Sensitivity at Conferences

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Today’s topic is an extension of Rachelle Gardner’s post yesterday on etiquette but focuses specifically on sensitivity at conferences. Prepare for mental overload as you take in workshops, general sessions, and meetings with agents and editors, but be ready to give back too.

Writers conferences are great venues for reconnecting with New writerwriter friends and others you’ve met online but not in person. Critique partners often attend the same conference so they can learn and encourage each other and spend time together during free times and meals. Agents and editors look forward to connecting with each other too. Collectively, as our minds race to get where we need to go and make the most out of your conference experience, we often don’t notice the person next to us who is in need of a warm greeting and hopes of gaining friendships in the Christian writing community.

Last year when I blogged on this reminder for all of us, I told of a dear friend who attended a conference by herself. She decided to start a new table at lunch and let God choose her tablemates at the table for ten. Nine people who belonged to the same writers group took the remaining seats. She commented that she couldn’t break into their conversation no matter how she tried. The one time someone initiated conversation with her was to ask her to take their picture. She understood it wasn’t personal, that they were just enjoying being together. She also felt God had a lesson in it for her. Having experienced this herself, my friend now looks for a person already sitting at a table, alone, and asks if she can join her. Giving back. She said it works well unless the person rushes to say, “Sorry, all these seats are saved,” without a second glance or even a smile. Again, nothing personal but it stings nonetheless and, unless your emotions are fortified with titanium, it is hard to resist feeling rejected, especially in an environment where creative people already are braced for rejection by agents and editors.

I have observed instances like these myself at conferences. And I’m quite sure I have unwittingly been guilty of not recognizing and initiating conversation with an introverted conferee or a first-time attendee who doesn’t know the ropes. Agents and editors sometimes host tables at lunch and dinner as part of our faculty role. It’s our opportunity and privilege to talk with each person who chooses to sit at our table and to give them our full attention as they describe their WIP.

I watched sensitivity at work during the Oregon Christian Writers Conference a few years ago. A writer who was sitting at the snack station with friends noticed a very young girl sitting at another table by herself. Had the writer not approached this shy teenager, we might never have learned her story. The girl had just graduated from high school and travelled, alone, from her home in Alaska to attend the conference. Her passion and determination to become an author was so great that she was an inspiration to many other conferees and faculty. She gathered a community of writer friends she could stay in touch with from Alaska. Blessings back and forth.

Together as faculty and conferees, let’s be watchful to balance our time with friends and moments when we can exercise sensitivity at conferences.

Can you think of additional instances when you put your conference sensibilities to good service? When have you felt like an outsider at a writer event? What happened when you spoke to someone new to you at a conference? At what other venues can you reach out to new writers?

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Conferences can be good or bad experiences for new writers. Exercise sensitivity at conferences. Click to Tweet.