say my talk made them think of how they can get younger folk involved in their work.

As someone who functions best with a plan in place, doing a lightning talk with zero prep threw me into a challenging situation. It was unexpected, it was out of my comfort zone, but it was all the more rewarding and amazing because I did it anyway and it went well.

Get involved and make IWMW 2020 happen

What made this year’s conference such a stand-out for me were the innovations and changes to the programme we made as an Advisory Group and as an IWMW community.

As a delegate, I found IWMW 2017 and 2018 to be pretty similar. I thought they were great events, but I had some ideas in mind of how they could be better.

I was keen to replace the long masterclasses with shorter sessions, and it happened. I wanted to do a conference run, and it happened.

The introduction of to ask questions after plenaries, the red t-shirts the Advisory Group members were wearing to help direct delegates where to go, the incredible sketch notes Kevin Mears was drawing of the talks – these ideas all happened because people made them happen.

Kat Husbands, Gemma Wilks and Lauren Tormey ready to start day 1 of IWMW 2019
Kat Husbands, Gemma Wilks and me in our red t-shirts – Advisory Group members who made things happen at IWMW 2019 (photo credit: Gemma Wilks)

Every IWMW has the potential to be different and inventive because we all have a say in it. It’s a community-driven conference.

The thing is, though, the best ideas happen when you’re prepared to take action on them.

So if you have ideas brewing (and want to follow through on those ideas), fill in the conference feedback form, and let Brian Kelly and Claire Gibbons know about how you would like to get involved.