Bad conference behavior: Don’t do it!

I’m on my way to the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference later this week (#ASJA2015 – let me know if you’ll be there!) I go most years. As with any conference, I’ve figured that what I get out of it is a function of what I put into it, and so I’ve been sure to get clear on my goals:

1. Finding new stories and topics to write about
2. Sharing the news of I Know How She Does It with writers who might cover it
3. Doing a good job on my panel gig
4. Reconnecting with some of my favorite writer pals

I’m not there to find new clients, which is kind of liberating. Serendipity is fine, but not expected. I’m not there to interest agents in my book ideas. I’ve wanted to do those things in previous years, and they suggest a different plan of attack, one that I’m sure other writers will do masterfully.

Then there are people who will not do this masterfully. Over the years, I’ve been making a list of bad conference behavior, some of which happens at all conferences, and some of which is specific to writing conferences. Either way, argh!:

Exuding the sense that because you’re on a panel, you have arrived. A panel is not an excuse to go on and on about all your accomplishments. There’s a bio in the program. If people are interested, they’ll read that.

A corollary: Being very disparaging to the speakers. OK, not everyone is awesome. But actually tweeting (with the conference hashtag) that a panel is awful is kind of uncool.

Rushing the stage. One of the worst ways to meet conference speakers is to elbow out anyone else hoping to say hello and then attempt to monopolize the person’s time. If there’s someone you truly want to meet, try volunteering with the organizing committee. You’ll probably get to meet whoever you want in the course of inviting people and dealing with logistics.

Monopolizing the Q&A. Again, if you want to meet the speaker, volunteering is a great idea. Getting up and asking a question that isn’t a question isn’t a career-building moment.

One-upping other attendees. I find this be be a particular hazard of writing conferences. Because everyone can write, many professional writers feel a profound need to prove that they are serious. So, it’s happened that I’ll be having a conversation with someone and she’ll ask me how much publication X pays me. I’ll answer, and then this person will say “Oh, I’d never write for X.” Come on. I get it, but it’s really not a competition.

Complaining about how it used to be better. All industries go through ups and downs. Journalism has perhaps been on a particularly long slide. Still, it gets a little tiring to hear about how the big magazines paid $1-2/word in 1960 and they pay $1-2/word now.

Asking people to save your seat. Total pet peeve of mine. You get to a popular session early to get a seat. Someone you don’t know dashes in, puts a piece of paper or something down next to you and then yells “save my seat” while dashing out. Then you feel a sense of obligation to fend off people, and they’re all mad at you while the other person is out in the hall chatting.

Not being collegial. It takes guts to say hello to people you don’t know, and no one really wants to repeat the middle school cafeteria phenomenon. So if someone introduces herself, take the time to chat. If you do need to run off, introduce her to someone else.

What conference behavior drives you nuts?

In other news: If you enjoy my blog, you might also enjoy my next book I Know How She Does It.  If you pre-order a copy before June 2, you can join my book club and access two exclusive webinars I will be hosting in June. Follow those links to learn more.

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