How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

Hello,loves. Suze here.

With CTRWA’s Fiction Fest, an annual writer’s conference held in Connecticut (this year beautiful Mystic, home of a first-rate aquarium and a seaport village museum) fast approaching, I thought it might be useful to list a few do’s and don’ts for getting the most out of a conference. By the way, there’s still time to register for Fiction Fest if you haven’t done so yet. Click here for more information.

1. DO dress appropriately. You don’t need to be attired in full business suit, spectator pumps and a strand of pearls, carrying a leather briefcase. But don’t show up in Daisy Dukes and a cowboy hat, or yoga pants (sorry!) either. Remember you will be meeting and mingling with industry professionals–other writers, potential readers, and those who have the power to sell or buy your book (agents and editors). These are people who are, or who will be, your peers or your fans. Do you want to look like a slob, a working girl, or a writing professional?

Wear something casual, but moderately stylish. A dress or skirt and cute top are always appropriate. Jeans, as long as they’re in good shape (not faded, ripped or frayed) are okay, but I would definitely pair them with nice shoes, a well-fitted colorful jacket (not denim, unless you’re actually a cowgirl), a new-looking tee shirt, and a statement piece of jewelry. A big colorful necklace or chunky bracelet not only looks great, but can serve as a conversation starter. When in doubt, watch a few episodes of What Not To Wear on TLC. Stacy and Clinton are usually right on the money about what looks appropriate and stylish and they address all body types.

That being said, there are a very, very few people–and you know who you are–who can get away with outrageous outfits like corsets and feathers. Chances are extremely good you are not one of them.

2. Related to #1 above, DO wear a bra. This should go without saying, but Bouncing Betty has been spotted at conferences. Ask Sugar Jamison.

3. Also related to #1 above, DO wash and comb your hair and wear a little makeup. You don’t need a full Clinique makeover with products expensive enough to pay your mortgage, but you’ll look and feel more professional with at least some mascara and a lightly tinted lip gloss (my favorite is Burt’s Bees in Watermelon).

4. DO bring some business cards. You can get them quickly, free or extremely inexpensively, from Vistaprint. Even if you’re just getting started as a writer, a business card with your name and email address (social media information if you have it) is essential. You’re not being presumptuous by having cards. You’re going to be meeting lots of people, some of whom you are going to want to stay in contact with–and who will want to stay in contact with you. A preprinted business card is a necessity, in my book.

5. DO bring some extra cash for the raffle. There are always tons of great prizes, and it’s a money-maker for the organization hosting the event.

6. DON’T hang out with your friends all day. Sit–and talk with–with new people at the luncheon and the workshops. I would argue that the most important part of conferences is the networking. Sure, the workshops are great, and the chance to hear a good speaker is valuable and inspiring, but you need to be making industry connections. The more people you know, the more opportunities you have. That’s just business. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Trust me on this. I am a former wallflower who now feels comfortable talking to just about anybody. If you’re at a loss for words, here are some conversation starters:

  • Hi, I’m Glenda. I came here from Vermont. Where are you from?
  • That’s a gorgeous necklace. Are you enjoying the conference?
  • You were in the BDSM workshop, weren’t you? What do you write?
  • Oh My. Wasn’t that Katy Lee who just walked by? I love her books.

See, it’s not that hard. You automatically have something in common with everyone at the conference–you love to read, and you write (or want to write). I don’t know any writer who doesn’t like to talk about writing. So don’t be shy.

7. DON’T get drunk during the cocktail hour. ‘Nuff said.

8. DON’T stalk people. If you happen to meet up with an agent, editor, or author in the ladies’ room, just say hi and maybe that you are enjoying the conference. (If it’s an author, you can tell her that you loved her last book) Don’t try to pitch your book while the stalkee is attempting to apply lipstick, blow her nose, or dry her hands at the turbospeed machine. If you are asked, that’s great. Go for it. But there’s a time and place for everything. Talking to someone in the next bathroom stall while you are each trying to do your business is not, um, good business. Again, be professional.

OK, how about you? What are your tips for getting the most out of a conference? What was the best conference you ever attended?

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2 thoughts on “How to Get the Most Out of a Conference”

  1. Networking had always been the best at conferences. Everyone enjoys talking about themselves, so if you ask some nifty questions, then listen, you’ll be in the pink. And just think about what you might find out!

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