Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Nobody’s Guide to Getting the Most out of a Conference

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 26, 2016

Over the weekend, I attended the League of Utah Writer’s 2016 Fall Conference. I’ve been to a handful of these conferences / symposiums in the past, and similar ones in the gaming field (mainly the Game Dev Conference). I love these events. Some are better than others. This time around, I think I filled up a quarter of a notebook with notes this weekend. And that’s a big, fat notebook. I think I averaged 2.5 pages of notes per hour, times about 18 hours of classes and panels that I attended. Not all notes (or classes) were created equal, but I hopefully learned a lot.

One of the interesting things about conferences like this is that what you learn might not necessarily be what the individual taught, or thought they were teaching. Especially when it’s about a creative process, like making games or writing fiction. Writing is a mature enough field so that most writers understand that there are no secret techniques or processes out there that are guaranteed to work for everybody. There are some rules of thumb that are nearly universal, but when you get down to brass tacks, everyone is different and what works for one person would be the kiss of death for another.

Here’s another thing: Even if a presentation isn’t jam-packed with useful information (many times, they weren’t), and even if the presenter isn’t an award-winning, best-selling veteran of the industry, there may often be little bits of useful information you can pick out of any talk that may be worthwhile. Most of the people serious enough to be attending and presenting at these conferences has encountered similar challenges, regardless of how far along they are, and has had to deal with them their own way. They may have some personal experiences or specialized information that be really useful. They may have picked up some tricks to make it work, or tried to follow some advice that absolutely did not work. All of this may be useful. In fact, someone who may only be a little bit further down the path than you may have much more current information than a long-term veteran who dealt with those problems thirty years ago.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I feel like I’m the crown prince of stupid questions. They sound a lot better in my head before I ask them out loud – that’s my only excuse. But I still ask. One key is to direct your question towards the other person’s experiences, instead of asking them to adapt their answer to your own situation. They don’t know your situation. It’s your job to take their answer and adapt it to yourself later, if possible. Hopefully the stupid-question thing won’t come back and haunt me later. But there have been times when I’ve been very, very glad I asked the question.

A lot of it is just sifting through the ideas and suggestions, sometimes experimenting with it, and finding out what works best for you. Again, everyone is different, and works best in different ways. Sometimes it’s just one thing that’s said in passing which helps you break out of your thinking-box, and leads to solving a problem you might have had. The speaker may have no idea that they said anything in any way related to what you’ve been going through, but that can help you break out or have a breakthrough.

One of the best things – assuming they have time – is networking. Even though I use the word, I kinda hate the word. It’s so goal-oriented. It sounds like it’s a vending machine you are supposed to invest time into and you get those mythical opportunities and secrets out of. Like grinding for faction in an MMORPG. It’s totally not, unless I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

For me, all that really means is hanging out, talking to people, making friends, shooting the breeze, and having a good time. There’s this really stupid idea that goes around that introverts are not social. If you’ve ever been to a fan convention or an indie game night or a conference like this where the majority of the people are probably on the introverted side of the scale, you know just how much this is horse crap.  We geeky, nerdy, writerly, video-gamey folks get together with others that share our interests, and it’s like, “YOU ARE MY PEOPLE!!!!”  You’ve returned to the mothership!

You get together, and ideas and opportunities get shared. Nobody is as well-informed and knowledgeable as all of you. You introduce each other to other friends. When an opportunity comes up or maybe someone needs help, who do they think of? Their friends. It’s like that.

Just don’t be that annoying guy (or girl). The hanger-on. The creepy stalker-type. I try not to be that. Be generous with your time when you can, but don’t require others be generous with theirs. They are busy, they’ve got other people they want to see and talk to as well. If they are at a table, they want to talk to other people and sell, so don’t make it so otherwise interested folks pass them by.

Another aspect I don’t do nearly enough of is volunteering. If you want to become part of that community, serving the community is probably the best way to do it. Rolling up the sleeves is a great equalizer, a great way to mix things up and meet new people, and there’s something about contributing to build something cool that is tough to beat. And hey, discounted tickets!

I’m no expert, and I’m nobody special at these conferences. But that’s the attitude I take with me, and I feel I still get a lot out of them.

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