There’s nothing as exhilarating and overwhelming as attending your first writing or blogging conference. If you’re an extrovert, you’re probably like my Allume roommate Trina who thrived on the people and the crowds and pulled everyone into the photo booth with her. If you’re a bit more of an introvert like Crystal, you probably won’t survive a conference without scheduling some time for yourself and making a point to have those one on one conversations.
As I reflect on my experiences at the Allume blogging conference and the Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference, here are the tips I want to remember when I attend my next conference.
Break out of your comfort zone and meet new people.
If you come to the conference with friends, it’s easy to hang out together, sit together at every meal, go to the photo booth together, and never get to know anyone else. But if you stay in your own group, you might miss out on one of the biggest blessings of attending a conference: making new connections.
Yes, plan to sit together with your friends. Yes, have those late-night chats with your roomies and do coffee first thing with your besties. But once in a while, sit at a table where you don’t know anyone. Shake off the people you know (you can be elusive without being rude) and find the people God wants you to meet at this year’s conference.
Take the time for one-on-one chats.
I knew it was time to sit down and have a one-on-one chat with someone, anyone, when I found myself cruising the halls aimlessly looking for a familiar face. At a Christian blogging conference like Allume or Declare, you already have Jesus and blogging in common with everyone there, and that is more than enough to start a conversation about. You are more than your business card and so are they: take the time to get to know the person behind the blog.
Exchange business cards. Make it a habit to hand out your business card as you say your name when you introduce yourself. And then, write down the details you learn about them on their business card–or better yet, stick the business card in a notebook where you can easily take notes. You probably won’t end up with a long-lasting connection to every person you collect a business card from. But if you don’t swap cards, it might take two years to discover via Twitter that you’re kindred spirits and probably met at a conference but you can’t remember their face let alone what you talked about. Take notes–you’ll be glad you did later on!
Make your plans well.
I made the list at the front of my Allume conference notebook last year: “People to Hug.” I Tweeted and emailed and got cell phone numbers beforehand of the people I wanted to meet and to see. After my first big conference experience, I knew better than to rely on anyone being on Twitter to get my direct messages: I didn’t want to miss the chance to hug my people.
Our mastermind group was determined to spend some quality time together at the conference, too. We knew if we waited it would never happen, so we planned to sit together at the first meal. Connecting immediately with people we were already familiar with was especially nice for those who were newbies that year, even if the large tables did make it hard to chat. Members of our groups met in twos and threes throughout the rest of the conference, and half of us got to sit together again at the closing meal, when some real memories were made.
Saving seats or tables, especially at meals, is rarely an option. Make your plans well and be prepared to sit down early if you want to sit together. Designate someone’s hotel room or a central location ahead of time where you’ll all meet if you have down time. Be available to support each other at the conference, in prayer and in fellowship, just like you do as a group online.
Hold your expectations loosely.
Despite my best laid plans, there were still people I didn’t manage to connect with at my second blogging conference. Still people who were always on the other side of the room, in another breakout session, or just plain didn’t look a thing like their avatar and so I never managed to spot them. But that was okay. I’d learned the year before to hold my expectations loosely.
My first year at Allume, I went with great expectations of meeting one of the speakers. But I hadn’t thought about the long lines and waiting that would entail–and I had a nursing baby who was not a happy camper the entire weekend. I looked forward to that meeting so much, and when I realized it was going to be virtually impossible, I was crushed.
I did get to meet that speaker–but only through a random set of events that involved the power going out and my roomie finding her in a stairwell. I went with fewer expectations the next year, and it made all the difference. (I even ended up in the same elevator with that same beloved speaker and got a hug from her that year, too!)
Take good notes.
It’s likely that you’ll find yourself on information overload before the weekend is over. Take good notes now so you can go back and digest them later.
If pen and paper is your style, keep it all in one organized notebook and always have an extra pen or piece of paper handy for the girl sitting next to you. Stick the business cards of people you meet in between your notes, for a timeline of the conference you’ll save and reference again and again.
If you have your tablet or your laptop, try Evernote or OneNote (affiliate links) to keep the notes from each session easy to search and easy to Tweet, later on or as you type. Snap a picture of the girl next to you–and one of her business card–to pop into your digital record of the weekend if that’s quicker for you.
Be generous in sharing with those who aren’t there.
Last year half our mastermind group made it to Allume. At the end of the conference, we pooled our extra swag to mail to the group members who couldn’t be there. We shared Evernote links to our session notes with each other. And we Tweeted our mastermind group hashtag with the extra special goodness we were gathering just for them.
Twitter is an awesome place to hang out when my friends are at a blogging conference somewhere. The Tweets are all absolute nuggets of goodness that I RT and RT some more. I know how much those 140-character summaries of the sessions mean to those at home on Twitter (that will be me this year) or those in the hotel room with a baby too fussy to be in the workshops (that was me my first year at Allume). Depending on your tools and multi-tasking abilities, you may be the type who Tweets the highlights later from the hotel room or writes a “top ten” blog post once you get home rather than Tweeting as you go.
Just remember to show the speakers the courtesy of mentioning their username in the Tweets. And if you blog it later, respect their intellectual property by sharing the quoteable highlights, not a point by point transcript of their entire session.
Are you attending a blogging or writing conference this year? What’s one way you’re preparing ahead of time? Or if you’re a veteran conference-goer, what’s your best tip for newbies?
Photo Credit: Darcy at The 2011 Relevant Conference (now Allume)