Wicked Wednesday-Getting the Most Out of a Conference

Jessie: In New Hampshire where the birds are singing up a storm

Some of the highlights for the Wickeds each year are the conferences we all attend.WickedsBanquet We’ve mentioned some of our favorites here on the blog like Crime Bake and Malice Domestic with a great deal of affection. But even the best conferences are most enjoyable if you employ some conference-going skills. Today I’d love to hear about your tips and strategies for getting the most out of the conferences you attend!

After a fun banquet and a long day Barb goes to bed.
Barb Goffman-on-a-stick knows when to take a break.

Edith: One strategy is to give yourself permission to skip a session or two. When I get maxed out on crowds and delightful panelists, I let myself head to my bed for twenty-minutes of quiet. Maybe I’ll check email, maybe just close my eyes. Either way, being out of the busyness is very restorative. Another thing I like to do at sessions is to sit by people I don’t know. I greet whomever I land next to, ask if they are a reader or a writer, and get to know them a little. Sure, I hand over a bookmark and maybe make a new fan, but it’s also fun to branch out and meet new friends.pashmina

Jessie: Take a wrap or shawl in your bag. The temperature from session to session or room to room fluctuates wildly and it is no fun to have all of your attention focused on keeping your teeth from chattering.

Sherry: If you can afford to stay at the conference hotel. I think just as much happens in the unscheduled hours of a conference as they do during the scheduled events. Smile and talk to lots of people — that’s why you are there right?

Edith and "big dog" Sue Grafton - who was happy to post for a picture!
Edith and “big dog” Sue Grafton – who was happy to post for a picture!

Barb: I usually find it hard to talk to strangers, but the beauty of a conference like Malice or Crime Bake is, you already know you have something in common and a ready topic–crime fiction! Always introduce yourself, especially at meals and to seatmates at sessions. It’s easier than you think. Even the “big dogs” are accessible at these types of events. Tell someone how much their books have meant to you. I guarantee, they’ll enjoy hearing it.

IMG_2566Liz: Agree with all of these and would say definitely mingle! Take advantage of cocktail hours and times when people are gathering in a common space and go meet some new friends. The social/networking aspect is just as important as learning from the sessions.

JulieJulie: Such great tips from my friends. I agree with them all, and will add a couple of more. First, provisions. I have a conference bag that I bring. I include a couple of copies of my book, bookmarks, business cards, Tums, cold medicine, ibuprofen, mints, and tissues. I bring a water bottle with me. I find out where the closest Starbucks is. Second, smile. Always smile.

Readers, do you attend conferences in your own areas of interest? Do you have a favorite tip to share?

29 Thoughts

  1. Although this isn’t my first conference, it is my first Malice and I’m excited and a little nervous. All of this talk about dressy dresses – do I even know what that means. let alone own one? Do I need one? Jesse’s advice about a shawl is right on. Air conditioning can be wonderful, except when it’s frigid. Julie’s bag sounds like it’s filled with the right stuff. See you all – next week? Yikes, I better get packing.

    1. You always look fabulous, Michele. And the dressy stuff is mostly for nominees, I think. I personally will likely be underdressed for the banquet despite being in that category! Can’t wait to see you in Bethesda.

    2. The thing about packing for Malice for me is that it’s not really summer clothes weather, but it’s not winter clothes weather, either. Always leaves me in a dither.

    3. Michele, when I think of a dressy dress I think sequins and a certain degree of discomfort. At Malice there seems to be a wide range of formality in what people wear. I think you will feel appropriate in something you would wear to a nice restaurant for a special occasion and that you really love and believe is flattering.

  2. Take some time to step outside the hotel to get fresh air and sun. I also second Edith’s tip on taking an “introvert” break.

  3. These tips are all great and spot on. I am a big proponent of not attending a panel every hour. it can get exhausting and you won’t get the most out of them at that point anyway. Pick some that you can’t miss, and then leave a few sessions to mingle in the bookroom, rest, grab something in hospitality, or meet a friend of coffee. I know that feeling is that you might be missing something, but trust me, some of the best con moments happen outside the panel rooms. And as a reader, I have discovered far more authors off-panel than I will ever discover on panels – so don’t discount those stranger interactions.

  4. All excellent points. The first big conference I ever attended (RWA in Reno, in 2005), my roommate gave me this advice: build in some downtime for yourself. Take a nap if you need one. (All this echoes what Edith said.) You’re there to talk to people, catch up with old friends and make lots of new ones, but you can’t do that if you’re exhausted.

    I’m so looking forward to seeing everyone next week! And for once I’m not trying to build in six other stops along the way, so I can focus only on Malice.

  5. Great tips from everyone! I make sure to take a walk outside. It’s important to me to get some fresh air and stretch my legs. Lately I’ve been staying at a different hotel and it’s nice to see the area and also gives me time to sort my thoughts before submerging myself in conference life.

    1. That’s so important, Mary. How can you have fun when your feet hurt? I also bring a body length heating pad and give myself 20 minutes on it every afternoon. Helps so much to help me handle uncomfortable conference room chairs.

  6. These are all great tips. I wholeheartedly recommend getting outside for a while. I’ve been to conferences where suddenly it’s Sunday and I realize I haven’t had a bit of fresh air all weekend! I don’t make that mistake anymore. And all those people make for a LOT of swirling energy. Extroverts will find that energy invigorating. Introverts will find it exhausting. Whichever you are, take some time to get away from it once or twice a day into some quiet (or at least a change of surroundings) to balance yourself. Also, as Julie mentioned, do carry some kind of OTC painkillers. All that swirling energy I spoke of, combined with the hotel/conference center air, give a lot of people headaches. And make sure you drink a lot of water.

    Another tip is to dress comfortably but professionally. But don’t go full-on business suit with pencil skirt, pearls, and pumps, either. Overdressing is almost (not quite) as bad as underdressing. I’ve never seen this at a mystery conference, but at another writers’ conference I attended a woman pitched agents and editors (there were multiple opportunities) displaying voluminous cleavage and without wearing a bra. And she needed one, LOL! Remember that old saying about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have? Well, that doesn’t actually apply to the writing business! Working from home and writing in your yoga pants and hoodie is perfectly acceptable. Wearing those clothes to a conference is not. At least, not if you want to be taken seriously. Pants, casual dresses or skirts for ladies, these all look nice. Not-worn-out jeans are fine but should be paired with a nicer jacket and maybe a piece of statement jewelry or a colorful scarf. You don’t want to look like you just came in from mucking out the horse stall.

    Like some of the others mentioned, do try to meet new people and not just hang out with your friends. For some people this will be their first conference and it can be overwhelming. You don’t have to be their BFF, but say a kind word and make people feel valued. You’re an ambassador of the writing profession, and it’s always a good idea to spread positivity and inclusiveness where you can.

    Last tip: Don’t get drunk. It’s easy enough to do, especially when people tend to congregate in the bar. I’ve seen people get drunk in front of agents and editors. Very unclassy. The writing community is really pretty small and agents and editors talk among themselves.

    Bottom line: Have fun, but keep it classy.

    I will be missing everyone at Malice this year! I’m already sad just writing that. 🙁 But you all go and have a good time *sniff* without me. The real me, anyway.

  7. I have never stayed at the conference hotel, and Malice won’t be my first. But I will be in the area, so I can hang out at the conference hotel as much as I want.

    I always have problems when people are just hanging out in the bar because I’m not a drinker. I always feel awkward in the bar unless I go in with someone I know. I need to work on that, I guess.

    Starting a conversation with an author with “I just love your books” is always a wonderful ice breaker. Always.

    At Bouchercon in 2014, one of my favorite memories was meeting up with Karen MacInerney. We met mid-morning, she signed my books, and we just chatted. And then Donna Andrews joined us for a while. We had schedule the meeting at a time when there wasn’t a panel I was interested in, but we talked through a panel I was thinking of going to. I don’t regret missing that panel at all.

    1. Mark, I’m sure you know that a glass of seltzer water with a lime looks a heck of a lot like a gin and tonic! Look forward to meeting you next week.

  8. Volunteer! The best conferences cannot run without people willing to be timekeepers, room managers, bag stuffers, etc. You will endear yourself forever to the conference team, meet people you might not have otherwise, and learn a lot! And I second Mary on the comfortable shoes. I’ll be taking your photo at Malice. Smile!

    1. Great advoce, Mo! Volunteering is a great way to feel at home in a new place and to really get to know some people at the conference! See you soon!

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