“There’s always sadness in our lives. It’s that sad feeling that keeps us going.”

— Tsukino Usagi


Maximizing Your Conference Experience

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Writers Conferences can be intimidating undertakings. There could be hundreds--or even tens of thousands--of complete and total strangers in a space that you're unfamiliar with. You might even have traveled to another city, and you rolled in solo, and you have no idea what to expect, especially if it's your first conference. The experience is immediately overwhelming. 


How do you mitigate that feeling?


I'm here to help you out with a few tips! Last week, the #RevPit community had a Twitter chat about Writers Conferences and some great questions and solutions were posed. 


The First Day Is Always The Hardest

I can't emphasize this enough. Regardless whether it's your first conference or your hundredth, you will need some time to adjust. Whenever I go to a conference, I like to take in everything logistically: what panels do I want to go to? What authors or artists do I want to visit? What's the floor plan? 


If you can, try to spend that first hour or so just walking around. Get used to maneuvering through the crowd. Figure out the layout of the floor. Where is everything? What's the best way to get to point A to point B? Eventually, you'll feel acclimated and the hype will feel more real. 


Come day two, you'll feel like a natural. 


Sit Down. Be Humble.

When you're going to a conference, it's important to remember that this is a learning opportunity. This goes for even when you're on a panel or you have a booth or you're attending as press or if you're coming in as just plain old you. Leave all your expectations at the Air BnB. People who attend conferences to flaunt their know-it-all are likely to get nothing out of a conference. 


Carly Hayward tweeted about kindness and entitlement:


 In a similar breath, Elizabeth Buege emphasized listening and appreciating perspective:

The thread goes on, with Elizabeth noting that "As you consider other perspectives, you may find out that you learn something valuable and helpful from what others have learned. To get the most out of a conference experience, you need to be open to considering the ideas that others bring to the table."


Elizabeth also cautioned being on the other side of the spectrum later in the same thread:



It's easy to go to a conference and agree with everything that everyone is saying. Different experiences work for different people, and it's important to pick and choose what works for you and what doesn't.


How do you figure that out? Well, take lots of notes, record audio and video, and go over everything once you're back home days after the high of the conference has subsided. Your brain is in high gear right now, and the enthusiasm needs to be curbed before we can rationalize. 


Function vs. Fashion

At the last conference I went to, I kept track of my steps for when I was walking the floor, and walking back and forth to the place I was staying. In total, I accumulated about thirty miles on foot over the course of four days.


Thirty. Miles. 


Keep that in mind when you plan to go to a conference. Yes, it's great to look the part, but also consider that you are going to have some tired legs after each day. Maybe find a good pair of walking shoes that look biz casual? I've found some great affordable pairs at places like Target and Amazon. 


I like to make sure I'm wearing my best socks, too. And packing baby powder to keep from sweating. And dress knowing that the temperature might be very different from the time you arrive to the time you leave. 



Maintain Your Energy. And Your Health.

Conferences are great places to meet new people, make new friends, and network with other writers, artists, agents, editors, and more. Sometimes, you'll find yourself in meet-and-greets that are serving alcohol, which can be a great lubricant for conversation. That's great, but don't overdo it!


I try not to drink alcohol when I'm at conferences, unless I'm spending time with a colleague or doing the whole networking thing in a one-on-one setting. Even then, I'll limit my intake. 


Sometimes, in group settings especially, you might feel pressured to have a cup or glass or bottle with you. Here's a life hack: sip on that drink slowly, or just fill the cup with water. La Croix is a good fake out for champagne or a gin and tonic.


You want to be sober. Conferences aren't a party. Save the drinks for when the conference is over.


Aside from that, make sure you're hydrated! I know lots of us love drinking coffee, but if you aren't taking in enough water, you'll tire out faster. I keep a reusable tumbler with me, and I refill it at water fountains. 


I also pack nuts, Clif bars, fruits, and other portable, healthy snack foods to keep me going. Sometimes at a conference, you may go the whole day without getting the chance to sit down and have a meal.


Take hand sanitizer. You'll be shaking a lot of hands, and there could be germs and cooties everywhere. 


Also, be prepared to be physically and mentally/emotionally drained for a few days after the conference. Rest well after conferences. I was tired for a whole week after the last con I went to.



Do Your Research Before and After

When you go to a conference, you're likely to run into someone you admire, whether it be after a panel or serendipitously as you're walking around. When this happens, PLAY IT COOL.


Don't go saying, "omg i love all your work, ur amazeballs!" It's not flattering, especially because people have heard it on the other side a million times.


If you know a certain someone is going to be there, have a general idea of what you're going to say when you say hello at the end of the panel and they're hanging out. General statements leave general, forgettable impressions. 


That doesn't mean get all specific and ask, "hey, what was the deal with that one thing you said on page 79 on your fourth book from fifteen years ago?"


No. Connect emotionally. These people are just as human as you.


"Hi there, I'm __ and I really appreciate your work. It really inspired me to be a writer, and your [insert novel here] really helped me through some tough times last year. Thank you."


^^^Watch how their face will glow just as bright as yours when you say something as chill and as real as that.


That's great! But it's also not an opening to invite them to your podcast. Slow down. Say hello, say what you do, consider how you can help them (you don't have to say that out loud), and if they are open for it, exchange biz cards. 


Then, go home, research more, and follow up with that person. Chances are, they will respond, even if it's just a thank you. After that, keep in touch with them on social media. Networking is a ongoing conversation, and you have to be great at listening and playing it cool. 


It's also kind of like dating. You don't want to lay it all out on the other person right away, otherwise, you'll scare them away.


To Business Card or Not to Business Card

This point can go both ways. It doesn't hurt to have business cards. But you can still make your way around without them.


Katie McCoach talked about how conferences, especially the workshops at them, can be opportunities that you may not see coming. 


I'd recommend having business cards. But having them and shoveling them to everyone doesn't mean you're being effective. The most important term in Katie's tweet is "follow up." 


You have to follow up. Don't expect the other person to contact you first. Strike first, and strike when the iron is hot. 


Don't have a card? Get theirs. And email or DM them later.


Also, my business cards function as bookmarks. So if you feel disenchanted by the idea of business cards, try to do something unique that's also conventional.


Still, though. Follow up


In Conclusion

Cons are great. Try to attend as many as you can afford to (fiscally, physically, and mentally). Go to cons that may be outside of your genre. Visit ones that might be outside of your professional medium. Expand your horizons. Be prepared to say hello, a lot. Temper your enthusiasm. Do your homework.


Most importantly, have fun!

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Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor, published author. To inquire about his editing services, visit the services page. To read his work, check out The Recital and Project Anjou If you're just hanging out, subscribe to his newsletter below, where you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.

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