Ann's Voice

A How-To for Conferences in the Time of Covid.

Who would have thought that during a pandemic, when most of our beloved daily routines out in the big wide beautiful world have ceased to exist, we’d be longing for conference banquet greasy breakfast eggs, dry chicken breast dinners, and over-priced wine after a keynote speaker we’ve heard at least four times before?

The past spring saw a slew of conferences cancelled due to the lock-down. Even the DNC and RNC aren’t what they used to be. But the good news is that summer and fall conferences are moving forward in the brave new world of Zoom. Even the Romance Writers of America is  making the move to a virtual national conference the last weekend of August.

Let’s be honest, the real draw of a conference is the excuse to get away from the family and everyday responsibilities in order to spend time with like-minded friends and colleagues while someone other than yourself makes the bed.

The promise of a chocolate on my pillow each night is enough to make me pay exorbitant fees for the pleasure.

While networking at the bar might not be what it once was, there are some things that you can do to prepare for and preserve the true conference experience.


Enlist the help of your family. Explain that you are attending your yearly conference virtually. Prepare them for your absence. Leave pet care instructions and take-out menus. Tell them they are to act as if you are not there.

Also, have your family text you at random times throughout the day to complain about a sibling, inform you that the dog got out, they can’t find their _____ (fill in the blank), etc.

Prepare the guest room (if you have one). If that’s not an option, kick your significant other or a child out of their room for the two days or so of the conference. They can sleep on the couch. They’ll get over it.

Record snoring or muffled laughter and undecipherable talking on your phone. This is to play as you are going to sleep to simulate having a roommate and/or loud neighbors in adjoining room of the hotel.

Preplan and prepare meals. Also plan some take-out to be delivered via Grub Hub or some similar service.

The day before, set up individual containers of overcooked, greasy eggs, nearly burnt bacon, and  sliced fresh fruit. Make zucchini bread (you know you need to–the two overgrown summer squash your neighbor “gifted” you are about to rot). This is for the last morning’s continental breakfast.

Also prepare at least two dinners of sparse salad (greens, two slices of cucumber, some grated carrot, and a wedge of tomato and a few rings of red onion that you will remove before eating), a dry, overcooked chicken breast and gloopy risotto. Purchase a small frozen chocolate cake. Cut into small servings. Be sure to have more than two pieces wrapped up as you’ll want to be able to ask a virtual attendee “sitting” near you if you can have their dessert.

Convince your partner to make your “hotel” bed and wipe down the bathroom. Be sure to dig out all the shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion samples you’ve brought home from past hotel stays. You can set these out on the bathroom counter yourself.

Make a carafe of coffee the night before. Buy creamers, take out cups, and little brown or red stirrers.

Have an ample amount of wine or beer on hand (your preference). Pre-filled small bowls of pretzels can be set out on your desk.


Overpack. Forget key items such as panties or pj’s. Be sure to pack all of your toiletries. Include exercise clothes for pre-breakfast workouts. Be sure to pack at least five hundred business cards and any promotional swag you might have for such occasions. Don’t forget your lanyard! You have several from past conferences and any one of them will do.

Set the Scene

Most likely you will be Zooming the conference from the room you are staying in. Rather than have your background be the bed and outdated décor, pre-load appropriate virtual backgrounds. If you have pictures from past conferences that include the banquet room during meals, or meeting rooms these might be a good choice. The ones included in the Zoom program are always fun. My favorite is outer space.

Be sure to have adequate pens, paper, and chocolate in your desk.

Attending the Conference

First night: Move into your room. Zoom with a fellow attendee. Stay up late drinking and talking.

Next morning: Wake up late. Don’t exercise. Rush to gather up your breakfast and coffee. Sign in a few minutes late and apologize in the chat. Be sure to ask lots of questions about what the day holds and what you’ve missed.

Schmoozing otherwise known as Networking: This is a difficult one to address. There will be “break-out rooms” set up for just such activity. Do your best to gain the attention of the person of note you wish to speak to. Perhaps you can single them out in private chat. If it is a writing conference be sure you track down an agent or editor and have your twenty-minute elevator pitch of your epic fantasy series ready. Good luck and do your best.

Attend Workshops: Be sure to have alternate activities ready that allow you to look like you are taking notes. Games on your phone work well for this.

Skip Workshops: Day drink with other attendees on a separate Zoom session.

Lunch: Order take out. Log into lunch gathering. Have a drink.

Afternoon Breakout Sessions: Nap off lunch.

Dinner: This is where the chocolate cake comes into play.

Evenings: See networking.

Wrapping It Up: Leave early so as to miss the virtual happy hour and karaoke party.

Pack up to “go home.” Leave something important behind.

At “home” unpack. Sort dirty laundry. Unpack exercise clothes and put them back into the dresser drawer. Put business cards and promotional materials back in desk.

One Last Note:

Take advantage of the “no pants” opportunity.

All we can do is embrace the future and plod through the new normal which soon will just be normal. Enjoy!






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