Conferences 101

I am conferencing a lot these days. On a panel at Maine Crime Wave last weekend, heading out to a conference this week, had a meeting about the New England Crime Bake Tuesday night, and heading down to Malice Domestic next week. I also heard about an RWA Book-in-a-Day conference May 10. And Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace is next week as well. T’is the season.

There are many reasons to go to a conference. To learn new skills, to be a fan, to build your community, to raise your profile within a group. They can be fun, exhausting, rejuvenating, or all of the above. But there are a few ways to get the most out of your conference experience.

  • Plan your own schedule. Who is on what panel when? When can you meet someone for coffee? When can you grab a meal, or cup of coffee? Look at the printed conference schedule, and then figure out your own.
  • Have your own collateral. That may be as simple as a business card or bookmark, or as complicated as a media kit, or arc of your book. Always have your contact collateral with you. Conferences are a great networking opportunity–be prepared.
  • Know your pitch. Who are you, what do you write, etc. Be able to pitch yourself or your work on a dime. You never know who you will meet when.
  • Be prepared. Bring a scarf or sweater, and dress in layers. Bring water with you. Don’t toss the apple that came with your lunch, save it for the afternoon. Bring aspirin, coughdrops, tissues. Consider bringing your phone charger. Does it sound like you’re going camping? Well, you are. In the same building, maybe even the same space, for a long time. Trust me, creature comforts matter.
  • Practice smiling. And small talk. You need to be “on” to get the most out of a conference. And sometimes the conversations during breaks are the most useful.

What other tips would you add? Planning on going to any conferences? Let us know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Conferences 101

  1. Good tips! I would only emphasize that your pitch (of yourself or your work) be limited to one sentence. The “logline”. I used to try to quote a paragraph (like the back of a book) and I think it was too much. One sentence, and they can ask for the paragraph if they like the sentence.

  2. I’d include (having attended a couple of conferences on technical communication) making an inventory of your softer skills. Prepare yourself to be proactive about making connections, if that is one of your goals. Opportunities abound to meet and greet, and keeping that in mind can make that aspect of attending busy and tightly scheduled conferences much less intimidating.

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