Every weekend there is an interesting conference or convention going on somewhere. I recommend attending at least one a year to grow your skills and your network. If traveling is not in your budget, find a local one. Here are just a few of the things going on in my hometown of Houston this year: ​The League of Romance Writers Conference​, ​Comicpalooza​, and the ​Houston Film Festival​.

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.

Perfect Your Pitches

Have strong ​personal​ and ​project cocktail pitches​ so that you feel confident introducing yourself and talking about your projects.

Business Cards

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.

Name tag

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 ​andrea@newbart.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
  • 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.
  • Notebook
  • Pen
  • Reading glasses
  • 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
  • Water bottle
  • Tissues
  • Lip balm
  • Hand lotion
  • Brush/comb
  • Umbrella
  • Advil/Tylenol
  • Allergy pills or other medication
  • Hand sanitizer
  • 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.

Take Breaks

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

Follow Up

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.
  • Your tropes.
  • Prices and how to pay. Avoid credit card processing fee by using Venmo, Zelle, & PayPal. Use your QR codes on the signs.

You can sell ebooks in person using BookFunnel.

For fun, consider dressing up in the style of your books.

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