Conference 101

I have the great good fortune to be working on the committee for two different conferences right now. The StageSource Theater Conference will take place on June 7 at the Boston Opera House. It is geared towards theater administrators, artists, and theater lovers. It is a full day of workshops, panels, and networking opportunities.

I am also co-chair of the New England Crime Bake (November 6-8). Crime Bake runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, and the programming committee is working overtime to provide a full day of panels, some workshops, and networking time.

I am 0attending Malice Domestic next week. Whereas the StageSource Theater Conference and New England Crime Bake are smaller conferences (250-300 people), Malice is huge–over 500 people. The focus is also different for Malice, since it is mainly for fans, though there are a lot of authors there. Malice Domestic is very specifically focused–for the lovers and authors of cozy and traditional mysteries. I am thrilled that I will be moderating a panel on Saturday afternoon at Malice Domestic–a great way to be introduced to future readers of Just Killing Time, my debut cozy mystery.

Since I am in conference mode these days, wearing multiple hats, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a successful conference. Here’s my top five must-haves:

Programming. As you go to more and more conferences, you spend less time in the workshops and more time talking to people. That said, I need to learn something at a conference, so programming matters. It also says a lot about he conference planners, and their priorities.

Location. There are two ways location can work. First, it can be a destination that makes the conference itself more attractive. A conference in a place I’ve never visited, for example, can be really enticing as long as I can get there with my budget. Second, the conference site can be easy or inexpensive to access. The New England Crime Bake, for example, had been in Dedham for a few years. Not very sexy, but easy to get to, inexpensive, and with good amentities.

Food. Food isn’t just about the meals themselves, though that is important. Food is also about coffee access, snacks, breakfast options. At the last StageSource conference we had a “make your own trail mix” bar for the afternoon break. Bowls of pretzels, nuts, M&Ms, dried fruit, and other items like that. Everyone got a bag, and made their own trail mix. For some, it was the hit of the conference.

For writer’s conferences, make sure there is a well staffed bar close by.

Amenities. Is there free Wi-Fi? (This used to be an option, but now is critical for social media interactions.) How is the room temperature? (I bring layers of clothes these days.) Can people go outside? Is there a gym for overnight conferences. (I always ask, I never go.) How is the sound? Is there water available? How comfortable are the chairs? Can people get around easily?

Talking Time. Otherwise known as networking. Sometimes, often, the best part of conferences are the conversations outside the meeting room. Is there enough time built in for people to talk to each other? To socialize? When you start going to conferences a lot, you get to know people in the circles. Chances are you want to catch up with them, and you may not want to miss a session in order to make that happen.

What would you add to this list? What makes you leave a conference, and say “that was terrific”?

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Julie Hennrikus is an arts manager. J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series, which debuts in October.

2 thoughts on “Conference 101

  1. “As you go to more and more conferences, you spend less time in the workshops and more time talking to people.” I find this to be very true, as it should be. Networking is an important benefit of conferences. As I said on my blog yesterday, You never know when someone that you met at a conference several years ago might help you make a connection or get the break that you are looking for.

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