How to Enjoy a Convention
Dan Ryan, Mills College
danryan (at) mills.edu
- Upon checking in, locate the health club
or fitness center in your hotel and see what their hours
are. Then look around to see if they have a decent
breakfast buffet in one of the restaurants. Next, scan
through the index of the program to see if there is
anyone whose talk you absolutely don't want to miss.
(Keep this list short.) Draw a little time chart and note
where these talks are and when. If you're not doing
anything else, you can try to catch them. After this,
make a list of all the people you want to say hello to,
have a meal with or meet. These two lists are your agenda
for the meeting.
- Remember that almost everyone else is
feeling like they don't know anyone too.
- Don't get cynical about schmoozing. This
IS what the meeting is about and that's not a bad thing.
It is common for beginners to feel left out, that they
don't know anybody, and that "it's all just a big
reunion of people who don't care whether a nobody like me
lives or dies." That's true. The secret, though, is
that that IS all that it is, and the only reason you feel
that way is because you don't know many people
YET. Give yourself some time. Slipping too quickly into
the defensive wall-flower frame of mind is a sure recipe
for prolonging the period in which you feel like you
don't know anybody.
- Related to this, don't get too turned off
by nametag gazing. It is what people do at these things.
Yes, people will check yours out, discover that you are
nobody and then move on. Some of the folks are real bozos
looking for famous people to kiss up to. Don't sweat it.
Don't let the turkeys get you down.
- Think about this sociologically. You have
a gathering of several thousand people from one
profession. Most of them work in middle of nowhere places
with two colleagues, one of whom they loathe. They spend
all year teaching the writings of their heroes to
unappreciative nineteen year olds. Some of those heroes
are walking around the hotel. Of course they're looking
at the name tags.
- Alternatively, here you have a gathering
of several thousand people in the same profession.
Profession and job are among the most common categories
for sorting the people in one's world. If everyone around
you is in the same profession, you need some other status
markers to help you order the crowd. Look at the
- Never pass up an opportunity to go out
with a group to eat, especially in favor of a gathering
with "more important people" that may or may
- Remember that it's OK to engage people in
serious conversations about what they do, what they think
about, etc. This may be the only time all year where you
don't have to explain what sociology is or that it is NOT
the same as social work to the person who says "oh,
my brother is a social worker."
- Stay in the main conference hotel whenever
possible. The idea of staying with a friend who lives
just twenty minutes outside of town is almost always a
- Don't worry about money -- that's what
plastic is for. In the end, you are going to spend more
than you intended; no use wasting emotional energy
fretting about it
- Recognize and celebrate the fact that the
most important and enjoyable part of the annual meeting
is the stuff that occurs OUTSIDE of the sessions.
- After you've heard your fourth or fifth
poorly presented paper, ask yourself how people who teach
for a living and talk in front of groups four to eight
times a week could still not be good at it. Baffling,
- Always remember the first law of
socializing: act like a host. This means taking the
initiative and introducing yourself to others. It means
keeping in mind the people you know and have met so that
when you meet someone new, even if your interests are a
million miles apart, you can always say "Have you
met so and so? You should. I'll introduce you when I see
you together." And then, when you do, they'll
possibly be grateful for the intro, but definitely
remember the service. All of this is based loosely on
good network theory: weak ties are everything -- be one
whenever you can.
- If you have the opportunity to introduce
someone big and someone small, do it by asking the big
person if they've met the small one, not vice versa. It's
a wonderfully pleasant way to counter the usual status
- Be as socially generous as possible. It
almost never "costs" anything to invite someone
along, bring them into a conversation, introduce them to
a colleague, connect them to someone of common interests,
etc. and (a) these things are always remembered, and (b)
what goes around comes around.
- Buy some books.
- Remember that the purpose of a talk is to
help audience members decide whether they want to read
your work or not. If you're presenting, just tell us what
you did, why you thought it was interesting, and what we
should remember about what you found out or showed.
- Do not read your paper
(though reading a talk version of it is OK.) Do not fight
with the organizer over time. Do not be convinced that
the audience will be enthralled if only you can get this
one last point in. Do not edit out whole sections on the
fly as you notice time running out. Do not say
"There is more interesting stuff in my paper but I
dont have time
." All of these things
will only serve to make you appear inept, unprofessional,
immature and uninteresting. The point is to win yourself
an audience, not to abuse the one that is loaned to you.
- Avoid the mad rush to grab books at a
discount as the book exhibits close. The regressive
behavior of some folks in the response to the possibility
of a freebie is truly embarrassing better not to
- Remember, you are going to spend a few
days with three thousand people who are, perhaps, better
at analyzing the social world than participating in it.
Be kind. We're all in this together.