This past month has been a whirlwind of activity – professional development, a family wedding, Babycakes’s third birthday…
Oh yeah, and a trip to Disney World for RWA2017 (AKA National).
About five years ago, I informed my husband that I was going to the National Conference in 2017 – yes, because it was being held in Disney World. Plans to attend the 2014 conference in San Antonio were scuttled because I would be eminently due to give birth. NYC in 2015 didn’t happen because we’d just moved to Charlotte, and 2016 in San Diego wasn’t doable for a variety of reasons.
So not only was attending this year sort of a goal-met moment for me, it was being held in the Happiest Place on Earth and we could roll a fun family vacay into the whole deal.
I cannot express what it felt like to walk into the conference center. The energy was through the roof – inescapable when so many creative minds gather under that roof. Because of said family vacation (I mean, I didn’t want to miss ALL the magic of Babycakes experiencing Disney for the first time), I gave myself Thursday and Friday, the two “full” days of the conference. And I jammed them full.
Prior to leaving for Florida, I read the very wise advice of fellow Soul Mate author Rebecca Heflin, regarding the challenge introverts face at writers’ conferences. I can’t say I followed her advice well, but I definitely learned some lessons for myself – and maybe for others – that I can take to heart the next time I have the opportunity to attend RWA National.
- Do not try to do everything. I planned to attend three sessions each day, plus the Golden Heart and Keynote Luncheons. By the end of the second day, my head was pounding. Not sure if it was from being inside all day or from the sheer amount of fantastic information I’d been digesting. But if I had to do it again, I’d pace myself better. Many of the handouts/resources are available at RWA.org, as are the recordings (for a price).
- Stay hydrated. I brought a water bottle with me, knowing the importance of fluids during a marathon day. I consistently forgot to drink from it, and by the end of the day I was definitely feeling it.
- Bring snacks. The luncheons were a fabulous way to meet other authors and editors, and snag a “free” meal (technically I paid for it with my registration). But I should have brought some things to munch between sessions.
- Decide on one method to take notes, if any at all. I tend to be one of those note takers who can jot down a few key phrases and then just magically remember what the presenter said about those phrases. The first day I lugged around a spiral notebook, the second day I used a small pocket notebook, and all the while I thought about how much easier it would have been to just bring my Surface and type. I can’t read my chicken scratch anyway.
- Get people’s names and contact info. I was fortunate enough to run into several colleagues and friends, but I also met some new people. At my first session, I sat beside a woman who also worked in education. I remember she lives in Houston, but that’s it. I wish I’d gotten her name, or at least given her my card. We could have connected on multiple levels.
- Coordinate with people you know, so you aren’t alone (applies mostly to introverts). I am a painful introvert in new situations, especially when surrounded by a LOT of people. It was really hard for me to introduce myself, even if I got into small-talk convos. And after running into several colleagues from my local RWA chapters, I felt like an idiot for not coordinating better with them to meet up. I think when you’re with people you know, as an introvert, it’s less scary to be introduced to someone new.
- Just make it be about the conference. While I wouldn’t give up Babycakes’ first trip to Disney for anything, it was hard not being immersed in the conference full time. I mean, there was a write-in! People were meeting up for dinner! I totally skipped the RITAs in favor of a little couple time with my Romantic Hero of a Husband out at the parks. I did tell the hubs that the next conference, I should really just go on my own and do the conference properly. Stay at the conference site, with other conference goers, and be immersed in the amazing experience that is RWA.
If you’re not an introvert like me, maybe these lessons don’t apply to you. We all have different professional needs, and finding your stride, figuring out what your conference mojo looks like, is valuable.