PUBLISHED AUGUST 2017
by Joshua Tallent, Director of Outreach & Education, Firebrand Technologies –
I go to many conferences. On average, I attend eight publishing conferences every year (for work), plus three or four gaming and comic conferences (for fun). Add that up over the past 10 or so years, and you can see why I like to think of myself as a veteran conference attendee. I also participate in the planning committees for a few of those conferences, so I have experience from the other side of the table, as well.
Why do I attend so many conferences? Besides the obvious work obligations, the main reason is that conferences allow you to connect with people. I have made many friends and built numerous business relationships both inside and outside the publishing world through attending conferences. I also find that communication is easier in person, and I am able to express myself, explain the work I do, and make a better impression when I’m standing or sitting right next to someone than I can over the phone or in a virtual meeting.
Another reason I attend conferences is the learning opportunities that are available. I teach my own fair share of sessions and workshops, but I also love to attend other sessions. I rarely walk away from a conference without learning something new and interesting about topics in which I am not so well versed. For example, I have many marketing responsibilities in my job, so I find marketing sessions informative and challenging; I also like to sit in on sessions about editorial, print production, and bookselling. Most conferences offer a wide variety of sessions, so it is not hard to find something interesting to learn.
Small, independent publishers and authors often have difficulty knowing what conferences to attend and how to get the most out of the experience. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful if I offer some tips and tricks for conference attendance.
Get an early start: Some of the conferences I attend start as early as 8 a.m., which can be off-putting if you are not an early riser. However, if you miss those early sessions, you may miss some of the best content of the conference. Get up early, and get in gear!
Eat breakfast: Eating a good breakfast with protein is probably the most important thing I can do when attending a conference. Most all-day conferences have a basic continental breakfast set up, but I usually need to eat something more substantial to ensure I don’t starve before lunch. In addition to staving off hunger, studies show that a good breakfast will also help you absorb more information and pay better attention. Plan ahead, and find something good to fill your belly before the day gets started.
Plan out your schedule: I often see people in the hallway of the conference hotel scouring the session list at the last moment, trying to figure out which one to attend next. Instead of making that a last-minute decision, I recommend you read the session descriptions before you leave home and make a plan for what sessions you want to attend. I usually try to rank them in my head, too, so I know which ones are non-negotiable for me, versus ones I can skip to continue a good networking conversation I’m in the middle of. It is always easier to adapt when you already have a plan in place.
Take advantage of workshops: Pre- and post-conference workshops offer some of the most in-depth, actionable information you can get at a conference. Speaking as someone who regularly teaches both workshops and general sessions, I can fit much more content and much more attendee-specific Q&A into a half- or full-day workshop than I ever could in a 45-minute session. These workshops often increase the cost of the conference but, in my opinion, they are almost always well worth it.
Bring business cards: Business cards can be very helpful in networking situations. I always try to carry some in my pocket, and I regularly collect them from people I speak with. Another tip: when someone gives you a card, write a quick note on the back about your conversation or the action item you walked away with. If you’re anything like me, you’ll go home and completely forget what you discussed with many of these people, so the note will help.
IBPA COO Terry Nathan (left) and IBPA Director of Marketing & Programming Lee Wind (right) at the 2017 American Library Association Annual Conference
Attend networking events: Sometimes I think networking is the best reason to attend industry conferences. You’ll have lots of networking time during breaks and at meals, but if you are invited to any networking functions, I recommend you take advantage of them, too. It’s amazing what you can accomplish and who you can meet over a glass of wine and a plate of finger foods.
Don’t oversell: I know it’s hard not to tell everyone to whom you talk about the new business venture you are starting or the new book you are trying to publish. However, I always recommend taking a softer line when talking to colleagues. Ask them what projects they are working on. Find out what they think about the new technology that’s coming out. Nine times out of 10, they will reciprocate your interest, and that will make a bigger impact than your business plans.
Get a good night’s sleep: I don’t think I can emphasize this one enough. With all the conference sessions and networking events, you may find it hard to get enough rest for the next day. However, I can tell you from experience that getting only four hours of sleep will make it that much harder to get anything good out of the conference. Know your limits, and don’t forget that early morning session the next day!
Joshua Tallent, the director of Outreach and Education at Firebrand Technologies, is an expert in metadata and e-book development, and an acclaimed teacher and guide on digital publishing. In addition to heading up training and outreach efforts for Firebrand, Joshua serves on multiple industry committees and working groups, and teaches in-depth workshops and sessions at publishing conferences throughout the year. He also leads the development of FlightDeck, the most robust EPUB quality assurance tool available.