Have you ever been to a conference of your peers? Do you have peers at all? Do you accept the peers you have?
If you have ever gone to a conference with the hope of learning from those who have already succeeded at what you would like to do, you may recognize some of the observations I made at my latest expedition for learning. I went to a writer’s conference and I must admit I had high hopes. On the first day, I noted that three out of the nine sessions I attended were interesting, well-crafted and informative. ONE THIRD! Is that a good portion? Doesn’t seem like it to me. The people who were in the “driver’s seat” were dull and lifeless in six of the sessions I attended. Each session was an hour, so you can easily add that up and say I wasted six hours, though the other three hours were fruitful. I should however point out that I was there to learn and so my choices were for the educational sessions. There were other options. I may have simply chosen the wrong sessions to attend. So, it could be said that I chose wrong two thirds of the time. There were “fun” sessions available, but I was determined to get my money’s worth and further my education. Well, regardless of my choices and the dullness of the sessions, I still learned, though I learned the lessons that were given behind and beyond the spoken word.
Lesson one: If you want to appear aloof and boring, sit behind a table, don’t mingle at all with the crowd, and use a tone of voice that is as dry as the desert (you know, where cattle wander off and die of dehydration and get picked apart by buzzards). If you want to sell people your personality as well as your books, try the opposite of the above: mingle, talk to people, shake hands, and have a tone of voice that sounds like you are happy to be where you are. Some of this can be faked, but hey, at least faking it is a step in the right direction.
Lesson two: Give the people what they want, but not everything they want. In one particular session, there was only one person presenting and the place was packed. The presenter was aware that not everyone would get a chance to ask a question. He was also aware that there was no session in the room following his time, so he stayed as long as people wanted him to answer their questions. Some questions were redundant though, and when they became redundant, he referred the person to his website. See? He gave the people what they wanted, but not everything they wanted. Limits: set them before you go (Lesson two point five).
Lesson three: Find the best food. I brought my own lunch the first day. On the second day I found a half-decent burger place. It was your standard meat and potatoes. Not really worth a second visit. On the third day however, I went to a sandwich place (Sensuous Sandwich) that was worth a repeat visit. They heaped my sandwich with lettuce and peppers and everything I asked for, just the way I like it. It was delicious, and quite honestly better than the sandwich I had made for myself from home.
Lesson four: People in capes are not so mysterious as they are repulsive. Lots of people went to this thing with their costumes, and I couldn’t really find the space from which they originated, you know what I mean? They were definitely from another dimension; one which I could not fathom. It should also be noted that none of the presenters wore capes, although there was one man who dressed like a magician. He wore a very fancy suit, with a silk vest. It was an odd sight, though he comported himself like a gentleman, so that the suit matched his personality. About the combination of blue-jeans and capes however, I wonder whether that is affirmation of style or aversion to it. You decide.
Lesson five: Don’t be an arrogant, pompous, self-centered ignoramus. One presenter acted that way, but then again, he did sort of admit to it halfway through his presentation, so there is hope for him yet. He also asked if there were any youngsters in the room, and after finding out that there were, he promised to tailor his speech and repress his curses, so he deserves kudos for that.
Lesson six: The presentation on how to be a quality presenter should have been required for all but three of the presenters at the conference.
Lesson seven: I cannot attend that conference again, unless I am either in the sales room or presenting. I can’t survive the dull sessions, and hanging around waiting for the next great session is not worth the time. If I was in the sales room, I could at least mark the time by counting how many Sensuous sandwiches I had earned.