I attended a conference in Vegas a few years ago, and I was appalled at how people were dressed. T-shirts, shorts, flip flops. The chick at the greeting table wore a blouse cut down to her navel. I didn’t need my imagination.
Fifty percent of the people I met didn’t have a card.
Most of the people I met were dressed like beach bums.
Unfortunately, about 50% of the people I met and mingled with were drunk most of the time (okay, it was Vegas, but still!).
A bad impression? You bet!
Where to start?
If a huge conference in Vegas or NYC scares the heck out of you, look for a smaller, local conference. Better to flex your conference muscles when you’re not too overwhelmed.
What do you wear?
I wear a blazer and nice blouses over new jeans. Wear comfortable shoes – my comfortable shoes are dress Oxfords.
What do you have?
Have cards or bookmarks to hand out. If you don’t have a publication, you can still print your name, blog address, Twitter handle, etc., on a card. Collect cards from everybody and follow up with these people when you get home with a simple note.
After you collect a card or bookmark, remember a few specifics about that person (editorial chat, historic book chat, where you met, we laughed over the buffet). Jot these notes on the back of their card.
Also helpful, a one-sheet. Suzanne Hartmann has a great article (with her own example) on her blog. Click here for Suzanne’s example of a one-sheet.
Who do you talk to?
Try to talk to as many people as possible. Even if the first few people you meet are crazy-fun, hop around. Participate in as many activities as you can.
I suggest a carry-all for what you collect along the way – books, bookmarks, brochures. Consider a satchel with a shoulder strap in case you need two hands (one for coffee, one for shaking hands).
Since electronic devices are not 100% dependable, carry a small pad and a few pens.
Carry water and a few small snack bars. It may be hours before you get a decent meal.
How should you behave?
Show up on time for sessions. Turn off your cell phone. Pay attention and participate in discussions.
What do you talk about?
Don’t talk only about yourself, your blog, your book, your this and that, but do have a sentence memorized about your book or project, in case you are asked. Don’t be pitching all the time – ask others what they are working on.
Know the presenters
Before the conference, Google the scheduled presenters and write a few small facts about them on note cards. I did this for the Vegas conference and consulted these cards before each session – it was helpful in a few cases when I got to talk one-on-one with a presenter.
With most conferences, alcohol gets introduced into the equation. My advice – don’t drink too much. One glass of something then switch to bottled water. You don’t want to leave a bad impression because you made a fool of yourself.
Find the right genre
It would be silly if you wrote only horror and went to a women’s lit writing conference or if you wrote only poetry and attended a mystery writers’ conference. Check out these conference lists and you are bound to find the right conference, in a good area (close to home), and for the right price.
Poets & Writers, conferences and residencies
NewPages.com, writing conferences
Association of Writers and Writing Programs, programs and conferences
Opening photo from Stacy Stenberg Jensen. Stacy is a writer and blogger in Colorado. Her new website goes live in September.
Lara Schiffbauer is a writer and blogger. Her first book, Finding Meara, is available on Amazon.
Have you attended any writers’ conferences? What advice would you add?