I’ve just registered for the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, April 24-25, on whose board I serve; if you’re an ambitious writer, it’s well worth the effort and cost to get to Manhattan for it.
I’m looking forward to catching up with dear friends: Greg from Minnesota, Lisa from Maryland and Randy from San Diego, who found me the best researcher to help me with my book. I’ll also meet many new-to-me people.
They’re great places to make a ton of new and incredibly useful contacts, but a conference can make your stomach hurt with social anxiety: all those people you don’t know, some of them terrible blowhards, some at a totally different level professionally, some vampires.
How to sort them all out?
From Bnet.com, a British business-focused website:
Question 1: “What do you do?” This is a neutral start. It allows people to talk about their favourite subject: themselves. The pompous types tend to give the game away immediately. They do not tell me what they do: they tell me how important they are by saying that they are a Senior/Executive Vice President or Director at MegaBucks. Interesting people tell me what they actually do. Whatever people actually do, be it cleaning toilets, pawn broking or exploring the Antarctic, they have interesting stories to tell. The more they talk, the more I learn. Question 2 — For the pompous types who failed Question 1: “So what is it you actually do in that role?” Some people make a miraculous recovery and become interesting again. Many others tell me more about how important they are. They meet important people (name drop), travel (place drop) and have big budgets and, by implication, big d***ks. For these people, I have to resort to the killer question. Question 3: “So do you enjoy your job?” Anyone who has answered question 1 well, will already be exuding enthusiasm and passion for what they do. There is no need to ask them this question. The pompous types have never even thought of this question. They are so focused on being important, that nothing else matters. If question 2 makes them stop and think, question 3 creates total mental meltdown. It is a joy to watch.
From The New York Times:
It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.
“We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you’re happy, and if you go into the existential depths you’ll be unhappy,” Dr. Mehl said.
But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.
I recently attended an event in Manhattan for writers held by mediabistro.com, and met three people I found fun, interesting and potentially helpful future contacts: a fellow memoirist, someone writing a lot for on-line sites and an author with a book whose subject I found fascinating. I was surprised the author didn’t bother to follow up — I offered to write about her here (hello, free publicity!) — but it happens.
If you do meet someone you enjoy, don’t lose touch. My trick is writing down, right away, when and where I met that person on the business card they give me. I used to wear myself out saying hello to so many people. Now I try to have a few, deeper conversations. I enjoy it much more and come away less exhausted.
The worst, exemplified in this funny video, also British, (who love to skewer the pompous), from YouTube:
S/he looks constantly over your shoulder looking for next, better blood supply; can’t be bothered remembering your name; talks only about himself and peels away at the first opportunity to the Much More Important contact across the room. Don’t be that person!
Do conferences work well for you? Any tips on how to make the best use of our time there?