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Making the Most of a Writing Conference

Leave Your Introverted Self at Home! © Sylvia Freeman
Leave your introverted self at home!      ©Sylvia Freeman


The North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Spring Conference is right around the corner. So how to make the most of a day spent on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro?

Sandra Beckwith, a “recovering publicist with more than 25 years of award-winning publicity experience,” runs the website Build Book Buzz. She recently listed eight tips for getting the most out of any writing conference:

1. Make sure you’re selecting a conference that’s a good fit for you.
This is step one, of course, but it’s a very important step one. I don’t write fiction, so it doesn’t make sense for me to register for a conference with an agenda dominated by fiction topics, as so many are. I attend fiction-focused conferences as a speaker and work to get the most out of them by attending as many sessions as I can, but I wouldn’t pay to attend a fiction-based conference. Don’t register for a conference that requires long-distance travel and related expenses until the sessions and speakers are posted. You don’t want to arrive, look over the agenda, and think, “There’s nothing here I need to learn.”

2. Plug in to any and all pre-conference networking.
This will help you begin to develop online connections and relationships that you can solidify on-site and in-person. This is important if you’re going to the conference solo instead of with a writer buddy because it will mean there will be friendly faces there waiting to greet you. Knowing who else plans to attend, whether it’s through the conference Facebook group, listserv, or registrant list provided in advance by organizers helps you decide who you might want to network with, also.

3. Create one or two goals about what you want to get from the conference.
I’ve thought a lot about the goals I need in place before I attend the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in late April. My first goal is to learn as much as I can from the educational sessions, but it won’t stop there. I also want to identify a few people who might be interested in joining a mastermind group I’d like to create. Finally, I want to get in-person time with the ASJA members I already know and love.

4. Don’t even begin to think that this is a pleasure trip.
I’ll be speaking at an author’s conference in Denver in early May. One of my sisters lives there and while I’ll absolutely make sure I have time to see her, I’m not going there so I can hang out with my sister. I’m not even going simply because I’ll be presenting. I also hope that I’ll learn from the other people who will be presenting there. That means that the learning comes first. The socializing and dining at interesting restaurants comes second. And I never do anything touristy unless I come in a day early or stay a day longer. Otherwise, I’ve spent a lot of money on having fun, which sounds like a vacation. If I wanted a vacation, it would be 100 percent vacation and probably wouldn’t happen at a conference center. You’ve worked hard to pay for this conference. Get your money’s worth by putting the conference and what you’ll get from it first.

5. Leave your introverted self at home.
This can be difficult for me. I’m an introvert who has learned to be an extrovert, so while I know how to step forward, introduce myself, and start a conversation, there are times during that lull between lunch and the next session when I’d like to just sink into a comfy chair with a latte and people watch. But then I’d be wasting my registration fee. (See point 4.)

Act on those connections you made! © Sylvia Freeman
Act on those connections you made! © Sylvia Freeman

6. Remember to bring a conference tool kit.
At a minimum, bring one or two notebooks, a couple of your favorite note-taking pens (I like a fine point Sharpie, myself), and business cards. If you plan to blog from the event, be sure to bring your laptop or tablet. I hope to videotape a few short interviews for my YouTube channel at the conferences I’ll be attending, so I’ll make sure I pack the hardware I need for that, too.

7. Review notes and handouts at the end of each day.
As you reviews those notes back in your room after dinner, highlight three key points from each of the sessions you attended, and label them according to importance – “1” being the most important, of course. Then, when you return to your notes to take action when you’re back home, you’ll have a solid starting point.

8. Act on what you’ve learned and connections you’ve made.
It’s not enough to learn or connect. You have to act on all of it. Send “nice to meet you, let’s stay in touch” e-mails to people you met. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Implement a few of the tips you picked up immediately. Schedule time to learn more about something that intrigued you at the conference. The worst thing you can do is to return to your computer and do nothing with the knowledge you acquired or the friends you made at the conference.

Registration for the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Spring Conference is now open.