Penny’s 25 Best Tips for Doing the Conference Thing (Penny Rader)

1. Get some sleep before you leave. Chances are you won’t have a decent night’s sleep for at least 5-6 days.

2. If you get really tired, take a nap. It’s okay if you don’t attend every workshop. I usually cram as many workshops in as I can, but if you're anything like me, you'll be up late, then dragging the next day around 2 or 3 pm., right in the middle of a workshop. Refresh yourself with a nap, then get back in there.

3. Beverages. I started taking/buying cans/bottles of my favorite pop cuz those machines are darned expensive. See #13.

4. Take a sweater or a jacket. Some of the conference rooms are chilly.

5. Take a robe and socks. Those hotel rooms can get cold, too.

6. Packing list. A great timesaver for me is to make up my packing list way ahead of time. Add things to it as you think of them [jammies, workshop clothes, awards ceremony clothes, shoes, hose, prescriptions, hangers (hotels never have enough), toiletries, etc.] Check off the list as you pack. Put it in your bag so you make sure you packed everything for the trip home. Keep a copy of your list for future trips.

7. Leave your perfume at home. Many people suffer from allergies.

8. Don't make phone calls from your room. They charge you 75 cents and up for every call you make (in addition to long distance charges). If you have roommates, it's hard to tell which phone call was made by which person. Note: When I first wrote this article for the WARA newsletter cell phones were not as common as they are now.)

9. Take plenty of $1 bills for tips: people who handle your bags at the airport (you do want your bags to make it to the conference with you, don’t you?), taxi/shuttle, bellhops, restaurants, etc. And for pop/snack machines if you ignored #3 and #13.)

10. More money issues: Since I usually get to conferences by the skin of my teeth, I like to be as prepared as possible. I make a list of everything that might require money and I try to overestimate a bit so I won’t come up short. Some meals are covered by the conference fee, but not all. Remember to budget in shuttle/taxi fees for the trips back and forth from the airport. Share a room with as many people as possible. Call the hotel ahead of time and ask what taxes will be added (hotel, city, occupancy, etc.)

11. Highlight the workshops you want to attend before you leave for the conference, but be open to change. They might switch the order of the workshops. You might hear from someone else how great another workshop is. If there are several workshops going on at the same time that you want to attend, try to share notes with someone else. Also, if one of those choices is not taped, that might be the one you want to go to. Consult with your friends/roommates ahead of time and coordinate the workshops each of you wants to attend. That way you can swap notes.

12. Stay hydrated. Planes and hotel rooms dry you out. Also, keep a tube of lip balm handy. And some hand lotion.

13. Keep snacks in your room--the luncheons might not fill you up. Who knows, a midnight snackfest/gabfest might generate some great ideas for your book.

14. Take plenty of business cards. On the back of the business cards you get from other writers, jot down a note to yourself so you'll remember who that person is: potential cp; great resource on 18th century America; lady with purple hair. If you have an editor/agent appointment, jot your manuscript title on the back.

15. When heading back home, allow plenty of time for the lines at the airport. One hour probably will not be enough. I arrived at the airport two hours before my flight home from the Orlando conference and nearly missed my flight. Scared the h*ll out of me!

16. Pack comfy clothes and comfy shoes for down time, i.e. after hours gabfests/networking, sightseeing, etc.

17. Network, network, network. At meals, etc. don't sit only with people you know. Be open to meeting new people. Talk to the people around you: registration lines, at workshops, luncheons, hospitality rooms, the restroom, the various get-togethers. Sit on a couch in a lounging area—interesting people will sit next to you. Talk to them (What do they write? First conference? Attended any great workshops? Learned anything spectacular?)

18. Towels and drinking glasses. If more than two people are sharing your room, call housekeeping after you check in and tell them you'll need extra towels and drinking glasses every day. Ditto for coffee if several of you need coffee to get you going. Decide who gets the shower at night and who gets it in the morning.

19. Take a couple extra pens or pencils. Ditto for panty hose.

20. Take notes. There’s usually a legal pad in your registration folder, but I like to buy the steno pads with the nice, thick cardboard backing. Easy to flip the pages when taking notes as well as a writing surface for those workshops without any tables. If you’re lucky enough to have an Alphasmart or laptop, type quietly so as not to disturb other conference attendees. Workshops aren’t the only places to take notes. If you pick up good info and tips while chatting, er, networking with conference attendees, write it down. I want details when you get back. :D

21. All of the recorded workshops for the National RWA conference are available on DVD/CD. Great value. I download them onto my mp3 player and listen to them while driving home from work. (Note: You can also download the workshops individually.) Paying for them before you leave conference saves a few dollars. The discounted price is also available to non-conference goers if purchased within a week or two of the conference. If you are unable to attend the conference but know someone who is attending, give them the money and ask them to order a set for you while they're at the conference.  (Please note: RWA changed their policy beginning with the 2013 conference.  Individual workshops are available for purchases through RWA's site, but the entire package is offered at a discount only to the conference attendees.)

22. Breathe. Seems like everybody always tells me to breathe. :D So I thought I would pass it on. But before you breathe on an editor or agent, pop some breath mints.

23. Free stuff. Take an extra bag (such as a canvas or tote bag) for all the free stuff you’ll pick up (Goody Room, publisher giveaways, etc.) and books you might buy. If you are lucky enough to gets lots and lots of books and run out of suitcase room, ship them home via UPS so you don’t have to drag them around with you.

24. Have a great time! Wish I could be there with you.

25. Oh, and take a camera! We want pictures for the scrapbook and our website.


What are your best conference tips?


Reese Mobley said...

I LOVE to go to conference. You offer some wonderful tips for those lucky enough to go this year.

Penny Rader said...

I love to go to conferences, too, Reese. It's been a few years since I last went to one. I had planned to go to the RWA conference in NYC, but too many unexpected things came up and spoiled my plans. Have a great time in NYC!

Mary Ricksen said...

Great advise. You just forgot one thing!!! SMILE! People are drawn to happy people!
Have fun too!!!

Fae said...

Hi Penny,

I thought of a couple additions for your conference list. Since everyone seems to have cell phones these days it would probably be a good idea to make sure to have the current # for the people you plan to meet and your roomies. It helps to coordinate and keep track of everyone.

The other thing is find out about some of the local sights and leave the hotel/convention for at least a few hours during the trip. It is a way to give yourself a refresh. (If a person looks them up ahead of time they may even be able to get discounts.)


Penny Rader said...

Too true, Mary! I definitely should've added that to my list. I've been blessed to meet so many warm, welcoming,cheerful, and fun people during conferences.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Fae! Long time, no see. ;D Awesome suggestions.

I wish I'd had a cell phone for the conferences I attended. Would've made hooking up with friends so much easier.

And I agree about leaving the hotel for a while. My favorite conference location was San Francisco. Had a blast walking over a ship in the marina. Helped me get a handle on the ship in the story I was writing.

Kathy Otten said...

I found that the couches in the hotel lobby and the bar are a great place to meet and talk to other writers, agents, and editors who are relaxing at the end of each day. Though I would advise against a using it as pitch time. It's more about networking and meeting new people.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Kathy. I've heard that a lot of great networking goes on in the bar. Hotel lobby networking can be great fun. A few years ago Kathleen Korbel had a group of us in stitches as she regaled us with stories from her life as an ER trauma nurse.

Rox Delaney said...

Networking is done in the Executive Conference Room..............................................aka the lobby bar.

Rox Delaney said...

Great tips, Penny! Reading them made me wish I was going this year.