I am working on a project right now with my writing group and this idea of what makes a good writing conference has come up several times. In my line of work I have been to a lot of conferences over the years and a handful specific to writing. I consider myself well versed in conference attendance. The only way I can answer this question is to look at what makes a bad writing conference.
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Here are some of my pet-peeves about conferences and what I think makes for a bad conference experience. These examples are everywhere.
- Session Titles Are Misleading. This is the worst offender. I can’t count how many times I’ve left a session early or worked on something else during a session because the session title was not what they actually presented on. I blame this on both the conference and the presenter. Having been involved with selecting presentations, sometimes you rely on the synopsis from the presenter and get a surprise at the conference. Note: If you are being asked to present or are sending in a proposal, please, for the love of all that is sane in the world, please present as close to your summary as possible. I will thank you as well as countless others. Heck I may just hug you after the session is over.
- Panels. They didn’t used to bother me until recently and the reason is because they were not done correctly. A great panel will have a moderator who shows up, for one thing, and engages both the audience and the panel assembled. They’ll have questions that are asked to every panel member and not just generally. The worst panel I sat through recently had one of the panelists answering all of the questions. Every answer they gave led back to a book they wrote. I am fine if it illustrates a point or aspect of writing but when it’s self-promotion I don’t like it. I came here to learn about writing and not about how wonderful you think your books are. During the 50 minute session time, only one other panel member was able to answer a question. Rude! The moderator should’ve stopped it but they didn’t. Note: If you do that during a session I am in I will 1) never buy one of your books and 2) walk out of the session. Stop wasting my time and money. There is a place and time to pimp your books.
- Too many session choices. Putting all of the good sessions at the same time. I have been a victim of this several times. It can get overwhelming when you are trying to put together a schedule and you want to bring in the best! Unless you have 500 or more attendees, huge halls for presentations and severals tracks to attend, you should not have more than 5 or 6 sessions at a specific time. Too many sessions and not enough attendees leaves presenters in a room with an average of 10 people or less. It’s not fair to the presenter who has taken a lot of time to gather the materials and come to the conference. I can see where small groups would be beneficial depending on the type of conference. I am on the fence with this one. Note: Remember if you are scheduling a conference, don’t put all your good sessions at the same time. Spread them out during the day.
On the flip side, what makes a good writing conference? Read the list above and don’t do any of those things. 🙂 The following helps too:
- Good location. This is all about the venue. Make sure you have rooms that are big enough to accomodate the attendees who are interested in certain sessions. We always pick the two sessions each hour that we think will be the most attended and give them the biggest rooms. Parking is also part of this. Make sure that parking is easy and not a nightmare.
- Go with someone. If you can, don’t go alone. It’s always nice to have someone there that you know. I have been with people before and by myself. If you are not outgoing and don’t introduce yourself to strangers often this will help ease you into the conference.
- Meet people. We always play a game when I go to work-related conferences. We have to meet at least 10 new people and get their cards for future collaborations. This applies to writing conferences! A friend of mine once told me that sometimes a conference is all about meeting people. Period. Grateful to those people who have become my friends after we met. Don’t try too hard. Let the conversation happen naturally if you can. For me I have never been a stalker. I won’t wait in line to meet you unless you are signing my book. Sorry!
- Be a sponge. You never know when you’ll be able to go to a gathering such as this in the future so soak it up! Take everything in that you can. Pick those sessions that you need right now. Listen intently. Doing this will benefit you greatly and help keep you motivated for the future.
What do you think makes a good writing conference?