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Screenwriting Conferences: How to Prepare and Make the Most of Your Experience

October 6, 2016
4 min read time

When it comes to networking opportunities, few things can beat a good screenwriting conference. The happy hours, the panels, the chance to commiserate with people who understand the existential crisis of changing genres… For many writers, it’s an event not to be missed.

But the conference experience can be daunting. Just how do you prepare for and make the most of the numerous activities available at screenwriting conferences, like the upcoming Austin Film Festival? As with many things, preparation can play a significant role in the quality of your experience. Check out these tips and tricks to preparing for your next conference.

– Time to get your writer house in order. It doesn’t always take three weeks to design business cards or revamp a website, but Murphy’s Law loves to mess with people on a deadline and the last thing you’ll want to do the night before you leave is learn new HTML code or make a last-minute FedEx run.

When it comes to business cards, keep it simple. You just need your name, contact info, and maybe a professional photo to help attendees match the card to the face after they get home. This type of card is often called an actor business card and can be designed through sites like Vistaprint and Zazzle. Try to resist the temptation to fill the blank backside with more info. This space can be valuable real estate if you use it to jot down a note about what you and your new contact discussed before handing it over.

If you’re not planning to rock the t-shirt and tenni’s look, this is a good time to check if your ‘take a meeting’ shoes can handle a conference. Conferences can feel like marathons, not sprints, and what you wear needs to support you comfortably. If you decide to get new shoes, set aside time to either break them in or realize they aren’t the right choice (leaving you time to find another pair).

ONE WEEK OUT – How would you describe your writing style? What genres do you work in and why? What are you working on?

While you may not be asked these questions, it’s better to have answers and not need them than vice versa. If you're going to pitch, memorize your log lines. If you're not going to pitch, memorize you log lines anyway. I once failed a 5 minute pitch with a manager’s assistant only to bump into the manager himself in the hall and nail the thirty second one. Successful hallway bumps can happen even if you're not pitching, but you may miss your shot if you aren't prepared.

Speaking of prep work, print up the event schedule and start researching the people making appearances or hearing pitches. While you may be able to remember all your first choices, many events can reach capacity early. So be sure to have a back-up plan – it could save your afternoon (There’s nothing quite like the feeling of grudgingly picking a second choice only to discover the people who already had a back-up plan in mind got there first and filled it to capacity, too.)

Finally, is your favorite on-line discussion group planning a meet-up? Now’s the time to check.

THREE DAYS OUT – Does conference attendance involve grocery shopping? It does if you’re doing it right. Throat lozenges can keep you chatting even if the air is dry (one of the smartest tricks I’ve ever seen at a conference is when a woman pulled grapes out of her bag – instant relief and no ‘lozenge breath’). Emergen-C or Echinacea may keep you on your feet even when you run across exciting new germs. Breath mints can knock out coffee breath and protein bars or beef jerky can keep you from spending time and money on food.

Some other helpers:

  • Ginger Chews: Great for travel-nausea or for settling a stomach used to a little more sleep and a lot less to-ing and fro-ing.
  • Allergy Pills: If you’re not familiar with the environment where the conference takes place or if you haven’t been in a few years, it’s safer to assume you might experience some allergies than to assume you won’t.
  • ‘Performance’ Water Enhancers: The word performance on a bottle of ‘spritzer’ (as my spouse calls them) usually means it includes electrolytes. This can help you recover from overheated rooms and/or cocktail party socials better than water alone and the size of most bottles is carry-on friendly (double bag it if you want to make sure it doesn’t spill).
  • Paper Fan: Did I mention the overheated rooms? Stick a folding fan in your pocket next to a pack of tissues and you may prevent any industry folk you speak with from wondering if networking stresses you out to the point of flop sweat.
  • OTC Painkillers: Because nothing brings out poorly-timed aches and pains quite like being on your feet all day.

Another upside to things like breath mints and ginger chews is that sharing them with those who didn’t plan ahead is yet another way to make new connections throughout the event.

Now you're ready! All that’s left is to rest easy (and early) the night before. Your preparation will pay off in the crazy maelstrom of pitches, panels, and professional networking!

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