How Creators Can Connect and Grow at Summer Conferences

What’s that? You’ve never attended a conference related to your creative work?

If you haven’t attended a conference related to your creative work, you definitely should. It’s a chance to connect with your community directly — this means face time with colleagues, collaborators, and industry professionals. This also means you’ll be getting news on the latest tools and industry ideas while also getting to connect with one of the most important aspects of your business, your fans.

But how do you find the right conference for you? Start with your colleagues, your partners-in-crime, your collaborators. Reach out to them and keep an eye on their schedules — do they have any conferences on their schedule? Ask them about what they’ve been to, which ones they love, and what they recommend. Do some searching and see what you can come up with. Check out the speaker lists and keep locations in mind as well. For example, if you’ve always wanted to visit Austin and you’re a musician, SXSW might be the perfect time and reason to go.

Don’t forget to ask your community, too. Reach out to all of your patrons and see where they go, what conferences they attend. It’ll be essential information to know where they’ll be so you can meet them there.

Going? How do you make the most of it while you’re there?

Conferences can be intense, exhausting, and overwhelming. Plus, many creators excel in their own spaces making their own art and don’t consider themselves extroverted, which makes the idea of spending a day or three with big groups of people staggering, to say the least. However, each conference (big or small) has its benefits if you look at it as less of a social experience and more of a chance to grow your business. Here are some things you should bring to make that possible.

  • Business cards with your contact information, what you create, and (of course) your Patreon URL
  • Looking for a way to share your art on the go? Maybe bring USB drives with some of your work on them — if you’re a writer share one of your ebooks or some of your articles. If you’re a musician, some of your favorite mp3s. It makes for a great little “check out some more of my work” symbol that they’ll actually save and follow up on.
  • Some unique flyers — with photos, excerpts, or info for your latest project. You could leave a little area on them somewhere where you’d be able to write a particularly personal note to the person you’re connecting with — that’ll help them identify you later, when they’re sorting through all their new contacts.

Want a cheat sheet for when you do have to get social? Here are a few tips for making the most of facetime:

  • Introduce yourself to the speakers after any class you attend. Just give them a quick compliment about what you liked, and, if you have a good rapport for a minute or two, hand them your business card (or USB, or flyer) and thank them for their time.
  • Introduce yourself to people in the classes you attend. Tell them you liked their comment, and why. People love compliments! If you think of a follow-up question or thought, you never know, you might get into a great conversation.
  • Find common ground and elevate the discussion. Wherever you are at the conference — in classes, at social events, in line for registration or the bathroom, sitting next to someone while you’re waiting for an event to start — introduce yourself. Have a few sentences ready to say, like: “I’m Zed, I’m a writer, though mostly I’m just here for the snacks. What brings you here?” or “I’ve been looking forward to this class. How’s your conference so far?” Once you get talking, look for the places where your interests overlap. Once you find those, elevate the discussion by asking more specific questions.

Connect with your existing community, too.

Don’t only focus on making new friends — remember, some of your fans, friends, or colleagues are also in attendance. The best way to figure out where your community is and what conferences they attend — so you can go there, too — is just to ask them. If you already have an idea of some of your options, create a poll and ask where your patrons will be this summer.If you don’t even know where to go, use mailing addresses and other contact information you have from fans, colleagues, or patrons as a way to start. Are there more people in certain cities than others? Even if you get a broad region — the Pacific Northwest, Appalachia, New England — that’ll be a great place to start!

Make sure you leverage your Patreon tools

Once you know where to go, let everyone know where you’ll be through your newsletter, Patreon page, and social media.

You might also want to think about how you can use Patreon features like special offers, tiers, or reward benefits to connect with people who are both already patrons or who you’d like to inspire to become patrons.

You could offer something like Rebecca Loebe did, printing enamel pins that would be exclusively available to patrons at the $5 level. You could explicitly ask your patrons to wear them to a conference or meetup as a way to identify them in a crowd. Rebeca reported that “it’s so fun to see people wearing their pins at shows like they’re part of a special club!”

If you want to meet up with some patrons while you’re at the conference, pick a spot for a meet up then offer it as a secret exclusive perk for certain tier — or you could even make it a Special Offer.You can also take it a step further and host an offsite meetup at another venue during the conferences or collaborate with the conference to speak on a panel. For example, one of our creators American Sex Podcast hosted their first live podcast at SXSW this year, giving their patrons and fans to ask them questions and take part in their engaging discussions in person.

Whatever you do, keep having fun

Remember: to put your best self and your shining creative work forward, you have to be at your best. Take care of yourself by making sure to drink plenty of water, eat some actual vegetables (not just coffee and pastries from the hotel’s coffee bar), get lots of sleep, and take the alone time that you need during a conference. Go slow, even if the conference is at breakneck speed. And don’t forget to Google “con drop” when you get back — it’s real.