It’s that odd day, the 29th of February. Happy birthday to those of you who only have birthdays every four years.
This is an excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money
After registering and meeting at least one new person, go to your room and unpack. Check your plan against the final conference schedule, as sometimes workshops and presenters change at the last minute. Dump all the extra stuff they give you in the conference packet/bag and repack your bag for the conference with the material you’ll need. Don’t haul around forty pounds worth of stuff. You’ll have a lot of papers that you can deposit in the room.
Then leave your room.
Every day when you leave your room in the morning, you don’t go back to it until you are done for the day (with one exception, covered shortly). Way too often attendees hide in their room. You’re not going to learn anything in your room and you’re not going to network in your room. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, but get out there.
Even if you’ve registered and there are no workshops for a while, go to the lobby and wander about. Check where all the rooms for the workshops you will attend are located. This is essentially doing a reconnaissance of the venue. Sometimes certain rooms are difficult to find and you don’t want to be scrambling trying to find that one key workshop with just two minutes to get there.
Once you have the site down, hang around near the registration desk. Talk to people. Get a cup of coffee in the lobby.
The more people you meet right away, the more people you’ll know on the second day. Some people take two or three days to feel comfortable enough to chat with others, but by then the conference is winding down.
We recommend spending the first few hours of the conference after registration as the time to set up meetings with your social media friends or other writers you have meet on-line, but have not met in person. We’ve been at conference where twitter buds all wear a purple ribbon on the name tag so they know they are a twitter bud. As more of you gather, there is less of a chance you will ever be by yourself at the conference.
Every conference is run differently and offer different types of classes, workshops, etc. Jennifer will be teaching a 3-day track at the Philly Writers conference on Romance Writing. The participants sign up for the tracks they want to take and the presenters are told ahead of time how many will be attending.
Bob often teaches pre and post conference workshops along with doing keynote presentations and workshops. Each type is a little different and depending on size will depend on the actual interaction during these workshops.
Presentations and Keynotes
Keynote presentations are generally inspirational speeches given after meals. Presentations are large lectures (often given by the big names or as a pre or post workshops) where the presenter(s) give information and there is little interaction. It depends on the conference size and the group size in the room.
Often times it is difficult to decipher the difference between a presentation and a workshop. The key is really size. Most conferences know which topics and which speakers are going to draw the most attendance, so they plan accordingly. When Jennifer taught at the Dallas Fort-Worth Conference this past February, her class on Synopsis writing was in a double room and turned out to be standing room only. It was more of a presentation than an actual workshop. Her class on Upping the Stakes was in a smaller more intimate room and she was able to interact with the class and get them to talk about their current work-in-progress.
Panels are a group of people who sit at a long table, usually with a moderator. Usually, attendees are told to ask questions and each member of the panel answers the same question.
We’re not big fans of panels either as presenters or attendees. Figure out how many are on the panel, how much time is allocated and you’ll often see that each presenter will get X minutes of time. Often, panels are pretty generic. Once you’ve attended your first editor/agent panel, the second one won’t be much different.
If it’s a workshop you’re on the fence about, and there’s another that is your second choice, sit in the back near the door so you can make an exit as easily as possible if it turns out the workshop is a dud. Otherwise, sit near the front. When it comes to the larger conferences, most presenters understand people will wander out and wander in, partly due to editor and agent appointments and partly because it didn’t meet the needs of the attendee. As presenters, we understand this and generally don’t take offense, as long as when you leave or enter, you are respectful.
Size of Workshop
If you walk into a workshop/presentation/panel and there are few attendees don’t assume it’s because it won’t be a good workshop. You picked it based on your goals. The presenter(s) have something that you want or are discussing a topic you feel is important. Often times, the presenter is against a ‘big name’ to whom every other writer has flocked. Often small groups can be tailored more to meet specific participants needs.
If the presenter is using Powerpoint, make sure you are in position to see the screen.
If there are handouts, make sure you get one. Often, they run out of handouts, which is another reason to arrive early. If there are not enough, ask the presenter if they can email you them later. Often times, they are more than happy to, but it usually entails you emailing them as a reminder.
Interaction with Presenters
We recommend against trying to chat up presenters before their workshop. Often the previous presenter is besieged by people and trying to pack up and the new presenter is trying to set up. You could ask if they need help, which is a way to break the ice, but remember they are mentally preparing themselves for the presentation they are about to give you.
Recording the Workshop
Some people try to record the workshop. Many conferences have a policy against this. Many authors have a policy against this and it is important to find out ahead of time.
Some conferences actually do their own recording and sell the CDs/Downloads. If that’s the case, you definitely cannot record. If it’s not the case, at the very least, you should ask the presenter and respect their wishes. What they’re giving you is their intellectual property for free if you do so. If they do say yes, remember you can only use the recording for personal use, not post it or upload it.
Do take notes, but don’t take notes on everything you hear. Often we see people who are so busy taking notes they’re not listening. Only make notes on things that strike you, either good or bad. LISTEN. Absorb. You don’t need a notepad full of rapidly scribbled notes that will make little sense to you later on.
Often it’s better to jot down your initial reactions and thoughts to the workshop immediately following instead of trying to get every word down. If they gave handouts, they gave them for a reason. It’s the highlights of their lecture. Those handouts are the points they are trying to make.
You can use your laptop to make notes, but try to be as quiet about it as possible. As presenters, we’ve seen people checking their email in workshops.
One new thing we’ve seen a lot is writers’ tweeting from workshops as they happen. While people follow the tweets when they are not there, we appreciate the recap, but how much are you actually getting out of the workshop? One thing we do is make a list of the things we learned in the workshop and tweet about them when we are not enjoying the total conference experience. More often then not, we write a recap of the conference and post it on the Write It Forward Blog.
Jennifer did this with a panel she was on a the Dallas Fort-Worth Writer’s conference on Digital Publishing sharing not only the content of the workshop, but things she learned from the other panel members.
Bob went as far as to recap tweets from the Digital Book World and he didn’t even attend the conference. This is the power of social media.
Exiting a Workshop
If you have an editor or agent appointment during a workshop, you can let the presenter know ahead of time that you will be leaving. This is good practice in a smaller workshop so the presenter doesn’t assume it’s them or the material that sent you packing, but as stated earlier, if there is a pitch session, we understand that someone might have to sneak out.
As an aside, we recommend that you DO go to a workshop before and after your pitch. Often we see writers skipping valuable presentations to prepare for their pitch, which is at the end of the workshop. Take full advantage of the time.