Networking events and industry meet-ups are always being recommended to me as the best way to integrate myself into the community I want to be a part of.

Being a shy thing, on top of being introverted, I find the idea of such shindigs terrifying and unappealing. However, I had a moment of feeling brave and was willing to take some risks in the hope of making some new connections. So I decided to journey down to Sassafras, a bar in Hollywood, for an event supposed to help connect those in the baby ranks of the entertainment industry.

As I walked there, straightening my skirt and tucking wisps of hair behind my ears, I tried to amp myself up: “You can do this. Take it step by step, you don’t have to become best buds with everyone in there. Your goal is to talk to one person. You got this. It’s only one person. Once you get into a one-on-one conversation, you’ll be fine. You can handle this.”

I took some deep breaths as the bouncer checked my ID and I stepped inside the dimly lit two-story room.

And in an instant, I was ready to bolt right back out the door.

The place was stuffed to the gills, humming like the drone of an overactive beehive, and people hung together tightly in clusters with little room for new members. Claustrophobic and easily overwhelmed by massive cacophonous sound, I decided the best strategy was to get to the quiet serenity of a hopefully empty bathroom and to make a real strategy from there.

Heart beating with a mixture of fear and embarrassment, I struggled through the crowds taking over the small aisle between the bar and the wall that led to the restrooms. Once there, questions flooded my mind: “How was I supposed to figure out what cluster of people to join? How do I even nudge myself in? Is there a way to do this not awkwardly? Do I get a drink and hope to meet people at the bar that will invite me to follow them back to their cluster? If that doesn’t work, I can’t stand at against the wall by myself with a drink.”

And then I’m back at the start of trying to spark a conversation with a stranger. I quickly realized a major flaw in my plan had been not bringing someone along who could have at least hung back with me while we navigated these high school clique-esque clusters.

Uncomfortable with any other option, I forced myself back through the fissures between shoulders. I would turn my head about in a last ditch effort to maybe catch a friendly eye, but when my gaze was predictably unreturned, I continued my fight through the crowd until I finally reached the refreshingly free air on the outside of the bar.

“Another time,” I said to myself as I walked back to my car that had only been parked for ten to fifteen minutes at the most. “Or maybe never again.”

Meet Nina, a recent graduate of a liberal arts college, with many passions, interests, and skills…and no job. We invite you to join her (and commiserate) as she struggles through the post-graduate swamp world. A creative at heart, and most likely a mermaid in another life, when she is not at the pool, she can be found writing, reviewing music for The Wild Honey Pie and OurVinyl, making art with her friends, goofing around on Photoshop, cooking, or frolicking amongst foliage while dreaming of how to save the planet from destruction by human hands.

The annual World Information Architecture Day (WIAD) is coming up, and I am producing the 2016 event in Chicago.

Let me be frank, this is my first rodeo. I have never volunteered to organize anything more than lunch. Last summer, when the call for volunteers came out from the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) I threw my hat in the ring thinking there would be dozens of other, more experienced people, eager to organize WIAD. When I received word that I landed the responsibility I was gobsmacked. But, with the help of friends and colleagues – come hell or high water, WIAD Chicago will happen.

Part of putting on an event like WIAD is searching, asking, convincing and securing sponsors, without whom this free event could not happen. I’ll be the first to admit, asking people for money is not my specialty – even when the money is corporate and not coming from any individual’s personal bank account. When my kids were young and in scouts or summer baseball, I failed miserably at fundraising. Every year, I would invariably end up buying boxes of “The World’s Best Chocolate” myself.

Well, the price tag of putting on an all-day event in downtown Chicago is a bit larger than selling a box of candy bars is going to cover. Larger and more complicated.

The process of getting sponsorship reminds me a bit of the T.V. comedy M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983) in which, members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital cared for injured Korean War soldiers. (I forgive you if you’re too young to remember the show.) A running gag was how Hawkeye and Trapper John would start an episode in need of something (say, a special tube for the “secret” distillery in their tent), and would have to broker individual favors to and from different characters in order to finally obtain what they desired – all before the closing credits. In my version of the gag, to secure WIAD sponsorship, I’ve had to promise logo placements, opportunities to speak at the event, and in this case, write a blog post for Creative Circle. (Not a bad endeavor given that one of my 2016 goals is writing and publishing more.)

Overall, this has definitely been an experience that has caused me to venture beyond my comfort zone. I’ve been a member of IAI for years and I finally volunteered on projects. It has taken time, effort, and has forced me to push myself but in return, I have experienced more professional growth than many years prior. That is the importance joining a professional organization like the IAI.

Many times, people think they have to join a professional organization because of the usual suspects:

  1. Enhance your network
  2. Take charge of your career
  3. Broaden your knowledge
  4. Find internship and job opportunities
  5. Learn about conferences
  6. Keep up with industry standards

But rather than researching the normal way – via Google, I decided to turn away from the intertubes and ask real people.

James “Mac” McCullough is Dean of the School of Visual Communications at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, Okmulgee (OSUIT for short). When I attended, Mac was one instructor who pushed his students to join and attend the monthly meetings put on by the Art Directors Club of Tulsa.

 “…many times people will join organizations to get new tips, to work with their peers, to have a sense of involvement outside of the confines of the work they do every day, and those are all great reasons to participate. But there is also the idea of putting yourself out there by contributing in both big and small ways to help a cause that you’re passionate about. Professional groups so many times are viewed as just a socializing activity and limited to that by too many of its members. But, if you decide to make it more, [then] that organization might very well be the catalyst for you to stretch your skills, your interests, your capabilities, and that of the organization, to make a real impact in your community and beyond.”

I posed the same question to Abby Covert who, as of this writing, is President of the Information Architecture Institute as well as an Independent Information Architect based in New York City.

“I don’t really see it as networking because I feel like that word is used for making connections that will yield a result (a job, a mentorship etc.) …I see the value of the IAI being much more about connecting to other people that are like-minded, even if you are happy in your job or have the resources you need.

You can have a job in information architecture and work on it every day, but the chances are high that you are still the nerdiest about that topic at your place of employment. The chances are also high that you will be hesitant to get nerdy with your coworkers about I.A. outside your assigned work or domain. The IAI is like a sandbox for meeting other nerds and doing projects that are outside your specialty, context or domain.”

Did you notice?

Turns out, to have an opportunity to be an active contributor is the real reason for joining and the way to get the most out of a professional organization. By joining and contributing to a professional organization, you grow your skills, your network, and your reputation. It’s more than a line on a resume.

Until getting involved – I totally missed the boat.

Don’t do the same. World Information Architecture Day 2016 is coming up this February 20. If you work in the Information Architecture, User Experience, or other related fields, I highly encourage you to register and attend. This could be the start of a great new experience.

Trent is an Information and User Experience Architect in Chicago. A longtime member of IAI, he is currently heading the effort to re-envision IAI’s online library as well as produce the 2016 World IA Day in Chicago.

Trent makes his home in Chicagoland with wife, Violinist, Dr. Gretchen Madson-Sherrell, their three kids, and one (half a dog tall; two dogs long) dachshund.

When not at work, Trent spends his time trying to convince his family that he really is organized and strategic even though he his desk looks like something out of “Hoarders.”

Trent can be engaged via email at or Twitter @tsherrell.