Conference Synergy

- by Victoria Janssen

Last month, I posted about attending an academic research conference on popular romance. The IASPR conference was held just prior to Romance Writers of America’s national conference; I attended both.

The academic conference was small, held in a single location, with no more than 50 or so participants at any given time; RWA was held at a huge hotel in Times Square, with about 2000 attendees. I expected to enjoy both conferences, and I did. I expected to network at both conferences, and I did that as well. What I should have expected, and didn’t, was the synergy between the two conferences, and in particular how attendance at the smaller conference benefited me at the larger.

The smaller number of attendees, our shared interests, and the single-track programming at IASPR meant that I saw the same people for two and a half days. Many of the attendees were strangers to each other prior to the conference, though some knew each other well. The schedule of panels of papers followed by breaks, and group dinners, encouraged discussion among small clusters of people. (I happen to be much more comfortable with small groups.) Because I met new people at IASPR, when I ran into the same people again at RWA, we automatically had topics of conversation, and felt comfortable together. There was a strong and pleasant sense of familiarity amid the chaos of the huge conference.

From my perspective as an author, listening to the academic papers on various aspects of the romance genre also affected the way I listened to and interacted with my fellow authors at RWA; the papers themselves provided new topics of conversation, and new ways of looking at our genre that were separate from the workshops offered by RWA. I feel my experience at RWA was much enriched thanks to my experiences at IASPR.

There are myriad benefits to attending a large conference, particularly when it’s held in New York City, as the number of publishing professionals who attend is generally much higher. But I’ve gained a new appreciation for the small, intimate conference as well. I’m more suited to the dynamics of a small conference, and the networking I do there enhances my networking experiences overall.

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