It’s been a few weeks since the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. I wanted to get my thoughts out earlier, but then life happened.
I learned more than I can possibly brain-dump about the business of writing and publishing. I met authors, agents, editors and other industry professionals. I met hopefuls like myself. The food was fantastic. The company was better. The city was glorious… it was springtime in San Francisco, with cherry blossoms and abundant sunshine. I never even needed the heavy dress coat I bought specifically for that trip. I didn’t care. It really was perfect.
That said, I also learned – the hard way, in a couple instances – some conference wisdom that I will pass along to you. This applies for any technical conference you might attend. I admit, I’ve been to plenty of conferences for the IT industry… and yet, I have never had an experience quite like this. I’ll never look at conferences the same way again. And I’ll never stop attending. What I got from this conference was invaluable. I feel like I earned a Bachelor’s degree in a weekend. And still, there’s so much to learn!
Tip #1 – Travel Light
I don’t mean that you should only take a handful of clothes. On the contrary, my suitcase damned near cost me extra on Southwest Airlines. I had clothes, shoes and jewelry to spare. I dressed to kill every day. I’ve never worn makeup and styled my hair on so many successive days!
I bought a beautiful briefcase. It held my laptop, my business cards, copies of my first chapter, the book I was reading, pens, a notebook and still had room for my wallet and cell phone. I was so pleased to have everything so neat and tidy! I got a lot of compliments on it. As far as brief cases go, it really is spectacular.
It also weighs a metric ton. I walked up Nob Hill. Stop laughing. I then carried that lovely piece of Italian-leather bound lead from class to class, up and down stairs, to and from lunch and all over hell and creation.
By the end of the day, my arms ached and I hated that lovely briefcase. I was tempted to chuck it out the hotel window and watch in delight as it exploded on the alley pavement, five stories below.
The conference directors gave me a much better alternative: We received a sling-style book bag made from lightweight nylon mesh. The next day, I took my wallet, cell phone, a pen and my notepad. Everything else stayed put.
I didn’t need sample pages; the agents and editors didn’t want hard copies. I didn’t need my computer; there was never enough time to drag it out, and I didn’t have an Internet connection anyway. My business cards were difficult to reach inside my briefcase; I found a better solution (see below).
By the end of the day, my little mesh bag still weighed half a metric ton from handouts and advertisements. But it was still easier to carry. My arms, back and legs thanked me for keeping with the “travel light” strategy.
Tip #2 – Stay Close
Have you stopped laughing over the fact that I walked up Nob Hill? Go ahead and get your jabs in. I deserve it. That picture doesn’t do it justice. And that’s not the side I walked up. I walked up the longer side.
All obvious statements regarding my need to get more exercise aside… staying at the conference hotel has benefits that I did not enjoy this time around. My new friends told me of random encounters with authors, agents and editors in the hallways, lobby and business center of the conference hotel long after the classes were over. They met for coffee at the end of the day, and they stayed out for drinks after all the rest of us had caught our cabs back to our other hotels. One of my new friends told me all about her random discussion with an agent that led to an exchange of business cards and expressed interest in her work.
Next year, I’ll stay at the conference hotel. It’s worth the extra $30 per night. Not to mention, I killed that in cab fare anyway. Like I said, I walked up Nob Hill. Exactly once.
Tip #3 – Keep Your Business Cards Handy
Most conferences give you a name badge in a slip that looks much like the one to the right. It took me two days of awkward searching to produce business cards before I realized that this badge slip is an amazingly convenient location to store them. I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t even come up with the idea on my own. I followed someone’s lead.
With your cards in your badge slip (behind your badge), you can produce them quickly, mid-sentence. With a flick of the wrist, you are nonchalantly delivering a card into the hands of a new acquaintance, potential client or industry icon.
Let’s face it, that “fumbling through your stuff” act kind of makes you look like a noob. Half the point of attending a conference is networking. Make it easy on yourself, and keep those cards handy!
Tip #4 – Talk to Everyone
When you walk in to lunch, and there are big, round tables with a handful of people at each, pick one and just sit. Don’t sit at the table with no one there. And don’t try to sit with the same people every time there’s a large gathering.
Now that you’re seated next to new people, introduce yourself. Ask them about their work. Find out where they fit in your professional world. Respond in kind. Be friendly and open. Exchange cards.
I met so many amazing people at the conference. I have to talk myself into being extroverted, but I can pull it off. I thank my speech and debate coach from high school for that skill. You are at a conference for a handful of days. Make the most of it.Work those connections!
At this particular conference, we had an extra “Agent Speed Dating” event that most everyone had registered for. The event was on Saturday morning. When the time came, I was amazed at the level of support I was getting from my new friends. Because I put my self out there and talked to everyone, I’d found people with whom I connected. And we were each other’s biggest cheerleaders going into the agent meetings!
Seriously. Talk to everyone.
Tip #5 – Breath Mints
Use them. See tip 4. 😉
Tip #6 – Take Time Out
I went through the conference brochure ahead of time and highlighted all of the classes I wanted to attend. Most of them were “business of writing” types of lectures: Marketing, publishing, agenting, networking, etc.
Toward the end of Friday, my brain was mush. I decided to forgo yet-another-business-class and attended a romance genre author panel instead. It was light, fun and yet still very informative. I didn’t feel the need to take copious amounts of notes, yet I still remember the tidbits of wisdom that the authors shared. There were lots of laughs, and I left feeling recharged.
Similarly, on Saturday morning, I neglected the panels altogether prior to my agent speed dating. I’m so glad I did, too! I practiced my pitch with new friends, chatted about nothing important with others, and just hung out and drank coffee the rest of the time. It was nice to give my brain a break for a couple hours!
Make Your Conference Experience Matter
Like I said in in the intro, I’ve been to plenty of conferences. I’ve usually kept to myself, with my head down, talking to only those I knew, or to a select few. I realize now just how little I gained from those experiences, because I’d always placed the value solely in the conference content. But there is so much more to a conference than just the panels.
Approach your conference with the idea that you can learn and share with every other person there. Know that each and every attendee shares similar thoughts, ideas and goals as you. Realize that these are your peers and your friends. From the conference organizer to the panel leaders, to the person in the chair next to you, each person there wants what you want: A kick-ass conference experience full of energizing education.
Get out there and make that conference yours. Talk to everyone. Take notes. Laugh, learn and most importantly, enjoy.