This article on attending an Indie Conference was originally published in IBPA Independent Magazine, Nov. 2016
For most indie publishers, a great conference offers superb faculty, attracts attendees and industry professionals you want to network with, and travel and registration costs are reasonable. In this article, I’ll address a few best practices to help you navigate conferences like a veteran.
If You’re an Attendee
Whether you’re an author or publisher, if you’re going to a conference simply as an attendee—meaning you’re not a conference speaker or exhibitor—here are six suggestions to ensure a successful experience:
1. Download the conference schedule as soon as it’s available and highlight the sessions you want to attend.
If there are multiple concurrent sessions, prioritize your first, second, and third choices. Don’t try to figure it out the first morning of the conference; you’ll waste time and may feel flustered. Come prepared and hit the ground running. If you must miss a session you don’t want to miss, ask the conference organizers if the sessions will be recorded. Many larger conferences offer affordably priced audio (and sometimes video) recordings of the entire conference.
2. Download the conference app.
Some larger conferences now offer conference apps you can download onto your smartphone. These apps usually offer summaries and speaker bios of the sessions you’re considering, allow you to sync the sessions with your phone’s calendar to create alerts, and allow you to map each session so you know where you need to go. Some apps even allow you to connect to social networks so you can let others know where you’ll be or to share what you thought about the last workshop you attended.
3. Walk the show venue before the conference starts.
Knowing where you need to go before the conference starts is a huge time saver. Imagine trying to figure out where you need to go in a sea of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other attendees 10 minutes before a session starts. If you can’t gain access to the venue ahead of time, check the conference website to see if they offer a map of the conference. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions from the venue or conference staff if you need help.
4. Take copious notes.
For multiday events, information overload happens. The act of writing or typing notes will help you recall important information you might otherwise forget. If you’re attending a multiday event, you’ll be thankful you jotted down some notes you can review at home. When you arrive at a workshop, collect any handouts that are being offered. If you find a session particularly valuable, ask the speaker if they would be willing to share their presentation notes or slide deck.
5. Be an active participant.
Get the Twitter handle for the conference you will attend and join the conversation. Ask questions during workshops. Stop by the exhibitor booths, if there are any, to learn about the exhibiting companies and what they offer. Attend the social events to meet other authors and industry people. You’re there to absorb as much information as possible. You’ll quickly see that successful authors and industry people with years of experience love to share their knowledge with those who are just starting.
6. Bring business cards.
Even if you haven’t published your first book, you should have something ready to hand out to people with whom you want to stay in touch. Your business card doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, nor does it have to be extra fancy. In fact, a no-frills card is preferable. Choose a standard business card size (usually 3.5 x 2 inches), and stay away from extra large or extra small sizes in an attempt to be unique or artsy. Small cards get lost or buried and big cards get thrown away because they don’t fit into standard-sized card slots. Avoid glossy finishes on your business cards. Sure, a glossy finish looks nice, but they’re impractical if someone wants to write a note on your card.
If You’re an Exhibitor or Speaker
If you’re traveling to a conference as an exhibitor or speaker, then everything mentioned above becomes twice as important for you. Here are four additional tips:
7. Promote your attendance on social media.
While it’s exciting to believe eager conference attendees will flock to your exhibitor table or to your workshop or panel presentations, you’ll most likely be competing against concurrent sessions for the attention of attendees. As soon as you confirm your conference participation, let your social media channels know that you, or your company, will be at the event. Post your session topic, a list of the other speakers if applicable, and the date and time of your session. Be sure to add a direct hyperlink to your session’s page on the conference website and the conference’s official hashtag. If you’ll have an exhibitor table, let your followers know so they can find you outside of workshop sessions. Not only will conference attendees appreciate the heads up, conference organizers will be delighted that you’re doing your part to promote the event, which could result in an invitation to participate the following year.
8. Don’t forget the people you meet.
As an active participant, you’ll meet a lot of wonderful people, and you’ll want to stay in contact with them. However, at the end of a successful conference, you may end up with dozens of cards and you may forget the significance of some of them. To alleviate my own forgetfulness, I write a note on the card as quickly as possible, sometimes in front of my new friend. It could be something as simple as “handles biz dev” or “content acquisitions lead” or “needs details about XYZ.”
9. Schedule important meetings before the conference starts.
For larger conferences, it’s imperative to schedule meetings at least a week or two before the event. Schedules fill up quickly, so if you wait until the conference begins, it’s probably too late. Large conferences usually post or will share the names of exhibiting companies and include contact information. If you have significant breaking news, ask the conference organizers if they can share a press list of attending media.
10. If you’re a speaker, you should know all the details of your workshop or panel as far in advance as possible.
For example, never assume a projector, screen, and all associated A/V (audio/visual) hookups will be there when you arrive, even if the conference organizers assure you everything will be ready. At some of the largest, most respected conferences at which I’ve spoken, the A/V equipment was delivered as promised but “borrowed” by another presenter in another room. My advice is to arrive early, find your room, and make certain it’s ready. If the equipment you expect isn’t there, and you can’t reach the conference organizer, find one of the A/V professionals. In fact, if I see an A/V pro near my room, I’ll ask if they’ll be around to ensure everything works. On several occasions, I’ve seen A/V pros work miracles.
What to do if conference attendance is not in the budget
If conference attendance isn’t in the cards for you this year, here are a few suggestions for obtaining valuable information for little or no cost:
- Research volunteer opportunities. Most conferences need volunteers. If travel and conference registration is out of the question, look into volunteer opportunities at local conferences. As a volunteer you may not get a chance to attend every session you want to, but you’ll have the opportunity to make some valuable contacts.
- Ask if recorded transcripts will be for sale for non-attendees.
- Follow the Twitter feeds for the conference you wish to attend. While you’re at it, cast a wider net and follow the blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of industry pros you respect.
- Review the schedule of the conference you will not be able to attend. Contact the speakers of sessions that interest you and ask if they will post their presentation slides somewhere like Slideshare.net or Dropbox following the conference. Ask if they would be willing to share their conference handouts or presentation notes with you.
- Research free or inexpensive indie publishing webinars. Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) are great places to start.
- Subscribe to industry email newsletters to stay on top of breaking conference news and the latest industry news and trends. Publishers Weekly, IBPA and ALLi offer digests of news that matters, delivered straight to your inbox.
Still curious about what to do at an Author Conference? Check our previous post about dos and don’ts!