Journalism / writers resources

5 Must-have tools for Writers Conferences

writer conferenceIt’s summer, time for writers to recharge our cerebral batteries. That could mean reading, going on field trips, spending time with online PLNs, or taking calls from family members who usually end up at voice mail. For many, it means attending conferences like Writers Digest “Conference July 31-August 2 and the Writers’ Police Academy August 20-23 (this one sounds amazing) to learn how the heck to write for fun and profit.

If you aren’t a veteran conference attendee, you may wonder what you should bring. That’s a fair questions considering learning is no longer done sitting in auditoriums nodding off to the wisdom of a guest speaker behind a podium. Now, you might be asked to scan a QR code and visit a website, access meeting documents online, interact digitally, or use a backchannel device to share your real-time thoughts with the presenter. Besides a toothbrush and aspirin, what should you take to your upcoming conference? Here are five tools that will make you look and act like the Diva of Digital:

Google Maps

Some conferences take multiple buildings spread out over several blocks, and depending upon the number of attendees, your hotel may not be around the corner from the Hall. Bring the latest version of the Google Maps app on your smartphone or iPad, complete with audio directions. All you do is tell it where you’re going, ask for directions, and Siri (the voice behind the iPhone) will lock into your GPS and hold your hand the entire way. If friends are looking for a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts near the conference, Google Maps will find one. If you want Chinese, use an app like Yelp to find one patrons like.

Don’t like Google Maps? Try the Israeli-inspired Waze, now owned by Google. It’s simple, intuitive, and fast. Here’s my review of Waze.

Conference App

Most conferences have one. I find these more useful than the conference website. They are geared for people who are manipulating digital device one-handed, half their attention on the phone and the rest on traffic, meaning: they’re simple and straight-forward. Test drive it so you know where the buttons are, then use it to find meeting rooms, changes in schedules, updates.

note-takingDigital note-taker

Don’t struggle with pencils, notebooks, or erasers. Take notes digitally. Most tools include text, images, video, and drawing–and erasing–making them as functional as a pencil. You can organize your note-taking with tags, group them into folders, and share them with others. Here’s a list of options for digital note-taking. The most popular choices are Evernote or Onenote, but each is a bit different so review them before making your choice.

iPad, Chromebook, Netbook, Laptop

They’ll do everything you need–access websites, take notes, email friends, text colleagues, update your blog, check social networks, send materials to colleagues not attending, handle emergencies that won’t wait until you return to your home base, and generally keep up to date on your ‘other’ life while you conference. You’ll find plenty of plugs if your device must be recharged every two hours. Make new friends around the outlet.

Apps you’ll want installed are:

  • Skype (for face-to-face conversations)
  • a scanner (for paperwork, business cards)
  • a voice recorder
  • a book Reader (Kindle, iBooks, other)
  • some sort of drawing program
  • social media apps for Twitter/FB/G+/LI
  • an expense tracker like Easy Expense Tracker
  • Yelp

Many of these apps can be used on an iPhone, smartphone, or iPad. Check before downloading to be sure it serves your needs.

Note: Early after your arrival, make sure you know how to access the conference Wifi. This should be free to attendees. And, always ask presenters where you can find their digital notes or copies of their presentations online. Many/most make that available either through the conference or their own professional websites.

Business Card app

Have some method of digitally transferring your business card to new friends and colleagues. There are many options:

  • OneTouch Business Cards app–FREE–Create your own professional mobile-business card in just a few seconds
  • ScanBizCards app–FREE–this one scans paper business cards into a directory–very cool. If you choose NewCard or OneTouch, you still need this one

Look around when you’re there. See what people are using that makes their experience better, easier, more efficient. Share it in the comments below.

For more on attending writers conferences, check out Dell’s tips over at The Review Review and the Tin House’s suggestions (like ear plugs and a framed picture of your cat).

More on writers resources:

3 Desk Organizers You Need

Grammarly–online or resident grammar checker

How to use Google Street View


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 


34 thoughts on “5 Must-have tools for Writers Conferences

  1. Pingback: 4 Reasons You Want a PLN and 13 Ways to Build One | WordDreams...

  2. Jacqui, when will be teaching the class I’ll need to take to learn to use all these apps and devices? Would you recommend that I not take notes with my pen at your class?
    I’m with Tess on this one. But I would love to go to a really good writer’s conference.


  3. You’ve got to be kidding! Summer conferences? ! Summer is for gardening, and weeding and harvesting. Or for incredible days in the woods, or out on the lake in a kayak. Writing can occur in the summer–that’s what rainy days are for. I’ve always wondered at the concept of writers’ conferences–there’s a semi-famous one here, near me. But whether you do it with the digital tools (to make us drool) or in person, with pen in hand, you’re missing summer. Missing summer is like taking a rain check on life itself. No thank you.


  4. I’ve made a note of those things, for when I finally get to a conference. Thanks so much for the tips. I say I’ll find one every year, and I’ve not yet been to one. I’m going to make it a priority for 2016😀


  5. Also make sure you sign up for the conference email lists. At technical conferences I attend they often post the powerpoint slides from the sessions and send the links out after the conference.


  6. As much as I found your tips useful, I had to laugh. Firstly, I loved your first point. I am seriously geographically challenged and it wouldn’t surprise me if creatives are more so that average…particularly when our heads are up in the clouds!! Getting lost and missing your session is definitely to be avoided.
    I just attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival and I was still taking pen and paper notes but I also do this to etch the content into my memory.
    I wrote a post about the sessions I’d attended afterwards and posted that to their Twitter page but that was the full extent of my use of technology.
    Next year, I’ll check into these things in more detail beforehand. Thanls again for the tips xx Rowena


  7. This is very interesting. I knew nothing about business card apps – on the other hand I have never been to a writers’ conference.

    Google maps. There were tow women from the US sitting near me on the bus yesterday. One kept swiping her iPhone while the other read out street names as we passed. Then one of them asked me if we were getting near the zoo.

    They had been going in the wrong direction entirely for at least half an hour. They were on the right bus but they’d caught it on the wrong side of the road. Some much for smart phones, I told myself.


    • You’re right. Sometimes, the old school approach of asking the bus driver where he’s headed is much more effective!

      If they’d used Waze, it would have told them to turn around. I better go with them next time…


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