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How you can make the most of a writers festival or conference – Part 1

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How do you make the most of a professional conference?

How do you make the most of a writing conference?

Picture this: you’ve saved your money, or you’ve scored an invite, and you’re off to a potentially career-changing conference or festival. What to pack? How to network? Which sessions to attend?

Here’s the thing:

You can’t be everything to everybody, and you can’t be in 20 places at once. If you want to optimise your time at a literature festival or writer’s conference, you’re going to have to prepare a game plan.

Preparing your conference game plan

When I walked into the 2014 Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, I was under-slept (who ever sleeps their first night in a hotel?), over-burdened (laptop, jacket for the aircon, jacket for the rain, cords, chargers, a dozen pens) and nervous (did I mention nervous?).

Why nervous?

Well, for a start, I knew only 10 of the 2000 people expected to attend. Even thinking about that makes me sit up straighter.

Plus, I had to choose sessions. There were four separate streams and dozens of topics in multiple venues, as well as a public program, masterclasses, and (note-to-self: don’t forget!) the sessions I was presenting. What if I chose the wrong session?? How could I make the best choice?

Finally, I was presenting two sessions on vastly different topics: topic one, scary stories and topic two, children’s non-fiction. And let’s face it, preparation can combat nerves, but not entirely. I was stressing.

Would I sink or swim?

I was quietly nervous in the weeks and months leading up to the conference. I wanted to make optimal use of this opportunity, but how?

Well, here’s what worked for me. I hope it works for you too…

Tip #1: Write a list of what’s stressing you

I wanted to turn my useless nerves into actionable points, so I made a list. Months before attending the AFCC, I listed the things that were stressing me, then I worked out why they were stressing me, and I did something to make them less stressful.

Example: conversations with me and my list

What is stressing me? My non-fiction presentation. Will it work? Should it be funnier? Or more academic?
Combat stress: Get off your lazy rear and develop your presentation until you’re confident it will work.
Result: Oh wow…I’m a million times less stressed now. In fact, I’m downright happy. Yay!

And again…

What is stressing me? I’m rubbish at networking. I’m embarrassed by my business card.
Combat stress: Create a business card that expresses what I do and who I am. Work out what it is I want to achieve when I’m networking.
Result: Yee ha! I’m in love with my business card and I can’t wait to give it away.

Cristy Burne business card

Thanks to the amazing Brett Canet-Gibson from TWINE – IDEAS THAT BIND for the great portrait.

And voila! The months and weeks leading up to the festival became a time of excitement instead of nerves.

But that didn’t necessarily help the under-slept, over-burdened still-nervous me walking into the festival on Day 1….

…Which is why you need part 2 of the game plan


Author: cristyburne


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