Time Management

Conference Tips for Introverts

(Updated 2020: the San Francisco Writers Conference has moved to a new venue since I wrote this post so I’ve amended where necessary.)

Next week, I’m heading to the San Francisco Writers Conference for the fourth sixth(?) time. This year, I’m better prepared than ever, both in terms of logistics and mental readiness.

If you’re an introvert like me, the idea of attending a conference is both exhilarating and daunting. Yes, you’re excited to learn more about your chosen topic and meet others in your “tribe”, but several days of upbeat interactions with strangers can leave you drained. And if you’re attending a writing conference in the hope of connecting with an agent (I’m not), the pressure can make your stomach churn.

Conference Tips for Introverts

Below, I’ve combed my notes from previous conferences to offer suggestions both for introverts (many writers fall into this camp) and for SFWC in general:

Introvert tips:

  • Research people with whom you’d like to connect. Even at large gatherings, you can seek them out (tactfully) if you’re prepared and somewhat familiar with their face, from photos.
  • Practice some small talk. There’s nothing wrong with having a few topics ready, and open-ended questions work nicely. Flip through The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine for encouragement and ideas. Or try these:
    • “Which session are you most excited about attending?”
    • “What did you think of the keynote speaker?”
    • “How was your morning/first day?”
  • Stay at the hotel if you can. You’ll save time and energy, and it makes it far easier to retreat to your room for some quiet time, if you need it.
  • Skip sessions if you need to (see above). It’s better to miss a mediocre speaker/topic than to run out of zip entirely. As an introvert, I simply can’t be “on” for twelve hours a day.
  • Carry mints with you. If you’re in the elevator with someone you’d love to meet and you just can’t think of a conversation opener, offer them a mint. It can work, I promise!

San Francisco Writers Conference

General tips for SFWC:

  • Be sure you can introduce your book or work-in-progress succinctly. In the past, I’ve been surprised how many authors can’t. Not everyone is there to pitch to an agent, but having a short, easy description helps others connect with you and adds to your credibility. Please don’t simply relate your synopsis and don’t assume others are intimately familiar with your genre.
  • Keep your questions to panelists brief and general, so that everyone in the room can relate. Every year, the wonderful Michael Larsen has to remind an attendee that the open sessions are not the place for an in-depth analysis of their own circumstances.
  • The agenda is packed and my personal experience is you can’t always tell exactly what will be covered in a session from the title. Spend some time before researching speakers (many of them have a book available) to see if their content is likely to resonate with you. In previous years, some of the presenter handouts have been posted online, and that’s an ideal way to preview their session.
  • You’ll get far more out of the keynotes if you read one of their books in advance. I don’t always manage this, but it significantly increased my enjoyment of hearing Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Barry Eisler speak.
  • For the new SFWC venue, this didn’t seem to be a problem last year:
    Smaller breakout rooms can get extremely crowded. For sessions which are vital to you, I suggest you arrive as the previous session finishes, to claim your seat.
  • Ditto! Restroom capacity is much better at the new hotel!
    Similarly… use the restroom toward the end of each break.
  • Bring:
    • Highlighter pens, if you plan to take notes on paper. Bonus points if you designate colors for to do, a-ha, writing tip, and so on.
    • Cheap pens to lend. Never lend a beloved pen!
    • Business cards. People do forget these and they are still used.
    • A few snacks, if your energy tends to dip between meals. The new SFWC venue is much closer to convenient places to buy a coffee or a snack, but you might still like to have a few easy options stashed in your bag.
      SFWC usually offers somewhere to buy a bargain cup of coffee, but healthy snacks may be scarce. The hotel has a vending machine in the parking garage but you’ll need to be intrepid to find it!
    • Something to tie onto your conference bag, to differentiate it as yours. My preference is a colorful scarf, which also goes around my neck if I’m chilly.
    • I have a few more packing tips for introverts here.
  • Block off time in your calendar soon after the conference to review your notes and plan your action steps. Designate another appointment in 2-3 months, to build on your good intentions and takeaways.

If you’re attending the conference and would like to “know” someone in advance, please do reach out! I’d especially love to connect with authors of women’s fiction, indie authors who are happy with that choice, and anyone who wants website design tips.

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5 Comment

  1. Reply
    Tracey Gemmell
    February 5, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Great advice. I’m heading to the Writer’s Institute in Madison WI in April. I’ll carry this information with me.
    Enjoy your conference!

    1. Reply
      February 6, 2018 at 7:23 am

      Wonderful: hope your conference (and these tips) are useful!

  2. Reply
    Jean | DelightfulRepast.com
    February 7, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Pauline, this is THE best thing I’ve ever read on this topic. When I was an introvert in a very people-y industry for many years, I had to both attend and put on conferences, so had to learn these things in order to survive. I can’t pick one thing from your list that is “most important,” but it is definitely important to stay at the conference hotel. Doesn’t matter how much you can save staying just down the road, you will be sooo glad your room is just a brief elevator ride away. And carefully planning ahead which sessions to skip is key. I remember one conference in Atlanta I skipped out on for a splendid posh afternoon tea!

    1. Reply
      February 7, 2018 at 2:36 pm

      Jean, if any posh afternoon teas come my way during the conference, I will think of you and be absolutely sure to skip out! Nicely done.

  3. Reply
    Jean | DelightfulRepast.com
    February 10, 2018 at 7:41 am

    I just thought of one other: I always had dinner alone. Inevitably, some of the people from the conference would be in the hotel restaurant and invite me to join them. I’d just say: Thank you so much, but I’m just going to bolt down a quick bite and get back to my room to take care of a few things. Yeah, things like reveling in the quiet! And doing a little “When I’m alone I’m in good company” Happy Dance!

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