Monday, September 15, 2014

Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Upcoming Conference by Pat Miller

The kids are back in school, the semester is revving up, and your thoughts may turn to some classes or conferences for your own education. After you book that special event (see conference directory at the end of this post), consider these ten tips:

  1. MAKE SESSION SELECTIONS IN ADVANCE Highlighting your choices on the schedule in advance can be a big help when you have to cross a conference center in 10 minutes.  
  1. KNOW YOUR SPEAKERS Facing the dilemma of two must-see, but conflicting, sessions? Research the speakers. If one of the speakers has a writing book or blog, opt to attend the one that doesn't. Then read the blog or book for a post-conference boost by the other presenter. 
  1. READ THE VISITING AUTHORS Read a book or two by every author you intend to hear. It makes for a richer experience. 

  1. UPDATE YOUR BUSINESS CARDS Does yours include your photo? Make it easier for that agent or editor to remember you. Free or inexpensive online sites make it easy to design your own. I designed my first business cards in Microsoft Publisher and printed them on pin-perforated linen cardstock. This card was done on Vistaprint. I included different information on both sides to make the most of this tiny real estate.                         
  1. MAKE A CHATTY CHEAT SHEET Not every encounter needs an elevator pitch. Make notes on your favorite speakers in case your paths cross (try to make that happen!) Because of a conflicting luncheon, Suzanne Bloom had only me in her autographing line. From online research, I knew that she has cats, two sons, and a brother who is also an illustrator. Asking about them kicked off a fun 30-minute conversation. We bonded because I was prepared, and have since become friends. (Full disclosure: I discovered Suzanne is so friendly that we would have bonded without the notes—but I didn’t know that in advance.) 
  1. INVITE THE SPEAKER FOR LUNCH If your session finishes just before lunch or dinner, ask the speaker if he has plans. If not, have lunch or dinner together! It’s okay to have separate checks. It’s surprising how often wonderful presenters end up eating alone. (Speaking from sad experience.)
  1. PREPARE FOR AUTOGRAPHING Add your must-see authors’ scheduled times and locations to your general schedule. Will the author’s books be sold onsite at a discount? In their publisher’s booth? At a signing party? Or should you bring your own? Bring sticky notes to adhere personalization info for the author. They will appreciate it!
  1. YOU’LL THANK ME LATER When you get someone’s business card; write a note on the back about any conversation you shared. Then when you write to that colleague, editor, or agent, you can mention the future of pop-up books at their company, ice fishing when she was a kid, or about his twin grandsons. After the post-conference dust settles, it makes you a standout from the hundreds they may have met. 
  1. TAKE PHOTOS OF ATTENDEES especially if you will be spending several days with the same people in a retreat setting like October's NF 4 NF Nonfiction for Children’s Writers conference. Ask the person to hold their name tag near their face, so that when you take a close-up, you will create a photo directory to help your memory long after the conference is over. 
  1. SPECIAL THINGS TO PACK                                                                              
·         Special events – Do you need to pack a costume? A book to autograph? A gift for a friend, agent, or colleague? Don’t forget your phone recharger.
·         Bedtime – Sharing a room? Bring ear plugs, your roommate may snore. Unfamiliar beds often keep people from sleeping—pack your sleep aid medicine.
·         Bring snacks – Think protein (beef jerky, roasted edamame, peanut butter crackers) and fruit (trail mix, dried fruit, grapes, apples),
·         Stay hydrated – Research shows that brain function is the first to be affected when your body is thirsty. By the time you are aware that you are thirsty, your brain is already stressed! Especially if you fly—keep bottled water with you at all times and DRINK it!
·         Thank you cards -- Complete one during a session and give it to the presenter before you go. I guarantee you will make her/his day! (And it will give you a warm feeling as well.)

How can you find a conference that feeds your needs, your budget, and your time frame? Kidlit 411:Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats is a goldmine arranged by month. Kidlit 411 is a comprehensive site that you should have on speed click. Founder and author Elaine Kiely Kearns and author/illustrator Sylvia Liu have compiled an amazing, and beautifully illustrated, one-stop site for all things writerly. Best wishes for a wonderful conference!


  1. Great post, Pat. I have been going to conferences for forever, but I learned some new tricks of the trade.

  2. Love these tips! I'm just heading to a conference this weekend, so the timing couldn't be better.

  3. I really like the quickly-composed TY note given to a presenter at the end of a session. Also, folks would be surprised at how many speakers eat alone. Great post and i shared of rsure.

  4. Sticky notes, ear plugs and water, got it! Great prep post, Pat! :0)

  5. Pat: Thank you for an excellent post with useful tips for making the best of out of a conference. While attending IRA [International Reading Association] Conferences, I recall using a set of sticky labels with contact information about myself. These were easily attached to mailing lists and forms for door prizes. Using the labels saved some time from needing to write the same info over and over again. Finally, a pair of comfortable shoes is always a must. ~Suzy

  6. Thanks, Pat . . . perfect timing! I'm heading north to the SCBWI-MI "Somewhere in Time" conference on Mackinac Island this weekend. Looking forward to meeting many whom I've only met online up till now.

  7. These are great tips for newbies to the conference scene. Thanks for sharing!

  8. My word!, Or rather, your words!

    Pat, before enjoying this article I thought I collected every conference tip known to authors. But this is packed with gems new to me.

    Brava! And big appreciations.

  9. Great tips for a newbie and her first SCBWI conference. Thanks, Pat!

  10. Printed out and put in my writing notebook. Can't wait to attend my next conference: this time I'll be ready!

    Thank you Pat