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What to do before a creative conference—tips from Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes


last updated:
August 4, 2017


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Reading time: 5 min.

Ah, creative conference jet-set life: I love it! Conferences started for me back in my Alpha Delta Pi collegiate days, which moved to me helping plan conferences for 500+ as a Leadership Consultant … which moved to planning large-scale events at a full-service communications agency for Delta Air Lines. Nowawdays, I’m loving the creative conference circuit for entrepreneurs, getting to speak at and attend events like Creative @ Heart, Inspired Retreat, Trouvaille Workshop, Showit United, The School of Styling, and Illume Retreat

… and with more than 40 conferences under my belt, I still don’t feel comfortable before UNLESS I’ve done my prep steps!

What to do before a creative conference—tips from Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes

Quick story to explain my heart on why this isn’t gonna be a what-to-pack post:

Boat-cruising around the lake last weekend with friends, conversation slipped into sports autographs …

Which meandered to autograph integrity: if your time is more valuable elsewhere, is it ever appropriate to outsource your stack of 1,500 autographs to your spouse? Or, since the item is sold as your autograph … shouldn’t you be the one that signs it?

Wes piped up that Arnold Palmer (yes, my husband makes golf references like this on the reg) gave a couple of pieces of advice to whippersnapper Tour golfers:

Always sign an autograph so the fans can read it—we owe them that much—and look them in the eyes.

I didn’t think about it again until heading up with my friend Callie for an influencer event store opening at Ashley LeMieux’s The Shine Project this past week, but it glared back: there’s a whole lot of Instagram-famous people in this world walking around as if you know who they are already.

And it made me realize that I always want a little bit of that Arnold Palmer-ness in me.

No matter what happens with this creative business … no matter how many followers I have or don’t have … I always want to be the type to introduce myself at a creative conference, kind of like my grandfather does when he calls. “Hey, Ash! It’s Deedah,” he says. I know, Deedah … there’s caller ID now on these iPhone contraptions.

But it’s respectful, and to me, it feels so hospitable that not for one second does my 72-year-old grandfather want me to panic that I may not know who I’m speaking with.

So, in a list that’s obviously kicking off with “never assume anyone knows who you are,” here’s my list of 8 prep tips for attending a creative conference.

1. Never assume someone knows who you are.

I think I wrote about this enough above. 🙂 But I think humility at a creative conference goes a really, really long way.


Creative copywriter and calligrapher Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes

2. Write action steps in a separate notebook

I learned this from my dear friend Reina—bring a spiral notecard book, and use it to write down action steps or actionable ideas you have during the creative conference. If our souls are cut from the same cloth, your mind will team with ideas … maybe even into the hours where you’re head’s on a pillow and you should be catching zzz’s! I take lots of notes during a creative conference, but I only put action steps in one list: my spiral-bound notebook.

3. Download a few no-equipment workouts.

Specifically, when I was traveling for Alpha Delta Pi and organizing conferences, I needed a few workouts in to balance that hotel food and wine diet, blow off steam/nerves, or just give me some semblance of home on the road. Wes and I travel a lot in general (hayyy, Delta benefits!), so I have about 20 on-the-go workouts from my personal trainer bestie Becca, Drew Kutcher, and Fit Sugar in a little notebook, so even if I’m staying in an AirBnB, I can get a 20-minute workout session in like I do on my normal, non-travel routine! Sure beats the dang treadmill.

4. Memorize your creative conference elevator pitch.

The first time I went to a creative conference for my own business (It was Illume Retreat, and click here for my review!), it’s like all those years of media training in PR screen-door-slammed in my face: OH … I guess I need to, uh, media train myself for once. Wes laughed, but I sat on the back patio with a notecard in hand, saying my elevator pitch over and over again until if someone asked me what I did, I didn’t sound clueless.

What to do before a creative conference - tips I do before every event by Ashlyn Carter - Illume Retreat

5. Channel your sorority days or cocktail party manners.

If you were in a sorority, remember recruitment parties, where you’d bump around the room, and be really, REALLY good at cocktail hour conversation? Good, intense small talk, coupled with a keen awareness for when that person needed a topic switch or would be a GREAT match for someone across the room … or maybe just when they were exhausted and needed a 60-second break from all the extrovert madness will make you an instant friend. I think those skills are still so valuable in networking, so ramp up your EQ and try to really serve the people you’re talking to. Creative conferences are a lot mentally, and if you’ve got introverted tendencies, it’s okay to need to catch some solo-time away from the crowd to process! At least, I usually am one of those people. 😉

6. Commit 3 phrases to memory.

“What was that like?” “Tell me more.” “Mind spelling your name for me?” Eek! Spilling my secrets, but oh well. 😉 The first two are studs for when you’re meeting new people and feel super awkward talking about yourself … they’re great at getting the other person to continue talking, and for laying seeds for new friendship! The last phrase is my go-to for that situation when you’re either writing or typing someone’s name that you SHOULD know … and for some reason, it’s escaped you. When I planned events for Delta Air Lines Sky Miles members and couldn’t remember a triple Medallion Member’s name, I ALWAYS said this when checking them in … it felt a whole lot better than, “Um, Mr. Really Important Sir, what on earth is your name?”

What to do before a creative conference - tips I do before every event by Ashlyn Carter - Trouvaille Workshop

7. Study up on your list of names.

Here’s a relic from planning ADPi events and working in PR events: I’d always make a big list of the names I needed to know, and study it on the flight … I know that sounds so Type A, but sometimes, there’s that random client with a name that just won’t stick—but you’d be mortified to forget it! I usually also look up all the speakers, just so I know what I’m going to learn from them, like this post I wrote on learnings before I went to Inspired Retreat.

8. Set expectations before.

I keep mentioning Wes, but he really is THAT wise. He tells me to be careful with expectations, so I do try to set a few goals before an event. I decided 4-5 people I want to REALLY connect with, and I let that be it. I don’t dream up partnership ideas or 25 new industry pals. I don’t picture anything beyond 4-5 good, solid new relationships … if more happens? Good. Then it’s just icing.

These tips and steps have served me beyond the what-to-pack-for-[INSERT NAME]-creative-conference type tips over the years, and my prayer is that one or two of them serves YOU, too!

What creative conferences are your favorites to go to as an entrepreneur? What are your go-to get-ready tips?

Images from the lovely Samantha from our recent Trouvaille Retreat!

Reading Time: 5 Minutes Reading time: 5 min. Ah, creative conference jet-set life: I love it! Conferences started for me back in my Alpha Delta Pi collegiate days, which moved to me helping plan conferences for 500+ as a Leadership Consultant … which moved to planning large-scale events at a full-service communications agency for Delta Air Lines. Nowawdays, I’m […]


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comments +

  1. Alexa says:

    Love this — and I’d love to hear what conferences you would recommend for a first-timer. One of my big 2018 goals (yup, planning that far ahead) is to hit up a creative conference 🙂

    • Alexa, you’re a girl after my own heart—I plan far in advance, too! I’d check out Creative at Heart, or Illume … I’ve been to both and written reviews on the blog so you can learn more!

  2. I haven’t been to any creative conferences, only one stationery specific conference. Which conference do you recommend for first timers?

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