Attending a Conference: Seven Things You Must Know

Posted on 05/24/2012


So you’re going to a conference, or just left one, and wonder how you can make the best of your time, or are wondering if you just got the most out of your time.

I have been involved with the DFW Writers’ Conference for over 3 years now and have some insight for you, not from an attendees standpoint (even though I have been that before too) but from the other side of the drapes.

So, without further intro, here you go:

1. Be Flexible!  So often I see attendees get all bent out of shape because the one class they wanted to attend was moved or the person giving the class changed it or had to cancel at the last-minute.  Understand, things change, and can up until the very last-nanosecond. Sure, plan out your schedule! But rank the classes you want to go to (see below on setting goals).  You may not be able to hit the one you want. Have a backup.

2. Bring Extra Cash.  Most conferences typically have books for sale, vendors and exhibitors with items for sale, cash bars in the evenings, etc. Always bring some discretionary scratch with you, because you never know, you may get to buy an agent a glass of wine at an evening social, or that one writing book you never knew about before the conference.

3. Do Your Research.  So many folks go to conferences without investigating the agents coming, without investigating the speakers, or the breakout sessions. And then they get there and are lost on many things. This leads to frustration and really chops down on your “fun” time at the conference.

4. Introduce Yourself. If you can, introduce yourself to the agent you’ll be pitching to, before you pitch them.  Yeah, I know, scary stuff, right? Wrong. Come on. Be yourself. Stop being so scared of the agents. They are people too. They’re just doing their job and making your wildest dreams come true.  So make a point of walking up to them, introducing yourself. Let me show you what I did this year (and have done in the past.)  

“Hi, Alec.” Extend the hand. “I’m Jason”
Alec takes the hand. Shakes it in firm grip. “Hey how are you?” he asks.
“Good. You having a good time at the conference so far?”  (small talk! Breaks the ice.)
“Yeah, so far it’s great! Having a blast.”
“Sweet, well I’ll be pitching to you tomorrow at 11:30 am and wanted to intro myself before then.”
“Awesome can’t wait.”
“Yeah me either! Heh. Well, I’ll let you mingle around some more, just wanted to say hi.”
“Thanks man, see you tomorrow.”

That takes around 90 seconds of conversation, you get in, you get out. Done. If something else comes up while you’re talking, by all means, let the conversation flow. Then, the next day or later that day when you pitch your agent, he will remember you introducing yourself and you won’t be like the last 4 people he’s talked to–nameless faces. You’ll be someone he knows. A familiar face. And everyone likes a familiar face.

5. Eat Light.  You shouldn’t get too full on anything while you are the conference. Snack when you do eat, but don’t fill up. It will make you miserable and it will also make the blood go to your belly instead of your brain! Oh and drink it up at night! Enjoy yourself. Just eat light all day.

6. Have Goals.  Before you go to the conference, make some goals. No, I don’ t mean, “I’m going to attend this class and that one, and this one.”  Goals like, “I want to learn about X while I am at the conference.” or “I want to improve THIS part of my writing, and learn how at the conference.”  If you do this before you go, it will help you prioritize your classes, and speakers you attend and will help break that tie of when you have two classes you want to go to, but they are at the same time.

7. Multiple Shoes.  Bring different shoes, because your feet are going to get tired, and a simple change from one pair to another will help you a lot.

8. A Good Attitude.  This may sound silly, but it’s damned important. I’ve met lots of grumpy bastards. There’s no reason to be a grump. Seriously. You can stand there and berate me all day long, but remember, we’re there to help you if you have a problem!  If your attitude is poor, you’re not going to have a good time. Period.  I’ve seen folks walking around with a cloud hanging over them, willing to complain to any who will listen. Then I’ve met others who may be having a less-than-perfect-day, but they’re not walking around like Eeyore.  You make up your mind on how happy you’re going to be. So before you even walk into the conference center, make sure you check your attitude at the door.  You’ll have a better time, and everyone else will too.

You got a nine or a ten? List it below!!