Con Survival Guide

As the editors prepare for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, I thought a quick survival guide would benefit us all.


Before attending any convention, you should prepare. This can range from making travel plans to hotel reservations. I’d recommend bringing as few items as possible – one suitcase at most. You can wear pants two days in a row and no one will know. Essentials: business cards, a small bag you can swing over your shoulder, nonperishable snacks and either a battery pack for your phone or an outlet charger.

The idea is to carry light. Convention days are long, events start early and continue late into the night. You don’t want to get weighed down by carrying useless items.

Next, plan your days. Organizers release event schedules weeks in advance. Look at the schedule and pick out panels that interest you. The most disappointing part to con-going is finding out you missed on a good panel. If events take place outside the main convention space, map routes so you have a time estimate. No one likes latecomers.

Lastly, research. Who’s the keynote speaker? What authors are going to be there? Bumping into Taylor Mali during AWP was awesome but it would have been better if I’d bought his book so I could get an autograph.



  • During the convention, dress smartly. There’s lots of walking and standing, so bring sensible shoes. Pants/dresses/skirts with pockets are a must – you’re going to get a lot of tiny items, it’s best to put stuff into pockets or your bag right away.
  • Take lots of photos – you’ll need proof for storytelling.
  • Take notes. Panelists are usually experts in their field and always part some wisdom during the discussion. Write down great quotes and ideas so you can incorporate them into your daily activities.
  • Be spontaneous. The point of conventions is to have fun! Planning is great, but it’s also important to live in the moment and do something impromptu. Getting a custom-made poem at last year’s MassPoFest was definitely unplanned but it’s also one of my highlights for the event.
  • Bring cash, $100 at the most. Be prepared to buy: you’re going to discover something worth buying and while most vendors have an app to accept debit/credit cards, it’s always good to have some cash on hand. I’d recommend nothing more than $100 so you don’t get carried away.
  • Hand out your business card to everyone you meet. This is the time and place to network.
  • Eat a good breakfast and snack lightly throughout the day.



After the excitement ends, take a day to reflect on what you saw and heard. Make a blog post or talk to your friends about the weekend. It’s important to take the inevitable inspiration you get from attending a convention and put it into a project.

Within a week of the con ending, reach out to everyone who’s business card you got. Find them on LinkedIn or at the very least email them. Network a stranger into a contact so it won’t be weird when you reach out to them later in life.
If you see us at the Festival this weekend, come say hi!


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