Headed to a big conference? Wondering how to make the most of it? You’ve already figured out it’s worth going, otherwise you’d be at home in your pajamas saving all that money you’re about to drop. Plan ahead to maximize your precious time.
- Have an overall goal in mind. This might change for every conference. It could be to find an agent or simply break out of your comfort zone. But make it a little more specific. What exactly are you looking for in an agent? Figure that out before you go so you know what to look for, and what to avoid. If you want to break out of your comfort zone, list out three things-like initiate a conversation with two strangers, attend that awards banquet by yourself, refuse to sit in your room doing email every night. Center all your time/schedule decisions around that goal.
- Get ready to smile and say hey. I hate the slimy connotations of the word networking, but conferences are really about the people. Otherwise you’d stay at home. Don’t just focus on what the workshop topics are, look at who’s teaching them. Read their bios. When else will you have the chance to meet these people, and see what they’re really like? You can take just about any class online these days, but meeting someone in person? That’s why you’re there.
- Have your “elevator pitch” ready! You’ll be using it throughout the conference, that is, if you’re taking the conference seriously and are out there meeting people. (Here’s a good primer to get yours shiny.)
- Pack with a theme in mind. Not as in 1800s or hippy, but something that is consistent. It not only helps make packing easier, but makes it much easier for people to find and remember you every day, as well as afterwards. “I’m the one in polka dots” or “I was the one with pink striped hair.” You won’t be in the same thing everyday but people will start to figure out who you are by how you dress.
- Get your class act together. Speaking of clothes…at writer’s conferences you don’t have to dress to impress, but c’mon, this isn’t your mom’s basement. Make an effort. Dress like you’re going out to eat, not like you just woke up. But skip the heels, ladies, that’s one fashion item that’s just silly at a conference.
- A simple trick: stick business cards (people still use them!) in your badge holder, so they’re handy. Make sure your website and whatever social media handles/hashtags you use are included–if not, write them in with pen.
- You never know who you’ll be sitting next to so be nice to everyone you meet. Author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi has some great conference tips including “make the first move” – suck it up and introduce yourself around! Remember the part abut people being the reason you’re there? [See more of Debbie’s advice, including charming comics about being an introvert at a conference, at her website here.] Since most of us will be attending the conference alone (even if we traveled with a friend), it can get nerve racking. Wracking even. Take some “survive attending a conference alone” tips from themuse.com here.
- Be open to learning. If you’ve attended a hundred conferences before and find yourself saying “I already know this” at every session/workshop, then you’re preventing yourself from learning anything new. I mean, if you already know everything, why are you there?
- Prepare ahead of time. Review the schedule. Know the keynotes. Plan your day. Choose your workshops so it’s not a last-minute choice made in haste. If you’re a true beginner and are looking for basic tips on writing your first children’s book so you don’t feel out of place at your first conference with all those other writers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards a video I made for the beginning picture book writer. It’s fun. Really. https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/179/
Now lotion up those hands (you don’t want to be remembered as the hand shaker with the rough skin) and get ready to smile. You’re going to have a great time!