I can tell the RWA National Conference is coming up (June 28-July 1) by looking around my office. I've begun sorting clothes for the trip. I hate waiting until the last minute. I'm also going out of town before the conference, so I'm packing for two trips. Anyone else started packing yet? Or am I the only crazy one?
If you have started packing, have you also thought about how you plan to network? Are you pitching your manuscript to an editor/agent? Do you have your pitch down? How about an elevator pitch so it'll roll off the tongue? How are your social skills? Most writers are introverts, including me, but I'm getting better. I even took a class recently with Jonathan Maberry and Keith Strunk called Act Like a Writer which used acting techniques to improve communication skills. It was tough and painful at times but well worth it.
A writing conference offers one of the best places for networking with business professionals, colleagues and friends. But have you found yourself tongue tied at an editor/agent pitch, or trying to speak to a group of people only to find your witty humor has missed the connecting flight?
To be most effective, you must sharpen those communication skills and avoid a few bad habits. People form impressions within the first 10 minutes, or less, of speaking with you. How do you gracefully start up a conversation with a stranger? When there are hundreds of attendees at the larger conferences like RWA National and Romantic Times, the eyes can glaze over and the urge to go find a corner to hide in is overwhelming.
First of all, take a breath. Don’t overload your brain with everything that’s happening in the room. Focus on the immediate six–foot circle around you. Think before you speak and always remind yourself, “Am I behaving in a manner that will make a good impression?”
3 Rules for Successful Communication:
- Listen – without interrupting the other person.
- Question– the person for more information on the topic.
- Encourage– more discussion including other ideas, future plans or goals.
–Reveal some confession. “This is my first national conference and I feel overwhelmed.” “In my pitch session, I was so nervous I couldn’t remember the names of my characters.” A good icebreaker.
–Weave pauses into your speech. Don’t try to convey all the information on your topic in one breath. Give the other person an opportunity to absorb and interject comments.
–Smile! You’ll be more approachable. Other body language applies here–stand tall, dress professionally and make eye contact with people you are speaking to.
–Compliment people, but be sincere. Introduce yourself to others. If someone pays you a compliment use that as an opening for a conversation starter.
KEEP A SHARP EYE OPEN FOR OPPORTUNITIES, BUT DON’T BE A SHARK.
–Be warm and considerate. Respect people’s privacy and opinions. Gossiping about and badmouthing other people can too easily be overheard, even in your room, on an elevator. DON’T DO IT!
–Be Positive. To give a positive impression, speak and act positive.
–Be empathetic. If you spend your time trying to understand someone’s point of view rather than convincing her of yours, you’ll build your image.
Behavior to Avoid:
–Sarcasm. Making spontaneous sarcastic remarks even if you don’t intend to hurt anyone has a negative impact on people’s impression of you.
–Interrupting. Interrupting a speaker can create a less than favorable impression for you, if not cause tension and anger. If you catch yourself doing it, stop and apologize. If you’re not sure if the person is finished, politely ask, “Are you finished?”
–Ignoring people. If you don’t take time to say hello, or stop to listen to another’s ideas or good news, others will not want to deal with you in the future. Our lives are so busy and rushed and it’s easy to forget to pay attention to our actions. But people remember rude–and courteous–behavior.
–Being halfway there. When you are speaking to someone, don’t scan the hundreds of conference attendees behind her looking for other friends or favorite authors. (See ignoring people). Or explain by saying, “I’m trying to find so and so, please excuse my rudeness.”
–Hogging the conversation. It’s not all about you. Even if you think it is. Give others a chance to talk. (See Interrupting.)
–Offering unsolicited Advice. Don’t do it. Try this on a friend: “Hi Jane, want some advice?” Watch her face tighten.
–Giving insincere compliments. Politeness and courtesy can be overdone especially in insincere compliments. On the other hand, don’t criticize people in public.
10 Ways to Start a Conversation with Strangers at Conferences:
Starting a conversation with strangers is difficult because you don’t know their interests. At conferences, you have a common point of interest—books.
- Comment about the conference, keynote speaker, awards ceremony, etc.
- Ask where the other person is from, or other background information.
- Pay a compliment, a sincere and honest one, of course.
- Ask if he or she is a writer, and if so, what does he or she write.
- Ask for advice. “Should I wear the jacket or not?” “Is this pitch line better than that one?”
- Ask for help. “Where’s the goodie room?”
- Ask for an opinion. People love to give their opinion.
- Ask, “Have you attended any good workshops so far?”
- Ask for the best way to get around town, points of interest, local restaurants, etc.
- Recommend any good craft books? Workshops? Read a great book lately?
What do you hope to accomplish at your next conference and please share any tips, experiences or horror stories. We all can learn from good and bad experiences.