Syd’s Conference Survival Guide: What to Bring, What to Leave, and Tips for Success

I hope everyone had a fabulous day yesterday full of sunshine, family, friends, red-white-and-blue novelty drinks and fireworks enjoyed with fingers of all participants remaining intact! Now that the dust has settled, your outlook may be “OMG, RWA National is right around the corner! I can’t wait. I’ve already been packed for weeks!” Or, you may be feeling something closer to “oh, crap. RWA National is right around the corner and I am so not ready.” If the second statement describes you more than the first, fear not. Here’s Sydney Carroll’s handy-dandy conference survival guide!


Before I get into specifics, I think it’s a good plan to keep the major points of going to a writer’s conference in mind: getting ourselves (and our own unique writer “brands”) out there, networking, learning, and having fun. Ideally, we want to be the best version of our writer selves as much as possible, because every chance meeting is an opportunity to make a good impression—and people will be watching. Basically it’s a cross between a sleepover and a job interview, so no pressure, right?


Now that I’ve got you thoroughly freaked out, let me rephrase it a bit: confidence matters. You are awesome. You are a talented storyteller with a voice all your own. You will make friends and professional contacts. In short, you will bring it. And what you bring will go a long way in helping you bring it, so let’s get started!


Clothes: like McGovvy said in her earlier post, you don’t have to be a fashionista if that’s not you. Feel free to keep it simple if you want, or go all out fabulous. Just remember to keep it mostly professional. Not to say that you need to go around in a pantsuit, though. I use this scenario as a litmus test for my conference outfits: would I wear it to a lunch in a fancy New York restaurant to discuss my new book deal with my editor? If I would, I’m probably on the right track. Think neat, clean, comfortable, and well-fitting. The rest is up to your taste. A warning: that skirt or pair of pants you really, really love and will look fabulous in once you lose five pounds? Forget it. Try everything on in front of a mirror and an honest friend. If it bunches, pinches, or sags, forget it. Any garment you have to keep fidgeting with will sap your confidence and make you appear even more nervous than you likely already are. It’s better to bring one outfit that you know you look good in and mix it up with accessories than a dozen things that you have to force. What about jeans? I’m a jeans girl, so I say yes, as long as the outfit as a whole fits into my fancy restaurant scenario. I plan to have three daytime outfits and three night-out ones, plus comfy stuff that will not be seen outside the hotel room. I tend to reuse skirts and pants in the rotation. If you really want to make a splash, the awards ceremony is the place to rock that amazing cocktail dress you’ve always wanted.


Shoes: again, they are major confidence-boosters, but make sure they are comfortable or you at least have a pair of ballet flats in your bag for when it all goes south.  Related items: Band-Aids and Blister Stick. If you gotta rock the brand-new stilettoes, and of course you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Pharmacy: headache relief, antihistamine, cough drops and antacids just in case. Breath mints are better than gum. Bathroom spray: be a good roommate and don’t assume there will be an adequate exhaust fan—y’all know what I mean!


Eats and Drinks: Bring some portable, easy to eat, good-for-you snacks. Almonds are great for this. Meals can be late, spotty, or sometimes nonexistent if you get caught up in the pitch room. You will be much better able to embrace RWA National’s overwhelming nature if you’re not fighting low blood sugar! Also, coffee/tea for your room, and your preferred adult beverage. It’s important to socialize outside the room, but those eleven dollar glasses of twist-cap chardonnay at the hotel bar add up! This way, you can unwind before going down and gracefully nurse that overpriced swill without batting a perfectly made-up eyelash.


Downtime: don’t underestimate it. Even the wildest of extroverts will need some breathing space. When I need to unwind, or psych myself up for a pitch, it helps to have my favorite tunes at hand. Earbuds are a courtesy touch for your roommates, whose downtime does not necessarily include Bowie and New Order played at high volume J One thing you don’t need to bring: books. You will have tons of new books by the end of the conference, as well as loads of other swag.


I hope my guidelines have helped make your packing list a little easier to handle. Just remember: it’s all about comfort and confidence. If your suitcase contains stuff that will help you in those departments, you’ve already got a great start to a wonderful conference experience. What are your conference essentials? Hope I’ll see you there!

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