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Thursday, February 2, 2012

What I Learned About Conferencing: Part I

What a fantastic weekend! Okay, I know, it's Thursday, I should be over the weekend by now and ready to head into my next one, but it has taken me fully this long to assimilate everything I learned at the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) international conference this past weekend. And while I may share the tiniest tidbit of wisdom (the material is under copyright and SCBWI is understandably stern about, say, blogging someone's entire speech), I can certainly share these general highlights of what I learned about conferencing in general. (Conferencing: a word? Webby: Nuh-uh. It's a noun, not a verb, dingy.)

(1) Dress Code.
Here's the great thing about writers, especially those who write for kids: They sit behind a desk all day (or as often as they can). They may own fluffy slippers with rabbit ears on them. Flannel pajamas illustrated in different coffee logos. In other words, no one goes to a writer's conference dressed in Armani. "Business casual" might mean a lot of things to different people, but for me, it was:
  • black slacks (mine had a little stretch to them, thanks)
  • colorful shirt/blouse
  • basic black blazer, for layering (some rooms are hot, others cold)
  • comfortable black shoes
I was neither overdressed nor underdressed, and most important, I was comfortable. The first day I sat in a room from 8:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. We had one lunch break and one coffee break. So comfort is key.

I opted for nice jeans with this same kind of ensemble on Sunday morning. I figured Sunday was more relaxed, I was getting on a plane later, and anyway, the email they'd sent me said jeans were fine. Again, that worked out perfectly. I could've gotten away with nice jeans all three days, but since we went out to a bar and then one night there was a cocktail party, I was glad to have the black slacks.

(2) The Proper Use of a Laptop.
I borrowed a notebook computer from my mom to take on the trip. I was very glad that I hadn't dragged along my home laptop, which is too big and heavy for the purpose. I did not use the notebook to take notes during conference sessions. Our packet info warned us that tapping on iPads or notebooks could be distracting to others, and a couple of people I talked to did complain about that. I kept mine in the hotel room safe and used it to transcribe notes at the end of the day. Because SCBWI provided us with free Wi-Fi during our stay, I could easily check email too.

(3) How to Pace Myself.
The information we received was so plentiful, so overwhelming, that our heads were reeling, especially after the Friday Writers' Marketing Intensive. I learned that if I needed to take a quick bathroom break, people were okay with that, as long as I was quiet and didn't interrupt the proceedings. I decided I didn't need to go to the afternoon all-conference speech on Saturday before the second round of breakout sessions; it wasn't a topic I was interested in. So I took a long lunch and went down to the Union Square farmers' market.
Did it feel a little like playing hooky? Yeah, kind of, but it was my weekend, to do with as I needed. And I needed to recharge a little, step out in the sun (the weather was gorgeous), and just be in New York. The farmer's market was the perfect diversion. I was raring to go for the next round of sessions, drinks with my agent, and the cocktail gala that followed.

Hey, But What About Networking and Stuff?
Yeah, I learned some of that too. More tomorrow. Your eyes are getting tired.

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