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Tips for SCBWI conference newbies, second-timers, plus a CHALLENGE for the many-timers


Only a couple of weeks until the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles! If you haven't yet registered, you're out of luck....they just announced that the conference is now sold out. However, you can follow along virtually via the #LA14SCBWI hashtag on Twitter as well as the SCBWI conference blog.

If you're a conference newbie who is nervous, I encourage you to browse my SCBWI Conference Newbie comics. I created these when I was a nervous newbie as well! So many people think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually very much an introvert and was terrified (to the point of sweating palms, pounding heart, hating the idea of having go up and introduce myself over and over) about attending my first regular SCBWI conference back in 2009.

(Edit re: above comic: I did end up meeting Jay at the conference and he was really nice! And he didn't mention his Amazon ranking EVEN ONCE! Heh.)

I've posted advice for first-timers before and will post it again at the end of this piece, but now that I've attended other SCBWI annual conferences (and had my career jumpstarted because of the 2010 SCBWI-LA Conference), here is some additional advice I have for those who have attended more than once:

Don't get offended or disheartened if people you've met before don't remember you.

This is something I've learned from both sides. As a 2nd- and 3rd-timer (and so on), I've sometimes gone up to a person or group I've met and had my confidence deflated when it becomes clear they don't remember me at ALL from the previous year. My inner reactions ranged from embarrassment, humiliation, irritation, frustration and even brief anger ("I guess I'm just NOT IMPORTANT enough for xxx to remember!! Hmph.").

Now heading into my sixth year in a row attending SCBWI-LA, I've learned the following:

- I'm terrible at remembering people unless I've had multiple conversations or interactions with the same person.

- Even then, especially if I'm tired or am in a noisy crowd (remember what I said earlier about being an introvert?) or have met many new people in a row just before, I may still forget having met someone before.

I still accidentally re-introduce myself to people whom I've met before, sometimes whom I've met EARLIER IN THE CONVENTION. I'm always horribly embarrassed when this happens. 

Make sure your name badge is easily visible.

Also, when I approach someone whom I've met before but with whom I don't have constant contact, I usually try saying something that will help remind them of our mutual context, or remind them of having met at xxx. Until I'm sure they actually do remember me, I try very hard NOT to put them on the spot (e.g. I don't say, "So, what did you think of my most recent post?" etc.).

When someone does this to me (subtly or unsubtly :-) setting the context and helping me remember), I immediately feel more at ease with them and am more likely to want to chat with them in the future.

Another tip: if someone DOES remember you, never assume that they're up-to-date on all your exciting news. I've had the occasional person react badly when they realize I'm not aware of their new book ("?? But I posted it all over Facebook!") I never assume anyone reads all my posts or keeps up with all my news. People have busy lives and different priorities.

Something else I've learned: even so-called Big Name authors and illustrators can be insecure. I am faaaar from being a Big Name, but having had a bit more experience at conference-going now, I also realize how some of the Big Name types who seemed standoffish to me actually weren't.

Be gracious, be forgiving and try very hard to assume the best about a person rather than the worst.

And I apologize ahead of time if I don't remember your name or re-introduce myself. :-\

And here some tips for first-timers who feel nervous about attending for the first time, or are normally very shy or introverted and dread the idea of having to meet a lot of new people:

1. Be brave and make the first move. You'd be surprised at how many other attendees feel exactly the same way as you do. Introduce yourself to people you sit beside, stand in line with, notice standing alone.

2. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Yes, even if you aren't published yet. We're all going to meet a lot of people over the weekend, and taking away a business card from an encounter or introduction will help the people you meet remember you. If you're an illustrator, take postcards or make sure a sample of illustration style is on your business card.

3. Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be "discovered" at the conference.

4. In my experience, you're much more likely to meet new people if you're alone. If you're always chatting and hanging out with the same person or people, you're not as approachable. I'm not saying that you SHOULDN'T hang out with people you like, of course! Just keep in mind that as a group, you're probably not going to meet as many new people as someone who is by themselves.

5. If you're on Twitter, write your Twitter handle on your name badge somewhere.

But most of all: TRY TO HAVE FUN. 


Try to remember what it was like when you attended your very first event, or how insecure you felt in the beginning. Then make it a personal challenge to find at least one lost-looking or nervous conference newbie who is sitting or standing alone. Introduce yourself, chat with them, find out what they're working on, perhaps (if appropriate) offer some advice.

Give good karma and it WILL come back to you.

Reader Comments (9)

Debbie, thank you so much for posting this. 2009 was my first year at SCBWI and this will be my 6th also. So much of what you said is a "ditto" for me. I get excited and nervous every single year about talking to new people. I've made some true BFF's at conferences past and I find security in hanging out with them year after year, but stepping out on that ledge alone and meeting new people is what conference is all about. Especially when I find that first-time newbie and say hello. Looking forward to seeing you again.

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJenni Bielicki

Jenni - So glad you enjoyed my post. Looking forward to seeing you again, too!!

July 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDebbie Ridpath Ohi

Boy, am I nervous about attending my first national SCBWI conference! It makes me feel better to hear you were nervous too. :) I feel extra pressure because I fortunately got the Tribute Fund (which makes me think of The Hunger Games, but I digress) this pays my way. And I am pregnant so there's very little chance I'll be able to attend another national conference in the near future. I just don't want to waste this opportunity... I've already downloaded the schedule app and researched the breakout sessions I'll attend, so I feel good about that. What stresses me out the most is making a good impression, which is also my first impression and possibly only impression. STRESSFUL! I need to do some deep breathing exercises... :O Debbie, how do you stay cool talking with people who could be intimidating?

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Riti

Dear Debbie,
Can't thank you enough for your generous heart. Your comments are so helpful and encouraging. I really do hope I get to meet you at the conference (and I won't, I promise, expect you to remember that I wrote this comment to you :-))

Best wishes,

Melody Mansfield

July 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelody Mansfield

Thank you so, so much for the helpful tips and advice. It'll be my first year attending the conference, and those comics are a pretty accurate description of how I currently feel. AHH!!

July 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Chong

Marsha: I feel for you! Please do find me and say hi, ok? Also, re: nerves -- I urge you to let people know that it's your first time, and that you're a bit nervous. People are much more likely to either commiserate (in which case you'll have made a new friend) or want to help make you feel welcome. :-) Looking forward to meeting you!

July 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterDebbie Ridpath Ohi

Marsha: Also, I don't have helpful advice for your last question because I still get soooo intimidated by some people!!!! I'm especially nervous about meeting Judy Blume this weekend. I really really want to meet with her, but what if I lapse into incoherent fangirl mode? Or am unable to say ANYTHING? The latter happened when I met Patricia McLachlan at an SCBWI-LA in a group. Good luck!

July 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterDebbie Ridpath Ohi

Melody: Your comment made me laugh. :-D Please do find me and say hi!!!

July 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterDebbie Ridpath Ohi

Sarah: Good luck with your first conference! And please find me and say hi!!!!

July 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterDebbie Ridpath Ohi

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