Here are my tips and tricks for getting the most out of conferences and conventions.
Before You Go
Booking Your Hotel
While it is cheaper to stay with friends and family, I strongly recommend staying in the hotel near the venue. You want to be where most of the attendees are staying. (There is usually a discounted rate.) Some of the best networking is in the hotel bar and lobby. You will also run into people you have just met in the halls and elevator. Re-meeting people you have been in sessions with often leads to spontaneous meals and wonderful evenings.
Plan Your Conference
What do you want to get out of the conference? Is it sell a project? Meet one of the speakers? Learn a skill? Build your network? What your goal is should inform your plan.
Read the program, concentrating on the session descriptions and the speakers’ bios. Many conferences have tracks of workshops with different themes like craft and marketing. Pick the sessions you want to attend and the speakers you want to meet. Type out the schedule of the sessions you are interested in so that you are not constantly having to page through the program. If the conference has an app, download it and learn how to use it.
Business cards are a must for networking. I use moo.com for my cards. They have hundreds of cool designs, or you can upload your own that you designed in Canva. Be sure to order a month or more ahead of time so you don’t have to pay rush fees. Order more than you think you’ll need. It’s better to have too many than to run out and you can always use them later. If you get in a bind, you can ship them to yourself at the hotel. Also, you need a nice business card case to carry your cards. You don’t want to keep them in your wallet where they have a tendency to get bent and wrinkled. Amazon has tons of inexpensive card cases to choose from.
Conference Business Card Hack: Put your extra cards in a Ziploc bag to keep them from getting bent. Have another Ziploc bag to put other people’s business cards in. This trick prevents you from losing your stack of new friends’ cards.
If there is a spot for you to leave some cards, consider making an about me form. Put your personal logline with your website, newsletter, and socials QRs. To make it stand out, use your brand colors. Put it in a frame with your cards in front of it.
While most conferences give you a ticket with your name on it that hangs around your neck, they are difficult to see. Consider designing your own name tag you wear closer to eye level on your shoulder. I got mine from email@example.com for $3.50. These are magnetic, so they don’t put holes in your clothes.
Conference Survival Kit
Your bag will get heavy quickly. Instead of a backpack, I like a rolling bag. This one has a laptop sleeve, a place for your water bottle and lots of pockets. As a bonus, it fits under the seat on a plane.
Sweatshirt – It is always cold in convention centers.
Laptop and phone chargers
Power bank – the higher the mAh, the more powerful the charger. This one has enough power to charge a cell phone one and a half times.
Hot spot – sign up for a hot spot with your cell phone provider so you can connect to the internet if you need to.
Sunglasses for outside breaks
Business card case
Extra business cards in Ziploc bag
Empty Ziploc bag for the business cards you collect.
Granola and protein bars and other snacks
Allergy pills or other medication
Make up for touch ups
Eye drops for dry eyes
During the Conference
How to Dress
Different conferences have different dress codes. For comic and animation conventions, the standard uniform is a funky tee shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Others everyone is in suits. Check the conference website for pictures of what people wore last year. When in doubt, go for business casual. It is important to look put together and professional. The most important part of your wardrobe is comfortable shoes. While you sit a lot, you also are on your feet a lot, walking to sessions and networking.
Pro Tip for Women: If you wear heels, carry comfortable shoes in your bag in case your feet hurt.
Pro Tip #2 for Women: Get a good blow out so you don’t have to do your hair in the morning.
Network the Easy Way
You are there to meet people! Introduce yourself to at least three new people a day. Conferences are the easiest place to network because everyone wants to meet people. They are friendly and open.
Don’t Eat Lunch Alone
Eat meals with new friends you have made. It is fun to bond over burgers or a cocktail.
It’s easy to get tired and overwhelmed at a crowded and busy conference. Plan down time to rest and rejuvenate. It’s okay to go back to your room for an hour or two. Or get some fresh air by the pool.
If you have energy during your downtime, start adding business cards you collected to your contacts and LinkedIn.
Pro Tip: In the notes section, add the conference and the year so you can remember where you met them. Also, add other details about their project and where they are from.
I like to send a nice to meet you email, referencing something you talked about or did (to help your new contact remember you. They are meeting lots of people too.) 99% of people do not email. It will make you stand out.
After the Conference
Continue inputting the business cards and sending nice to meet you emails. If you have promised to send someone something, do it. If some of your new friends live near you, reach out for lunch.
I know you will be exhausted after days of meeting, greeting, and learning so give yourself a week to finish your follow ups. Again, most people do not follow up, so you will be memorable.
Selling at a Conference
If you are selling books or art a convention, here are some tips to make your booth and must stop shop.
Use brand-colored tablecloths and backdrops. Have lots of signs.
Your project loglines and pitches.
Your personal logline.
If you have a series, the reading order.
Prices and how to pay. Avoid credit card processing fee by using Venmo, Zelle, & PayPal. Use your QR codes on the signs.
An important part of marketing yourself and your work is networking. And while we have all gotten used to connecting over Zoom, nothing beats in person events for connecting and building relationships. For the Hollywood crowd, the biggest event of the year is Comic Con in San Diego. But you don’t need to jet off to big-ticket events to make magical connections. Stellar opportunities are knocking at your doorstep every single day – if only you know where to look!
How to find networking events near you:
Ask friends and colleagues.
Your LinkedIn feed
Creator newsletters like this one.
Join industry groups.
I had an absolute blast at a meeting of the League of Romance Writers last weekend! The best part? Meeting the fabulous Jami Albright and diving deep into her newsletter wisdom. The meeting was half an hour from me, and I could have attended over Zoom, but I wanted to meet people in real life. Also, I was thrilled to find such a cool event in my hometown.
I learned about it from Jami and Sara Rosett’s podcast, which I have recommended to ya’ll before – Wish I’d Known Then. I love this podcast because it’s authors talking with other authors, and I learn something from every episode. It was really cool to meet someone I had been listening to for over a year. I felt like a fangirl!
So, here’s your mission for the week: Seek out an in-person event. Dive into lively conversations. Expand your universe, one connection at a time. Remember, the wider your network, the brighter your constellation of opportunities!
Stay connected and keep shining!
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I love to help. I realized in the past couple of years that being a helper is a large part of my identity. I feel lucky that I have found a profession that is centered around helping people. Seeing people light up and gain confidence makes my day.
I encourage you to look for opportunities to help people. Being a helper will change your life.
Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours
Help Other Creators
Don’t see people in your industry as competition. Instead, recognize the more you connect with and help other creators, the quicker you grow your network. Meeting people in your industry will have a positive impact on your career.
Here’s a few easy ways to help your favorite creators.
Write a testimonial for their website or sales page.
Reply to their newsletters or comment on their social media posts. Creators like to know people are enjoying their content. And the mysterious algorithms reward posts with more comments.
Tell a friend about an amazing book you are reading, the podcast you just heard, or the newsletter you never miss. Word of mouth is invaluable. It is still the best way for creators to grow their brand and gain customers.
If you come across something that you think someone in your network would find helpful, send it to them in an e-mail.
The man who owns my gym is writing a book. Recently, I read a wonderful book called On Good Authority by Anna David about how nonfiction authors can build their brand while they’re writing and then how to launch their book. I dropped him a quick e-mail about this book, and he was thrilled.
When you are helpful in small ways like this, people remember you. And when you have a new project, they will be eager to support you.
Be a Helper and Connector in Your Industry
Be known as someone who is always happy to share a resource like a book or refer someone for a job. This reputation grows your network and makes you more visible. Ultimately it makes you more top of mind. Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Lunch Alone is a primer on becoming a connector through thoughtful networking.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.
Helping People Feels Good
When you help someone, you get a flood of dopamine that makes you feel good. A common piece of advice is when you’re having a hard day, sad, and struggling, help someone else. For a moment your mind is off your troubles. It makes you feel better. And again you’re growing a relationship and nurturing your network.
Know When to Ask For Help
Oddly even if you are a helper, most people have trouble asking for help. We think we can do it all. And this can lead to burnout. Here are some easy ways to ask for help.
Email or call someone with a specific question.
Ask someone for a referral, review, or testimonial.
Be open to accepting help when it’s offered. I’ve noticed that my go to position when someone offers to help me is to feel bad that I’m putting them out. And so, I often don’t take them up on it. This week I made a commitment to myself to shift that behavior, recognizing when people offer to help, they mean it. I said yes to an offer to drive me to the airport!
When someone helps you, be grateful in the moment. And send a thank you note a few days later. I am a big proponent of thank you notes because people don’t write them anymore. If it’s someone close to you, a handwritten note or a card makes the thank you extra special. If it’s more of a business acquaintance, an e-mail will do. And to nurture that relationship follow up with them to let them know how their help has impacted you. If you followed their advice and tell them, they are more likely to help you again. If you’ve had great things happen, they would love to hear it. I love hearing good news! It is another dopamine hit.
The one caveat to being a helper is to have boundaries. Don’t do a bunch of free work. Keep an eye out for energy vampires who want to take advantage of your good nature. And always value your expertise and the work that you do.
Here’s how I strike a balance. The other day I met a neighbor while I was walking my dog and it turned out she was prepping for a job interview. I gave her a couple of ideas and suggested some resources on my website. That’s what Josh Spector calls micro coaching. Because I like talking to people, I usually do at least two or three of these a day. However, I do not spend my entire day coaching people for free. Another cool timesaving trick is to write out email templates to your most frequently asked questions or write a blog post on your website, Medium, or Linked In that you can refer people to.
Do not let fear of users keep you from moving through life as a helper. There are so many benefits from your mental health, to growing your network and your career by being a helpful and enthusiastic person.
Who can you help today?
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This week a friend was listening to me dictate a text message. She said, “You use a lot of exclamation marks.” She didn’t mean it as a compliment. Unfazed, I responded “It’s because you cannot tell tone in emails and texts.” In fact, I believe that just like some people suffer from resting bitch face, emails and texts sound naturally bitchy. Without hearing tone of voice and seeing body language, emails read negative. This negative tone is especially problematic in business emails. Hence my love of exclamation marks.
Exclamation marks get a bad rap. And I do agree that using too many of them can make you come across like a 6th grade girl. But I believe judicious use of exclamation marks is important to convey tone in emails.
How to fix Your E-Mail Tone
Don’t try to overcompensate resting bitchy e-mail by writing like a text message. Don’t use emoticons. Don’t use texting abbreviations like LOL or IDK. As parents are fond of saying, use your words.
Keep it short and sweet. When at all possible, emails should only be a few short paragraphs. Do not make people scroll down to continue reading. Often they won’t so they miss vital information. And it will be tempting to reply in an irritated tone.
Before you start writing take a moment to think about what action you want out of this e-mail. Do you want a yes to your request? A new meeting on the schedule? Time off for vacation? Write your e-mail with your end result in mind. Knowing what you want the reader to think and do will help you craft a concise, clear message.
Organize your e-mail. Use bullet points, numbered lists, and bold titles to make the information easy to read and remember.
Before you hit send, read your e-mail three times for typos. One of those times, read it out loud to help catch typos and nasty tone. If you still are not sure of the tone, call a friend and read the e-mail to them to get their feedback. Finally, think about who you’re sending it to and what your relationship is with them. If it’s at all contentious, is there any language that you need to change to sound more congenial? In general, it never hurts to adjust your language and consider throwing in an exclamation point or two.
Never write in all caps. It comes across as SHOUTING. (It always reminds me of the wonderful Discworld books by Terry Pratchett where Death speaks in capital letters.)
Beware of corporate email jargon. For those of us in corporate jobs, there are a lot of common email phrases that have loaded meanings. Here a few:
Sometimes you have to use them (or you just can’t help yourself). Be aware they can covey a negative tone. I suggest avoiding corporate email speak whenever possible.
This e-mail is brought to you by the exclamation mark!
Wading through work emails isn’t fun. But taking the time to review your writing before you hit send can save your lots of headaches and protect your reputation. Remember that email is a kind of conversation and conversations build relationships. You want to make sure that you are not coming across negatively so that people like and trust you, and consequently, like working with you.
Exclamation points are especially handy when conveying excitement or support, which is why, as an enthusiastic person, I use them a lot. When in doubt, when you are trying to shift the tone of your e-mail and are not sure how to do it, use an exclamation mark.
Just For Fun
You may remember the Seinfeld episode (season five episode 4, The Sniffing Accountant) where Elaine breaks up with someone because he is anti-exclamation mark. Lots of people feel strongly about them!
Here is an article on resting bitch face and how to fix it.
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If you are a creative, you may think that Linked In is not for you. You may see it as boring, stuffy, and corporate-oriented. But there is more to Linked In than meets the eye.
Be Easy to Find
If you are a writer or any kind of content creator, you need to be easy to find. What that means is you should be as many places as possible. If someone Googles you, information on who you are and how to reach you should easily pop up. Your Linked In public profile is one of the first things that people see when they search for you on Google. Also, lots of people when they are looking to hire or contact someone, skip Google and go straight to Linked In.
Linked In is one of the biggest search engines in the world. It is the first place many people go, when they are searching for new hires, open jobs, or researching new industries and ideas. You need to maximize your searchability by using the keywords that are standard in your industry. How do you find the best keywords to use? Look at people’s profiles who have your current job and the job you want. Notice which words and descriptions you see the most. These are the words to use in your profile to make it searchable.
Linked In also has a robust social media aspect of people sharing open jobs, job wins, and longer content in the form of articles and newsletters. When you get a new job, have a show airing, or a new book coming out, don’t forget to post on Linked In in addition to your other social media channels.
Here are five things to overhaul to make your Linked In profile stand out:
Your Profile Picture
Your Contact Information
Your Profile Picture
For your profile to seem genuine and professional, you need a profile picture. When I get a Linked In request from someone I don’t know without a picture, I immediately disregard them. No picture means they haven’t done the most basic work on their profile. Your picture should be a simple headshot. Even though you’re a funky creative, don’t have a silly shot from Comic Con in costume, or with your dog, or on vacation. Linked In is a professional social media site so put your best face forward. You don’t need a fancy headshot, just a picture that is in focus with good lighting. Either take a selfie or have a friend take your picture up against a plain background. Don’t forget to smile! Extra points if your shirt or background matches your brand colors like this woman.
A blank banner makes your profile seem unfinished. Your banner and picture are the first things people see when they land on your profile. Make them snazzy! If you have a logo or brand colors, use them. This is another opportunity to creatively tell your Linked In audience about yourself.
Here are five suggestions to try:
Use your personal logline that explains who you are and what you do. The formula is: I help (kind of people) do ___ which helps them do ______. Here is where you get to show off your creative brand. If you are a writer, what kinds of things do you write? Start with your primary format (books, TV, film). Add your genre and some catchy adjectives. I am a novelist who writes psychological thrillers that keep you up at night. If you are a visual artist, what medium do you work in? Hint: When using a logline, make sure your background is simple so the words are easy to read.
Make your banner a mini portfolio or credits list. Show pictures of projects you’ve worked on and things you created. Everything from visual art pieces, to shots from a movie, and book covers. You can use an image from one project or have a whole collection.
Use a cool photo that ties in with what you do. For example, if you are an artist, you could use this.
Use a cool photo of where you work. I love this picture of Walt Disney Feature Animation.
Use an action photo showing you at work. Maybe you are behind the camera directing or speaking to an audience like this picture of me talking about romantic comedies.
How do you make these wonderful banners? With my favorite graphic design tool, Canva. You can get started there for free. The Pro version at $12.95 a month is well worth it. They have thousands of Linked In banner templates that you can customize, or you can start from scratch. The templates are wonderful because they are the exact size you need for your banner with layout and color suggestions. Also, it has thousands of stock photos and graphics to choose from to make your banner look amazing. Check out this video I made for a quick how to make your banner with Canva.
Your headline is much more than your current position. It is prime searchable space. So be sure to describe yourself using both key and common words. Do not call yourself something strange and clever like artist wrangler or animation guru. People are not going to be searching for those positions. Instead, put the words that describe not only what you’re currently doing, but what you did in the past, and what you want to do in the future. Think of this as another way to write your logline except you don’t have to use complete sentences. The more words you use here, the more you help the search engine. You have 220 characters. Use them all.
Your about section is where you can let a little bit of your personality come across. Maybe you can include your it all started with from your personal cocktail pitch. This is a great place to include your accomplishments – what you did and the results you got, especially if you have great stats. Be sure to mention any awards or places your work has been featured like film festivals or magazines. Have you been a guest on any podcasts or TV shows? Have you worked with big clients? What’s your favorite thing you’re currently working on? Tell your story. You have 2,600 characters here which works out to between 400 – 600 words. Don’t be afraid to write a lot. Use this space to showcase your talents, what you have done, and what you have to offer.
Your Contact Information
You would be surprised to learn that most people ignore the contact info part of their Linked In profile. This is as important as everything else we’ve talked about. Because you want to be easily found, you want a way for people to contact you besides just messaging you on Linked In. Not everyone likes to chat on there, and more importantly, lots of people are terrible about checking their Linked In messages. Put your e-mail address in your contact info section. If you have a website, showcase it here. Your website is another tool that sells you and whoever is looking for you on Linked In should be able to easily click to it.
Linked In is a search engine and you need to have lots of information there to make you searchable. You want to be found.
In life we have different levels of relationships. There are spouses, family members, and best friends, good friends, and work friends. Then there are the people you don’t like, but have to deal civilly with including sometimes family, neighbors (I’m thinking of a disastrous HOA meeting), and often work colleagues and bosses. It is important to recognize that we don’t deal with all of these groups in the same way.
Last week we talked about building your cheer squad with positive people. This group is who you celebrate your wins with and share your dreams.
A, B, C or D?
In Hollywood terms, let’s call them your A list. Then there are good friends, who you like, but are not quite as close too – the B list. The C list is other folks you like, but don’t see often and work friends. And finally there’s the D list, those people that you don’t like, but have to deal with. Always smile and be cordial, but never, ever tell the D list your good news or anything personal. They do not wish you well.
This discussion is not meant to be a downer or make you paranoid. Instead, I want to encourage you to not only build your core group of support, but to understand that there is power in recognizing where people fit into your list. And that it is smart not to share everything with everybody. People can always surprise you in both good and bad ways. This way I hope you can be more prepared.
Cheerleader or Debbie Downer?
Notice how people react not just to your good news, but to others’ good news. This is a huge clue to their character. Years ago I had a colleague whose wife got her dream job. I was more excited about it than he was. All he said was “Yeah, now we’re going to have to figure out child care.” Yikes! Psychologists have long known that it not just the good news, but how others react when we share it, that makes us feel excited and energized. Unfortunately, lots of people react negatively or make it about them or do both. If someone does something like this to you, don’t give them the opportunity to do it again.
T.D. Jakes’ Three Kinds of Friends
Pastor T.D. Jakes famously said there are three kinds of friends: confidantes, constituents, & comrades. He talks about knowing who you are dealing with and who to share your good news with. You can watch the inspiring video here. It’s one of my favorites.
1. Confidantes are for you. If you’re up, they’re up. If you’re down, they’re down. This is your cheer squad.
2. Constituents are not for you. They are for what you are for. These are people that can seem supportive, but never think that they on your A List. If they meet someone who can further their agenda, they will align with them to get what they want. It is easy to mistake a constituent for a confidante.
3. Comrades not for you, and they not for what you are for. They are for what you are against. As soon as you are no longer fighting a common enemy, they disappear. I’ve noticed a lot of work friends, if you have a bad boss, can fall into this category.
I hope you found this discussion helpful. Take a look at the people you surround yourself with. Where do they fit in? Are the confidantes, constituents, or comrades? Who is your cheer squad?
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