Getting Conference-Ready, Part 2: Tips for a Productive, Enjoyable Annual Conference Experience

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series of tips to help you get the most out of #ASJA2019, on May 5-6 at the New York Marriott Downtown, two action-packed days of programming; exciting, dynamic keynoters; a plethora of networking opportunities and much more. New this year is an app, “ASJA Annual Writers Conference 2019,” available for iPhone and Android.

To read the first in the series, visit “Getting Conference-Ready, Part 1.”

Registration completed. Check.

Hotel room booked. Done.

Flight secured. Yup.

Besides packing clothes and a bevy of business cards, writers who have attended prior ASJA annual conferences also take steps to prepare themselves for the gathering in other ways.

Use Client Connections to Your Best Advantage

Wendy Helfenbaum (@WendyHelfenbaum on Twitter), a longtime ASJA member who oversees the organization’s Client Connections — which is being co-chaired this year by Erin O’Donnell (@ErinODWriter on Twitter) and Jeannette Hurt (@ByJeanetteHurt on Twitter), suggested attendees “be strategic when choosing who you want to meet with” during that beloved aspect of the conference. “Because Client Connections is a lottery, the more clients you pick, the better your chances are for landing several meetings.” 

“Because Client Connections is a lottery, the more clients you pick, the better your chances are for landing several meetings,” said Helfenbaum. “Opting for one or two of the more popular editors—ones from top consumer publications, for example, may well net you…nothing! Members are not guaranteed an appointment, so put the odds in your favor.”

“Have some backup choices,” added ASJA president Milt Toby, who has attended at least ten annual conferences.

But beware of straying too far afield with your requests. Helfenbaum encourages attendees to read the Client Connections instructions carefully, including any mentions of specific skill sets or subject matter expertise the editors are seeking. “Don’t sign up for the chance to meet the editor of a technology publication if you’ve never covered tech and have zero knowledge,” she cautioned.

One way of zeroing in on the best choices is to create a list of articles you would like to pitch during Client Connections and then review the names of participating publications to determine if any might be interested in those ideas, advises Toby.

Gregory updates her LinkedIn profile because she seeks to connect with Client Connections editors immediately following an event. If there are attendees she would like to get to know better, she schedules a lunch or coffee with them to ensure the opportunity to chat outside the hustle and bustle of the conference.

Another important tip: Bring your own paper and writing instrument to Client Connections. Helfenbaum said she was surprised to learn that at last year’s conference, several writers asked the editors they met with to borrow theirs. “Don’t be that person,” she urged.

Members participating in the Client Connections should receive their list of meetings approximately one week prior to the conference. At that time, “start preparing for your meetings. You have nine minutes to dazzle” the editor or agent, said Helfenbaum, so be ready to “sell yourself succinctly.”

Manage Your Time Wisely: Be Organized

This year’s conference will be the second for Linsey Knerl, although she also attended last year’s regional meeting in Austin. Knerl prints a copy of the conference schedule, then highlights the discussions, panels and events she most wants to attend. “It’s easier for me to see what I want to do when I don’t have to look at my phone,” she said, noting that even if her phone battery dies, she still has the schedule in hand. She familiarizes herself with the conference layout to so she knows exactly where to go for sessions. “I also make note of places where I have small breaks in my schedule,” for using the bathroom, getting coffee or checking emails.

But for those who like having phone access to the schedule, ASJA is excited to introduce a brand-new conference app this year. In about two weeks, you’ll be able to download “ASJA 2019 Annual Conference” at your favorite app store (iPhone and Android). (Look for an announcement in ASJA Weekly.)

Because the two-day event is jam-packed with speakers, panels and more, Knerl also tweaks her schedule to allow for brief moments of solitude. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed.”

Toby also carefully reviews the agenda. Along with checking session titles and descriptions and studying the speaker’s bios, he sorts the various conference sessions into categories, such as “must hear” or “pass” so precious moments aren’t wasted on deciding where to go and what to do next.

The time to start planning and preparing for the gathering is now. Toby admitted he still sometimes forgets certain important items. Rather than relying on memory, make a list. “You don’t want to be striking up conversations with your colleagues while mentally kicking yourself because you left your business cards on the kitchen table.”

Network, Network, Network

Networking is the heart of any conference and #ASJA2019 is no exception. According to Jodi Helmer, who, along with Carolyn Crist is at the helm of this year’s gathering, “There is always a lot of excitement about meeting with editors but don’t forget to prioritize meeting other writers. A lot of amazing information is shared over lunch, at the cocktail party or in the hallways between sessions. Some of my best leads have come from other writers. So, while attendees are rushing toward the front of the room to hand their cards to editors on panels, I hang back and introduce myself to the person sitting beside me.”

Although a veteran of six annual and five regional conferences, Gregory attends the new member orientation on the first day to meet other writers who may not know people at the conference and always signs up for lunches. “This is a fabulous way to meet new people who write about similar subjects. Writer friends are invaluable for both support and referrals.” And don’t forget about socializing with editors, too, and not solely the ones with whom a writer might be meeting at Client Connections. “Keep an eye out. The person sitting next to you in a session might be the editor of your dream publication.”

“Allow plenty of room in your day for impromptu networking opportunities,” concludes Knerl. After all, “that is the best part of the event.”

An Ohio attorney and freelance writer, Tami Kamin Meyer(@girlwithapen) is the Marketing chairperson of ASJA.

#ASJA2019 is happening May 5-6 at the New York Marriot Downtown. There’s plenty of time to register for two action-packed days of programming; exciting, dynamic keynoters; a plethora of net
working opportunities and much more.