Monday, June 6, 2016

Writer's Conference Basics, Part IV - Faculty

The previous posts in this series are as follows:

Part I, Conference Basics
Part II, Attendees

Part III, Staff and Volunteers

I'm ending this series with faculty information. For authors, serving as faculty helps to get both your name and your books in front of an audience. If you are faculty at a writer's conference, you'll be presenting to other writers. If it's at a convention, you'll likely have a mix of writers and readers.

How to become faculty: There are probably lots of ways I don't know about, but this post will cover the ones I do know. Each event is different in how they handle seeking speakers. I'm going to split this into three main categories:

Invitation - This one you really have no control over, but it's by far the easiest way! You may receive an invitation from an event to come speak for them. Maybe they were given your name as a recommendation from other speakers, or they've read your book, seen your website, or heard you speak elsewhere. The people who choose faculty often try to attend other events to scope out speakers they have there.

When you get an invitation, they may ask you to speak on specific topics or they will ask what you are comfortable speaking about. Another option, which I've found with conventions, is that you will be involved in a multi-tier process, wherein you are first asked to propose/suggest panels, and then sent a second email with the panels they will be going with, asking you which ones you'd like to be part of. They then assign everyone to the panels and notify you which ones you'll be on.

Proposal - This is the most likely avenue for becoming a speaker. Go to the event website and look for information on how to be a speaker. For Pikes Peak Writers, we have a Proposal Portal. You propose each workshop individually, so you're not just proposing that you be a speaker. Go into this with specific workshops in mind. I will address below what information you need to have for workshop proposals. Other events/organizations may just ask for an email with your information, and they will follow up later for more information.

Who You Know - If you know someone involved with a conference or convention, you can ask them how to become faculty if you haven't been able to find it elsewhere. Sometimes you need an in to be a part of the faculty if it's something where they typically send invites instead of fielding proposals. Do understand that you can't rely on them to get you in, and don't expect your friends to break rules for you. That's a good way to break a friendship.

Questions to ask: When you are contacted to be faculty, either because you made a proposal or they've randomly invited you, there are questions you might want to ask. The most obvious ones, of course, are time, date, and location. If there is travel involved, find out if they pay for your travel and/or lodging. If there is an entry fee, ask whether you get free admittance or if you have to pay to attend.

Will you be able to sell your books there? Do they order them, have you consign, or ask you to handle payments yourself? If they haven't already told you, ask if they have topics they'd prefer for you to speak on. What is the estimated attendance and class size? Is food included, or will you be having to purchase your own food? If you have health issues, now is the time to let them know that to ensure they will make be able to make you comfortable.

What A/V do they have available? How do handouts work? How long should workshops be? Will you have duties beyond presenting your workshops, such as being a table host, giving critiques, etc.? What sort of audience should you expect (as in, should it be proper for kids, are these all mystery writers or writers from all genres, etc.)? Which of the workshops you pitched do they want you to do? And leading into the next question, what do they need from you, and when?

They will actually volunteer a lot of this information with the invitation or later on in the process. Ask what you need to know when you need to know it. Some of these things you won't need to know until later, some you need to know earlier for your convenience. So determine on your own what you need to know and when.

What Workshop Info They Need: It's a good idea to have your workshop ready in advance, or at least have a good idea of what you're doing if you're proposing. Some information you may be asked for in advance is:

Short blurb
Workshop description
A/V needs
Whether you have handouts
Panel or workshop
If there are other speakers involved (often including their names and email addresses)
Your email
Long bio
Short bio
Most recent publication
Your location (so they know if they'll be paying travel)
Length of your workshop
What attendees need to bring
Any extra important notes

Preparation: So what happens now? You've been confirmed as faculty, asked your various questions, set out the guidelines for your workshops. Now you need to prep a few things:

Travel - If the event folks are handling your travel, you don't have to do anything here until they contact you for information. Same goes for if they're handling your hotel. But if they are not handling these things, you need to secure your hotel room as soon as possible. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, hotel rooms can sell out, and then you're stuck trying to find a hotel room nearby. Two, the discounted group rate events usually have ends before the event. I just made this mistake with Denver Comic Con. If you're not sure what days they need you, ask. And if they're not sure yet, make reservations for the full event, starting the day before it begins, and cancel any unnecessary room nights once you know you don't need them.

This isn't as doable with airline tickets, so you'll either have to wait until you know when you're needed for certain, or you can plan to attend the entire event and get those tickets early and cheap. It's easier if you're driving. Perhaps you can find someone to carpool with if you know who the other faculty members are.

Also of note: Find out what parking will be like. You don't want to get stuck driving around a big city looking for a parking structure because it turns out the location of your event has no parking.

If they're arranging your travel, they should ask you for any stipulations/requirements you might have, and communicate your travel information once it's completed. Things they may ask you are whether you have a preferred airport or airline (though they will likely have a go-to airline or will be seeking the least expensive option), if there's a time that works best or doesn't work, and if there's anything else they need to know. If they're flying you in, they typically arrange to have a volunteer or van pick you up at the airport and drop you off at the end of the event. This is also a detail they should tell you. If they don't, ask. The volunteer picking you up should have information on what you do next and where you go.

Workshop - Once your workshop has been accepted, you need to begin work on it. You will probably be asked for handouts in advance unless they expect you to print them and bring them on your own. Get those ready so you're prepared when they ask you for them.

If you don't have any of the information I listed under information they'd need, get on that. Prepare your PowerPoint or other visual aid if you have one. Run through your workshop. Run through it a few more times. The number of people who run out of time or finish their workshop too early is surprising. If you aren't given a time limit for the workshop, ask. They are usually around forty-five minutes to an hour at a conference or convention, but you want to be sure.

Details - Read the emails you're sent. This may seem obvious, but I can tell you from experience that people frequently just scan these, completely missing important information and questions that are being asked. Conference planners don't ask questions just for fun. There's a reason they're asking. Respond to the questions they ask you. Someone is on the other end of that email waiting on a bunch of people to respond in a timely manner. And there are people waiting on those people waiting on those people waiting on those people. In other words, a chain of  folks with jobs they need to complete are waiting on these bits of information in order to do said jobs.

Consider what marketing materials you need to bring. At a writer's conference, you shouldn't need banners and signs. But business cards, bookmarks, and other small things you can hand out with your information on them are good ideas. If it's a convention, you're more likely to have a table you can decorate however you'd like, including a banner, sign, standee, etc. Ask if you're unsure.

If there's a formal event or costume event, you'll want to get what you need for those in advance. Remember that formal clothing is easier to find in stores around homecoming and prom, and mostly absent at other times. Given, you can find these items online any time of the year, but if you're someone who needs to try them on, you want to shop in the fall or spring.

For larger conventions, a lot of the information you need as a faculty member might be on the website, which means they won't email it to you. Look around and see what you can find on your own if there's something you need to know.

Speaking Notes: People like visual aids, and they like to see the folks speaking. Unless you're up on a stage, consider standing for your presentation, so they aren't just staring at the backs of other attendees' heads. By far, the folks with the best feedback on surveys at the end of conference are those who were actively engaged with their audiences, the ones who stood and didn't just read off of a prepared lecture.

A PowerPoint presentation is a good idea if you know A/V will be available. However, don't put all your information on the slides and just read from them. Treat it more like an outline and a place to put longer bits of information, such as quotes, website links, and other references you think they might want to write down. Images and even comic relief are a good bet, too. If you want to use a visual aid, be prepared to bring and use your own laptop for it. Most events will not provide a laptop, only the projector and screen.

Audience involvement is also a good idea if it's possible. Hands-on activities keep the audience engaged and let them try what you're teaching.

If you have a bunch of resources you want to share, consider doing a handout with those. I've also seen people hand around a clipboard and offer to send people resources. Or pass around a clipboard to be added to a newsletter, promising the resources, as well.

Try referring to books other than your own in your workshops. A complaint we saw a lot this year was that people talked about their own books too much. People feel like they're being sold to when you do that.

Please note that I'm in no way saying you must have all these things. Sometimes you won't have a choice on whether you sit or stand. A/V might not be available. You might not be able to speak without having it all outlined. I get it. I'm just throwing out things people have complained about on surveys. The number of people who complain on this is minimal. If you're giving good information, that's what matters.

Onsite: Make sure you arrive early. If you are first scheduled to speak at 11:00, show up about an hour ahead of that. This gives you time to deal with any inconveniences or issues you may have. It also gives you time to check in and get settled.

You will likely need to sign in somewhere. Usually there is a registration desk you can ask at, though faculty may be directed elsewhere. The people at the registration desk will know where you need to go. Or they can find a person who does. If you were picked up at the airport, your driver will direct you.

Consult your schedule right away, though you should have been sent one in advance. If the organizers are doing their job, they should be sending a schedule with any important times, including your workshops, meals, mixers, and other related items. But check your schedule onsite when you get it in order to be sure nothing has changed.

Look through your materials. Be sure you find any badge or meal tickets. Look for a map so you know where you're going. Scope out the rooms you'll have workshops/appearances in so you can be on time. Try to get into the room you're presenting in about ten minutes before your presentation (unless there's another workshop in there). This will allow you to get set up and be ready to go on time, and to work through any A/V issues.

End your workshop on time. It's disappointing to the audience when you finish too early. On the flipside, you're ripping off the next speaker if you go over and force them and their audience to wait outside the room. You're also making your audience late for their next workshop.

Find out who your point of contact will be. Who do you ask questions of? Who do you talk to if there's an issue?

Try to be friendly and hang out with folks. Now is a great time to get to know other speakers, as well as the attendees and staff. Meet other authors. Hobnob. You don't want to be seen as that stuck up author who wouldn't talk to anyone, even if you know it's because you're a mega-introvert, not a snob.

Find some downtime when you can. If there's a green room, visit it. At a writer's conference, there will usually be snacks and drinks in the green room, and it will hopefully be a safe zone, so it's just other faculty and select staff. At a convention, I don't believe this is true, but I'm not sure. I do know that there tends to be a Con Room everyone has access to. So I'm not sure whether faculty have a safe, quiet zone at those, other than their hotel room. But if that's the case, try to hide in your hotel room here or there. You can do that and still be out there interacting with people at other times. Your sanity is important, too. You might even have some writing time!

Final Thoughts: Despite the fact many of us are introverts, it behooves us to get out there and be active at conferences and conventions, as well as outside them. You can look for other places to present workshops and education. Pikes Peak Writers has monthly programming, for example, as do most big writer's groups. Do a little research, attend programming near you, and try to become involved in those communities. The more involved you are, the more likely you are to be asked to be faculty.

As faculty, don't be afraid to ask questions. Too often we stay quiet and hope the right information will come to us, which can cause a lot of anxiety. Don't make demands, but do ask those questions.

What attendees want faculty to know: We want to be able to see you, and we want to know you're not just phoning it in. Please try to speak on topics you have an interest in unless you're assigned a topic. Stand up if you're not on a stage (if you can). Look at us, not at a piece of paper. We're here to learn from you in the hopes that we can reach the place you're currently in. We're not here to judge you. Often, we look up to you.

Remember that we may not know all the technical terms you're accustomed to; don't dumb it down, but do think to ask if people know what you're talking about or just define it for us quickly without asking. Don't get impatient if we ask a question that seems obvious to you. Please bear with us--we're learning, and we're quite possibly new.

We're your fans, the people reading your books. When we're not yet, hopefully we will be once we've heard you speak and have met you. If you're rude, we'll remember forever, and we definitely won't buy your books.

What staff want faculty to know: We're working hard, just like you, and we're volunteers. We have a job, and while we will try to do anything you need, bear in mind that there may be somewhere we need to be, too. We frequently miss meals, mixers, queries, critiques, and other things because we have to work through them. And we do this knowing we will get no credit for our work.

We are here to support you, but also to support the attendees. And there's a good chance we look up to just as much as they do. We don't mind you asking questions, and we want to help, or else we wouldn't be here.  Our jobs depend upon you doing what you have agreed to do, so please fulfill your obligations. We are probably incredibly excited to be working with you, and we've been looking forward to it for months.

Anything I missed? What would you say to faculty? If you've been faculty, what tips would you give? And what would you say to staff and attendees? Have you had a different experience than the information I've laid out?

This was super long, so no links today.

May you find your Muse.

*Teacher, by OCAL,
*Invitation, by OCAL,
*Question Callout, by OCAL,
*Projector Screen, by OCAL,
*Aircraft, by OCAL,
*Mail, by OCAL,
*Romanov Dark Lady, by OCAL,
*Video Projector, by OCAL,
*Library Book Cart, by OCAL,
*Reference Desk, by OCAL,
*Alarm Clock, by OCAL,
*Coffee Machine, by OCAL,
*Man With a Microphone, by OCAL,


  1. Wow, you sure know how to pack the information in. It's great! I attended my first eight years ago, and gosh this series would have been so helpful. Yes, I'm bookmarking for the next time because I made every mistake in the book, but it was a learning opportunity. I'd love to attend more, but the pocket book won't allow it. Still, such fun and such great networking! Thanks!

    1. Thanks! I probably put way too much information in. The best way to learn is to do it wrong first!

  2. I've helped organize a conference every year but I'm thinking about being a presenter. The AV thing is important and you have to know how to work it yourself.

    1. It's definitely a plus to be able to work the A/V yourself. I'd be inclined to not do it if I didn't know how to. Good luck if you decide to be faculty!

  3. Wow, that's a detailed list. I wouldn't have thought to ask about payment of travel expenses.

    1. And I don't think that's frequently something they give except to higher ups, but it's a good thing to ask about so you're prepared.

  4. This post was loaded with details. Thanks,. And lots of questions to ask that I wouldn't have thought of.

  5. Being a presenter at a conference is a lot of work. You've certainly set down everything that's helpful to those who want to take on the task.

    1. It's definitely a solid amount of work, but hopefully worth it.

  6. Great info. We tried that whole thing before, but we got the run around and then were talked down to thanks to politics and ridiculous grudges and people twice our age acting like children, so... you know, never again.

  7. Fantastic stuff, very thorough. I'm all caught up on your conference basics! Thanks for all these awesome details.

    1. I hope they help and you can be faculty at a conference. You'd be able to do some fantastic workshops.