So, let’s start with how not to end up as a Cautionary Tale by August 1st.:
1) Watch the booze. I know; mingling is much easier with a drink in your hand. If you aren’t the talkative type, it’s easy to use that drink as a crutch: “Can’t talk; my mouth is full.” But hitting the open bar for all it’s worth is dangerous. You could say something you’ll rue in the morning, or worse yet, dance on a table… Know your limit and stay well under it. Club soda is never a bad choice.
2) Turn off your cell phone. At the very least, turn it to vibrate (not the vibrate-ring setting; chances are, you won’t hear/feel the vibration and it will be playing Fur Elise before you know it.) There’s nothing more annoying than someone’s cell ringing while you’re in a workshop, but do you really want your phone ringing while you’re having that totally unexpected chance to pitch to your dream editor in the breakfast line?
3) Avoid heavy perfume. I don’t even have allergies, and I’ve sat next to women who made my eyes water. Even worse was being caught between two perfume lovers in a crowded workshop. Opium battled Obsession until I was light-headed. Go easy on the eau, okay?
4) Avoid jangly jewelry. Last year, I sat in a workshop with a woman wearing the noisiest charm bracelet in the universe. Every time she moved, the bracelet jangled. After about 30 minutes of this, I wanted to rip the thing off her arm (and I wasn’t particularly concerned if her arm came off with it). I could tell by the evil looks going her way that I wasn’t the only one.
5) Don't be negative. Don't go on and on about how bad the food is, how evil you've been treated by editors, how hard it is to get published, how much better Nationals was 3 years ago, how horrible Author A is in person... No one wants to be around a negative person--especially if she's trying to have a good time and enjoy the moment. Be aware of the energy you're projecting.
6) Be careful what you say. This is really, truly the time to live by the “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” adage. Trust me, the best friend/critique partner/chapter mate of that writer you’re trashing is probably standing right behind you. If you’re trashing editors, I can guarantee one is standing within earshot. HEL-LO, you’re wearing a name tag. Your name and tacky comment will be noted and reported. It’s a small world and that comment will be biting you in the butt in no time. If you HAVE to say something, wait until you are in the privacy of your hotel room—not the ladies’ room, not the bar. Your hotel room.
(This goes for reporting gossip as well. )
Okay, so how to be memorable in a good way?
1) Use generally-accepted good manners. Open and hold doors for people. Don’t try to break into line. Hold the elevator. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t have private conversations on your cell phone in public areas. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Say "Please" and "Thank You." Common courtesy will go a long way.
2) Breathe before you speak. For those of us who tend to say the first thing that comes to mind (only to realize later how it actually sounded…), it pays to think before you speak. But, if you can’t think first, at least breathe first. That nanosecond pause while you take a breath can be all you need to keep from blurting out the line that’s repeated on the Internet for months.
3) Talk to people. Preferably people you don’t know. At lunch, include the woman sitting across from you who doesn’t seem to know anyone at the table and isn’t saying a word. She’ll probably thank you for it—and hey, you never know whom she might know…
4) Introduce yourself. Don’t assume everyone can see your name tag. And introduce the others with you. Really, introductions are a great conversation starter.
5) Smile. Smile at people when you pass them and catch their eye.
6) Keep an open, approachable, body position. If your arms and legs are crossed and you’re holding your bag in your lap like you’re afraid I’m going to take it from you, I’m not going to want to approach you and say hello. A relaxed body position and a smile will make people want to talk to you.
7) Ask questions. Don’t hog the conversation. Get other people talking about themselves—they’ll think you’re a brilliant conversationalist and you won’t have to say all that much.
In short, be kind, be friendly, and be nice. Ask yourself what kind of person would you like to meet and talk to, and then try to be that person. Try to emulate someone you admire who has great interpersonal skills.
Have fun at Nationals! Here’s hoping none of us become the protagonist in the story that starts, “You will never believe what this girl did in Atlanta…”