Have you ever had the opportunity to go to a conference in your area of expertise, but you chose to stay home? Why? There are many reasons people don’t attend conferences and conventions. Here are a few.
1. Finances… Not everyone has the money to pay out hundreds of dollars for an event they aren’t even sure will help them. If you look around, you’ll find some events are more affordable than others. Check into them.
2. Fear of looking stupid… Don’t even allow this one to bend your brain. It’s not worth it. Everyone who attends a conference has a first time. Why do we keep going? That’s discussed soon enough. But fear of looking stupid is not an allowable excuse.
3. Fear of being found out… All of us feel a little under-educated in our field in the beginning, and sometimes later on. If you’re afraid you won’t know things others know, don’t worry. Plan on letting everyone else answer any questions at your first conference, unless you are absolutely certain of the answer. Silence while paying close attention to the speaker looks good on anyone.
4. Fear of not knowing anyone… Ask around to see who’s going. If you can’t find anyone you know who’s going, and you don’t like to go alone, bring a friend–even if you have to share a room or pay for part of their expenses.
5. Fear of big places or crowds… This one is a little harder to help you through, but if attend with a friend, it will help you focus more on learning and sharing with your friend and less on feeling swallowed in such a big atmosphere.
6. No time… Make time. Most conferences are worth every penny you pay and every minute you give up. Ask a family member to watch the kids for a couple of days. Find out which events are the best in your industry and region. Make it a point to attend one or two of those a year. If you can manage a trip to one or two of the best known national or international conferences, go.
What will you gain if you attend a conference that you can’t gain through a workshop or discussion with friends in the industry? Why do so many others attend conferences? Why do they keep going, again and again? What makes it worth all that?
1. Vital connections… Even if you don’t speak to them (but you should!), you will learn who makes things happen and has achieved the highest respect in your field. When you have questions or needs, you will feel more comfortable contacting them and asking for advice or references.
2. Surprises… Most likely, you’ll know more than one person at the event, especially if it is local. It doesn’t matter if you’re only acquaintances. If they know it’s your first time at that particular event, they’ll often introduce you to other professionals you need to connect with. You may have new friends when you return home.
3. Special offers… Sometimes, just being at an event gives you an opportunity to take advantage of special offers only given to those who attended the conference.
4. Support… A conference is about helping others achieve their highest goals in the field. It is about learning, sharing, and friendships; being part of a camaraderie in a larger field than the one you have been playing in, so far.
5. KNOWLEDGE… When you leave, you will most likely know much more about some things than you knew before. At the very least, you have gained confidence in your own skills and insight and that’s worth the trip, in itself. And that confidence will show in your everyday work, too.
If you’re a writer, editor, publisher, or even a reader who wants to know more about the field, you should attend a good conference or two each year. If you’re around northeastern Oklahoma, I have listed a few of the area events on my LINKS page. If you want to go to the same conferences I’m attending, you can find them listed on my EVENTS page. Let me know if it’s your first time and I’ll gladly spend a little time helping you adapt to the format and meet others who will help you along.
If you’re into people-watching, try sitting near the sign-up tables at a conference and watch as attendees walk near, but seem to be taking in too much at once. It makes many of us look lost, even if we’ve been there for the past three years. So, don’t be afraid to walk up and look lost with the rest of us. We’ll never know you’re a conference newbie unless you tell us. And since we’ve all been there, we understand how overwhelming it can seem compared to how simple it really is.
See you at the next conference!
I am currently packing to attend the Arkansas Writers’ Conference, in Little Rock, Arkansas, this weekend. Will I see you there? I hope so!