What Kind of Conference Attendee Are You?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019
I’ve just wrapped up another writer’s conference and as usual, there were moments when I wished I could’ve hit the “Pause” button, stop everything for just enough time to help myself or others running around from one session to the next. But alas, there’s no “Pause” button; there is, however, hindsight. And so I’m offering a few tips to help you at your next conference, no matter what kind of conference attendee you are. Because, friends, I’ve seen all these kinds of attendees. Heck, I’ve been all these kinds of attendees!

The Wet-Behind-The-Ears Attendee:

This is the first-timer at the conference, and you can always recognize this newbie by the deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes. She may be just a few minutes late to the session (because she read the schedule wrong) or she’s extra early (because she doesn’t know anyone so there’s no stopping to chat along the way). She takes notes on everything! (She probably has a handy laptop, too.)

What I always want to say to this attendee is relax. All this information you’re getting is like trying to drink water from a fire hose: impossible to take it all in at one time. So look up from the notes and just listen. Connect. Take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you. At your first conference, you’re not likely to get an agent, but you might find a friend who’ll be with you on this journey for many years to come.

The Older-But-Wiser Attendee:

This isn’t the first rodeo for this attendee; she knows the ropes. She’s not only confident but maybe even a bit jaded. She might skip a session and hang out to talk with friends, and notes? Please. And when mealtimes come around, you won’t find this attendee sitting alone. She knows people everywhere and wants to hear everyone’s news.

What I always want to say to this attendee is something my mother often said to me: “You’re not half as smart as you think you are.” The attendee who’s been around for a while is a bit harder to teach because she thinks she already knows it all. And so though she hears the speakers, she may not be listening. My tip for this attendee is to open your mind when you open the door to any session; you may be surprised at what you’ll learn. (And P.S. Maybe grab a newcomer and invite her to sit at your table; introduce her to your friends. That newcomer has thousands of questions and you have thousands of answers. It’s a match made in conference heaven!)

The Attendee-on-a-Mission:

This is the attendee who has one goal and she’s not leaving until she’s achieved it. It may be to get an agent; it may be to schmooze with an editor or an art director, angling to make a personal connection. Maybe her book has just recently been released and she wants to let as many people as possible know about it. The single-mindedness of purpose with this attendee is pretty impressive, and yet…

What I always want to say to this attendee is dial it back a bit. This attendee works a room like a Hoover vacuum, rolling through everyone to get to every nook and cranny (or agent or editor or whatever). And really, it’s not a terrible thing that you’ve come to a conference for one specific reason but you might miss all kinds of lovely things as you bulldoze your way through. So go after that goal, but stop and smell the roses, too.

The Behind-The-Scenes Attendee

You’ll recognize this attendee by the harried look in her eyes. She gets to sessions late or leaves early because she always has something to do! She’s checking her phone constantly and when all is said and done, she probably has very little idea of what was said and done. Such is the life of the volunteers who work behind the scenes, bringing the conference to everyone else but themselves.

What I always want to say to this attendee is thank you! When we stop to talk to the volunteers, we’re often coming with a crisis because that’s the nature of any event. The AV isn’t working! The elevator is too slow! The meals are too mushy! So next time you’re at a conference, how about taking just a moment to compliment rather than complain. Or better yet, volunteer. (P.S. And get someone to take notes for you!)

~Cathy C. Hall (who's way too tired to say anything else!)


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--One conference I went to, there was a volunteer in each session who 1) made sure the presenter got to the right room and 2) gave the presenter a signal when there was only 10 minutes left in the session (to ensure there was time for questions and answers).

As a teacher, I've seen another kind of attendee: The I-Don't-Want-to-Be-Here-But-It's-Better-Than-Being-at-Work attendee. They're playing Candy Crush on their phone or going through viral videos--anything except getting something valuable from the workshop.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Love this - "...how about taking just a moment to compliment rather than complain." Not only good conference-going advice but also excellent life advice! :)

Theresa Boedeker said...

Great article. I saw myself in this and had to laugh. I remember going to my first conference and being so serious and not wanting to miss a thing. Glad I can relax now and realize I don't have to catch everything.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Sioux, we have "angels" at our conferences for just that reason. If only our angels could really work miracles! (Isn't it always something with AV????)

I agree 100% on that, Madeline, even if I did write it. :-)

Yep, Theresa, I have to laugh, thinking about my first conference. There was no laughing then, though. There was no time for anything but THE CONFERENCE!!! :-)

Renee Roberson said...

These are such spot-on descriptions, Cathy. Thank you for lovingly offering advice to each of them, while also acknowledging the fact that many of us have been at least two of them! I have another piece of advice for the "Wet Behind the Ears" attendee--don't spend any time crying in the bathroom because an editor critiqued your work harshly during a session--things will get better! This may or may not be a true story.

Pat Wahler said...

I have a conference coming up in May, so after reading this, I'll need to be on my toes. On top of that, I'm a volunteer (which I've never done before).

Should be interesting...

Linda O'Connell said...

So much truth in all this. The one that applies to me as the old timer is I do take something away, every single time, even if at first I thought I knew it all about a particular topic. Always something to learn.

Tina Cho said...

Fun descriptions of conference goers! Glad you could rest up.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Well said and 100% true! :)

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