Editor’s Note: The American Society of Journalists and Authors 2015 annual conference, Connect for Success, starts later this week. To mark the occasion, here’s a post from the WordCount archives on how to get the most out of attending a writing conference or seminar. If you aren’t going, use #ASJA2015 to follow along. If you are, use the hashtag to tweet conference session highlights. — Michelle
Do your writing business a favor – go to a writers’ conference.
If you’ve never attended a conference or seminar before, you’re in for a treat. There’s nothing like rubbing shoulders with other freelancers, reporters or bloggers to fall in love with what you do all over again.
But if you’re spending all the time and money to drive, ride or fly to some distance city, stay in a hotel and eat bad conference food, make sure it’s worth it.
Here are my suggestions for maximizing your time at a writers’ conference, based on attending – and speaking at – dozens of them over the years:
1. Go to as many sessions as possible.
Start with sessions on topics you’re most interested in or that fit your writing business as it is today. Stretch yourself by attending sessions on topics you think you might want to know more about or the speaker is someone you’ve always wanted to meet. But don’t be afraid to skip out on sessions either — some of the best parts of going to conferences is meeting and talking with people you happen to meet.
2. Bring your laptop and smartphone.
Don’t be shy about using it take notes during the sessions. Get to a room early so you connect to Wi-Fi, or get an electrical outlet, especially if you’re in an older hotel where there aren’t enough to go around. If you’re a loud typer sit in the back and ignore the Luddites giving you dirty looks.
3. Tweet meeting lightlights.
Find out what hashtag to use for tweets from the conference or a specific session and use it to share tweets. Find the other people live tweeting the event: chances are you’ll have lots in common.
4. Mingle during the mixers.
Networking is a big part of going to a conference. Talk to people you don’t know. I met a retired women’s magazine editor at one of the cocktail parties at an ASJA conference who gave me the best piece of advice I got at the entire conference (her advice: keep your pipeline full by bringing on a new writer for every issue so you’re covered in the event that a long-timer leaves for greener pastures).
5. Exchange business cards.
Use the old-fashioned paper kind or business card apps like Bump. Jot down notes about the person so you’ll remember them once you’re back in your office. At one conference, I invited everyone I exchanged business cards with to connect on LinkedIn before I checked out of my hotel room.
6. Eat with other writers or editors.
Do more networking than you think you need to — you never know where it might lead. You could end up doing a book project with someone you had coffee with, or hiring a writer you met over drinks for the freelance editing gig you just landed. Don’t drink too much at dinner or getting up for early sessions the next morning will be hard.
7. Be nice to the conference organizers.
They’re working hard and doing the best they can given hotel, union, and other restrictions. Volunteer – you might be able to get some or all the conference fee waived by pitching in.
8. Give yourself some down time.
Whether you’re visiting somewhere you’ve never been or a city that’s an old favorite, give yourself an afternoon, evening or full day before or after the event to see the sites, visit old haunts, pick up souvenirs or go for a stroll. When I go to meetings, my favorite downtime activity is visiting museums. You never know: your off-hours activity could help inspire an idea for a story. During a trip to Washington D.C. a few years ago, a visit to George Washington’s grist mill in northern Virginia sparked an idea for a storythat I sold on U.S. presidents’ entrepreneurial ventures after they’d left office.
9. Set up meetings with clients or potential clients.
If you’re headed to a city where you have clients, carve out time during a lull in conference activity for lunch, dinner or coffee. You might not need to an in-person meeting with an editor or agency client– I’ve worked with clients for years who I’ve never met face to fact. But if you’re that close anyway, it couldn’t hurt to say hi, and could wind up leading to more work.