Vidhika Bansal is a 2019 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant helps advance promising young qualitative researchers’ careers by providing access to networking and educational sessions via a free pass to the QRCA’s Annual Conference plus a one-year membership. Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more.
What often makes quallies like us different from the rest of the world is our collective curiosity, empathy, and ability to transform our knowledge of people’s needs and experiences into strategic direction. Given that the QRCA’s Annual Conference is run and attended by quallies, it’s no surprise then that it’s not your average conference.
My week in Savannah at the 2019 Conference, Charting Your Best Course, was jam-packed and enriching in so many ways. As if the delicious Southern food and relaxing river views weren’t enough, here are three reasons why the QRCA Conference stands out in my mind:
Dessert following a scrumptious meal at a local Savannah restaurant, seconds before I devoured it
Networking Made Palatable
As consultants, networking is not just an add-on marketing strategy; it’s practically a necessity. Quite unfortunately though, for many—myself included—networking has almost become a dirty word. It tends to conjure up flashbacks of awkward interactions with strangers, insincere exchanges of pleasantries, and general anxiety and dread. Thankfully, the QRCA conference helps change that.
High friendliness quotient: One thing I learned in almost no time is that QRCA folks are among the friendliest you’ll meet. Perhaps it’s because most of us talk and listen to people for a living, but striking up conversations with fellow conference-goers was refreshingly easy and felt far more authentic than I had expected. The various ribbons added to everyone’s name tags made finding common ground and making connections even easier (especially as a first-timer and YPG recipient). And if you’re shy, have no fear—it’ll just be a matter of time before someone approaches you and breaks the ice!
Stress-free socializing: The organizers orchestrated events that further facilitated pain-free networking, especially if you’re a “first-timer” who has never attended before. First-timers are paired with “ambassadors”, who are QRCA conference veterans that can serve as familiar faces and guides throughout (shout out to my wonderful ambassador, Regina!). There was also a “speed dating” event for first-timers where we got to meet with other ambassadors, and as YPG recipients we were able to connect with fellow early/mid-career quallies at the fun, laidback, young-professionals-only breakfast and dinner events.
(Pro-tip: Remember to bring stacks and stacks of business cards with you—you’ll need them to give to all the new people you’ll meet in quick succession as well as for the vendor raffles!)
My conference badge, adorned with a couple of colorful ribbons that helped break the ice
Stellar, Actionable Content
One of the main goals of attending any conference is usually to leave with takeaways that you can apply to your work immediately—and the sessions at this one definitely did not disappoint.
Insights about insights: There were so many fantastic talks that it’s not practical for me to list them all right now, but these were some of my favorites.
- Carmen Simon’s very memorable keynote on using learnings from neuroscience to craft content that sticks, especially by relying on familiar mental models
- Lisa Lipkin’s engaging anecdotes depicting how to best elicit honest stories from others to learn about them, and how to find “magic in the mundane”
- Allison Rak’s uber-practical hacks for boosting research and reporting efficiency
- Liz George’s window into using role-play to glean rich insights when ethnographic methods are not an option due to ethical and logistical constraints
- Laurie Tema-Lyn’s entertaining workshop on improv exercises as a research tool
FOMO no mo’: With so many intriguing sessions going on in parallel (and without a Time-Turner allowing us to be in multiple places at the same time, a la Hermione Granger), it can sometimes be a challenge to choose which presentation to attend. Luckily, starting this year, all presentations were recorded so attendees could go back and watch them even after the conference was over. On top of that, there were “Reporters on the Scene” taking notes during each session, and those curated notes will be published for those who would prefer reading summaries of sessions they missed over watching full videos. Knowing that I would be able to watch the talks I couldn’t attend in-person saved me a ton of indecision.
(Pro-tip that a few kind members shared with me: If you’re struggling to decide between talks, check out the downloadable presentation decks in advance to give you a sense of which one of the alternatives might be most up your alley.)
Something for everyone: There were talks on a vast variety of topics, including proposal writing, storytelling, recruiting methods, journey mapping, projective techniques, usability testing, and even behavioral science. In addition to the breadth of subject matter, I appreciated the mix of formats in which content was shared, ranging from informal roundtable discussions to vendor exhibits to structured presentations of tools and frameworks.
Being silly at the Young Professionals Dine-Around (Thank you to Shannon Danzy for the photo!)
Finding Your Tribe
Last, but certainly not least, if I had to sum up what makes the QRCA Conference unique, it would be the unmatched sense of community. Cheesy at it sounds, attending the conference felt more like joining a big, happy family than just congregating with a group of like-minded professionals.
Come for the learnings, stay for the people: Valuable content is no doubt important, but the people you meet at the QRCA Conference are just as important, if not more so. Even though technically attendees could view each other as competitors, I noticed that the environment was overwhelmingly collaborative, with knowledge-sharing and camaraderie aplenty. There are even special interest groups (SIGs) to further hone in on people who share your specific interests (for me, it was the Ethnography, Creativity + Ideation, and UX SIGs). With the QRCA, one thing seems to be true: you get as much as you give.
Hugs, not handshakes: “We’re huggers,” I heard someone say on my first day at the conference. I looked around and—lo and behold—it was true. Not only did people greet each other with a genuine excitement to reconnect, but the good vibes weren’t confined to conference hours. Pre-conference mornings began with “healthy connections”, where passionate QRCA volunteers led dance and meditation sessions to get us started for the day. How cool is that?! Similarly, conference evenings ended with group “dine-arounds”, where we got to reclaim the calories worked off in the morning by indulging at local restaurants—a great way to continue conversations, meet new people, and ensure you always had company for dinner. This personal touch is what makes the QRCA such a special organization.
Needless to say, I’m truly grateful and honored to have been a recipient of the QRCA Young Professionals Grant. Without it, I likely would not have attended this year’s conference, and in turn would have missed out on all of these amazing benefits.
Thanks to the generosity of the grant sponsors and dedication of the event organizers, I left Savannah with fresh insights, a renewed view on networking, and even some new friends. Looking forward to next year’s conference in Austin and hope to see you there!
Vidhika Bansal is a UX strategist with a background in behavioral science, brand marketing, and human-centered design. She’s passionate about using the power of words and people’s stories to make product and service experiences the best that they can be. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.