After going to conferences for the last few years, I thought I would share a few tips I’ve gathered through the years.
Before Conference Prep Tips:
- Most conferences will give you information on speakers at the conference – do a little research before the conference. I found this was really helpful the first year I went to a conference because it made these important people real. It made it easier for me to talk to all of them without as many nerves.
- Look over the brochure or schedule – make a plan of action but be open to change. If you know what is going to be happening you can avoid the panic when staring at the schedule right before workshops start.
- Confirm your reservations have easily accessible copies – anything that you may need to reference: conference registration, hotel reservation and flight/travel information. That way if you need it you’ll be able to have it. I save them to my phone and keep paper copies as well.
- Get simple business cards – you can get several for reasonable prices at places like vistaprint.com or www.moo.com. There are different people out there that say you should put a variety of different things on your cards. I can tell you what I have on mine: name, contact information and social media platforms.
- Learn the conference hashtags and follow/like the Facebook page – this will help you connect with other conference goers before the fact and meet up when there.
During Conference Tips:
- Wear your badge – every conference I have gone to, whether it be for writing or otherwise, has had some kind of badge or nametag system in place. Make sure yours is visible to make it easier for people to remember your name. Everyone is meeting hundreds of people and that can make it hard to remember names, even if you remember the faces.
- Spread those social butterfly wings – I don’t know about you but I do know that I am a very introverted and shy person and it was very difficult to put myself out there with a bunch of strangers. But you do want to try and make the experience fun. The likelihood is that everyone else is nervous and introverted, so putting yourself out there will work out well for everyone.
- Try to go to as many workshops as you can – but don’t exhaust yourself! If you find that you are wilting around the edges, take an hour or two to go and get a nap in. Don’t push yourself too far and miss out on more when you really crash. There will be someone you can befriend that will be going to ones you miss that can pass on notes. Or most have audio recordings that you can order as well.
- Bring snacks – trail mix is my personal favorite because it is a mix of salty and sweet and you can get that little boost of protein as well from nuts. I make my own mix that way it has things I enjoy in it. If you pay attention to what is in it, it’s a healthy alternative to chips and candy.
- Wear layers – hotels and convention centers are notorious for having varying temperatures. Layering up will open up the opportunities of being comfortable.
- Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll most likely be walking a lot and having shoes you can put some distance into is a good plan.
- Dress nicely – business casual is best. Remember that these are people that work in your industry and you don’t want to roll out of bed in your pjs and a rats nest of hair. Be presentable.
- Use social media – live tweeting one-liners from your workshops or making plans for end of the day meet ups happen here. Use those hashtags you learned earlier and the Facebook page to see if there are different things not necessarily put on by the conference that other attendees are putting together. Some of those events are the talk of the conference the next day and make you friends for life. Put yourself out there!
- Take notes – whether it is handwritten with a pen to paper or you use your laptop, you are going to be getting hit with a bunch of information, taking notes can help you retain that information. That way after the buzz of the conference wears off you don’t just forget everything that you learned!
- Remember to bring and use your chargers – whether its just your phone or you have brought your laptop, don’t forget those important chargers so you don’t have your devices past day one.
- Sit at a different table at every meal – I don’t know about you but when I make connections with people I have a habit of flocking to them because of the familiar. Don’t be afraid to sit somewhere new each meal and make more of those friends. You can make plans to connect with them other places and at other times as well.
- Have a sturdy back up bag – most conferences give you bags now-a-days that you can use, but it’ll be the same as everyone else’s bag. Sometimes having your own tote will help you because if you leave it somewhere it’ll be easier to recognize and can be brought back to you.
- Have a reusable water bottle or coffee mug – you want to keep hydrated and caffeinated. Having something to bring along with you is helpful.
- Use those business cards you made – this is a good way to remember to follow up with the new friends you make.
- Know how to talk about your writing – be it a nailed pitch or just being able to describe your book. Knowing how to talk about your book is going to make attending a writing conference a better experience since that’s what you’re there for.
After the conference tips:
- Follow ups – if you made arrangements to follow up with at the conference, don’t flake on them. Whether they are friendships you made or you got an offer from someone to send in your project, make sure you follow up in a timely manner.
- Organize the items you received and brought back – whether they’re notes or business cards, books or other documents. Get them stored away and easily accessible when you are going to start digging in to them.
- Make sure you bring cash as well as cards – and budget if possible so you don’t just jump into spending all the monies even though it’s tempting. Having a mix of payment options will make it easier to put cash toward that one presenters limited copies of books or buying a quick drink from a vending machine.
A handful of things to DON’T do at a conference:
- Don’t lug around your manuscript – even if you get an offer to read your project most of those offers are going to be for you to follow up and send it after the conference. Especially if they aren’t people local to the area, they aren’t going to want to travel around with all that extra bulk.
- Don’t stalk people before, during or after the conference – yes, it’s cool to do a little research, but don’t leave that scary impression.
- Don’t forget to take time for yourself – this ties to that making a plan thing above. Make sure you give yourself some you time and decompress.
- Don’t forget to check in with those back at home – if you have spouses or children at home, sometimes we (now let’s not be kidding I) have a bit of guilt leaving them behind. I try to make a habit of calling at last once a day, and texting throughout. Just enough that I am keeping that connection going without guilt but still able to enjoy the conference.
Hope some of these help!