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Advice for a Nervous Conference-Goer by Deborah Raney

A writer friend, who will be a first-time attendee for September’s ACFW conference, recently asked me for some advice after she started feeling jittery about the conference. I told her that the newbie orientation will be a great way to get her feet wet. That session is not only very helpful, but will no doubt produce some “automatic” friends to hang out with before the conference even starts. As another author friend and ACFW member, Deborah Vogts, put it, “The ACFW conference is one built of friends and fellow believers. It’s a very friendly conference, and while it can be intimidating, just take a deep breath, relax, and try to enjoy it.”

See? There’s really NOTHING to be worried about! We’re a friendly bunch!

My advice to my friend turned into my post for today. So pretend you’re my friend, and you’re nervous as all get out about the upcoming conference. Here’s my advice to you in a nutshell:
1. Give yourself time away at intervals to process everything! ACFW is built-in overload! It’s all GREAT stuff, but simply too much information and stimulation to process as it floods in. So take time away in the prayer room, your hotel room, or a quiet corner of the lobby (although, frankly, there is no such thing as a quiet corner with 600 friendly ACFWers mingling throughout the hotel!) If you’re feeling drained or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to skip an afternoon workshop or sleep in one morning. If the weather permits, go outside and take a 10-minute walk just to get away from it all–not to mention stretch your legs and back.
2. Listen five times more than you talk, and when you do talk, make at least 50% of your words QUESTIONS to others about themselves, instead of talking about yourself. I know when I’m nervous I have a tendency to talk WAY too much. I’m learning that if I make a conscious effort to shut my mouth and just LISTEN, I get far more out of any encounter or meeting. And the bonus is that people are naturally drawn to someone who shows an interest in them by asking questions and then listening intently to the answers. On the other side of the coin, people are naturally repelled by someone who only talks about themselves without ever expressing an interest in their “audience.”
3. Expect and give yourself permission to have at least one meltdown during the conference. At a multi-day conference, emotions run high, stress takes its toll, and lack of sleep definitely plays a part in there finally being a moment when you snap for a minute or two–or ten. Someone says something that hurts your feelings, you say something that makes you feel stupid, you get a too-harsh rejection, you lose your wallet, or get an upsetting phone call from home. Know that you’re not alone in having moments like this. For the first five years I attended conferences, there would inevitably be a point where I’d find myself weeping in the bathroom, or wanting to crawl under the covers in my hotel bed and not come out until it was time to catch my plane. And I’m an extroverted, self-confident, (reasonably) mature woman! But if you anticipate that meltdown moment, you can realize it’s not abnormal, get it over with quickly, and get back to having fun.
4. Make it your mission to search out someone who’s just as nervous as you are, just as apprehensive about the conference, and approach them with a friendly smile and a gentle question about how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can do for them. Besides getting the focus off of your own feelings of nervousness, it helps to give yourself an “assignment.” And any time I start “worrying” about someone else instead of me me me, I’m instantly less nervous and worried myself. Then, even if everything has gone wrong with my day, I have the assurance that I was able to make someone else’s day a little better. That’s a great feeling!
5. Finally, bathe your days–before and during the conference–in prayer. Too often we see prayer as a last resort, when it should be our first line of defense. Pray that God will direct your appointments, your “chance” meetings, that He will lead you to the workshops and panels He wants you to hear, put people in your path that He wants you to meet, and most especially, that He will use you to be a blessing to the people He puts in YOUR path.

Learn more about Deborah Raney and her books on her website.
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4 Responses to Advice for a Nervous Conference-Goer by Deborah Raney

  1. Anne Mateer says:

    Great advice, Deb, even for those of us who have been to several conferences!

  2. Susan Mason says:

    Great advice! I really like the part about helping someone else who looks as nervous as you. This sounds like a great way to make a friend!

  3. Thanks so much for the advice! I’ll try to remember all 5 as I attend for the first time this year! I look forward to making more friends.