Editors trying to break into freelancing or boost their careers sometimes ask whether attending a conference for editors like those hosted by the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) are a good investment.
Attending a conference is a major expense. In addition to travel and hotel costs, registration is sometimes hundreds of dollars, and all that dining out and schmoozing at the bar adds up as well. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably watching your budget. But there are some ways to keep costs down, and the benefits might just make it worth your while.
Choose the right conference
The websites of professional organizations make it easy to know whether their conference sessions are relevant to your own work. Topics of speakers, panels, and workshops are usually listed well ahead of time in a program you can view online.
Research the conferences in your field and keep track of where they’re held each year. Most of them move around, and before too long they might end up near you. Every big organization that holds a conference posts news about it well in advance.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to know people in some of the big cities I’ve attended conferences in. If you can mooch a spare bed with friends, you’ll save hotel expenses. (Of course, having a room on site to escape to during the day is worth something, especially if you’re presenting and have to cart around computer, books, displays, etc.)
If you belong to a professional organization in your field, ask whether anyone else from your city is going to the conference you’re interested in. If it isn’t very far, maybe you can carpool or share a hotel room.
Attend part of a conference
Most conferences sell day passes. Check the program schedule of a conference near you to see whether there’s a day when the topics are of special interest to you. Some days may be crammed with presentations you’d love to attend; other days might not fit your interests.
Document your expenses
Keep your receipts! If you itemize your taxes, much of the cost of a professional conference is deductible.
Although funds are tight for most nonprofits, volunteers at a high level might get some of their expenses waived (such as registration). Sometimes speakers and panelists are given a break on fees, at least for the day they’re speaking. Volunteering in a professional organization also allows you to get to know important and influential people in your field—a benefit beyond money. One day when you’re a star, you might even get flown in, put up, and given an honorarium to deliver the keynote speech.
Although a conference trip can make a nice vacation if it includes a field trip or two or if you can afford to extend your stay a bit, the whole point of going is to learn something and meet people who are interested and experienced in the same area. I always study the program ahead of time and choose the sessions I want to attend. (ACES had an amazing schedule app—click on the session you want and it goes into your calendar.) You can always change your mind if someone you sit next to recommends something else, but having a plan will remind you what you’re there for and how you’re going to get your money’s worth.
Make the most of it
Once you’re there and you see how much shop talk and trading of business cards, handouts, and information is going on, you’ll want to jump in. Take notes in the sessions, ask questions, and hang around to introduce yourself afterward (armed with a business card).
Find out whether the conference has a Twitter hashtag and check in online—you’ll find people posting quotes from speakers, photos, invitations to gatherings, restaurant recommendations, and more. If speakers inspire you, quote them in a tweet or Facebook post.
If you’re shy, you might worry about feeling alone and friendless at a big conference. But you’ll be surprised at the response if you reach out just a little. So many other attendees are feeling the same way—it’s astonishing how often you’ll make a “friend” just standing in line for coffee or waiting for a presentation to begin. All you have to say is “What kind of editing do you do?” or “What session are you going to next?” It’s the best part of being in a hotel filled with people who understand what you do.
Follow up online
When you get home, connect on Twitter and Facebook with your new acquaintances and the speakers you admired. Message them your compliments. If you traded cards with fellow attendees, e-mail to say you enjoyed meeting them and offer to stay in touch. People “bond” at a conference, and the afterglow usually lasts a while.
Conference speakers often post their handouts and slides online afterwards. You can sometimes look at the conference materials even if you didn’t attend.