The Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) ended last Sunday with thousands of people as visitors. Set in the inspiring precinct of Walsh Bay with its beautiful industrial buildings, harbour-side cafés, worn timber floors and exposed rusty metal features, the festival was again a magic place to be. There was this positive vibe permeating the air, people chatting, laughing, reading, or having a coffee in the sunshine. Everyone seemed to be in good mood – no wonder with all the interesting talks, panel discussions, and readings going on. Of course, I could not help but buy more books in the all-day-long crowded pop-up book shop. I also took the chance to have one signed by the author after a talk.

This year, I had made a plan early on when the program was first released and scheduled several sessions in my calendar keeping the week free of other appointments. I attended the Festival on Thursday (whole day), Friday evening, Saturday morning (half day), and Sunday (one session in the afternoon). I decided to focus on biography and life writing sessions, and after the four days, I not only had gathered valuable information from the sessions but was am bursting with energy to keep writing and tackle a new book idea that I had in my head for a while. On one of the days, I met with another author and small business owner who I had connected with on social media; she regretted that she did not make it to any of the sessions, as she had had too many other appointments during the week.

Reflecting on the Festival and why I enjoyed it so much I thought I share my three tips how you can make most out of next year’s event:
Tip number one: Start planning early
Subscribe to the SWF’s newsletter to hear when the program for the upcoming festival is published. Set aside an hour to browse through the daily sessions and select the ones that interest you. As most sessions are ticketed and have limited seats, it is best to book well in advance. However – I experienced it this year and last year – there are usually some last-minute tickets available to purchase at the festival. But this means queueing once more – and you can avoid this queue and save yourself valuable time at the event by booking in advance.
I then added all the location details to my calendar on my mobile phone so that I knew where to go next and did not have to carry around a printed calendar.

Tip number two: Learn from the experts
I searched for memoir, biography and life writing sessions and found quite a few of them in this year’s program. Armed with a notepad and pen (to capture any advice or tip from the experts on the topic) and my mobile phone (to tweet from the live sessions and connect with the presenting authors), I was well-prepared to make most out of each session. After attending five sessions on my preferred topic, I had gathered a fair bit of advice which I captured with my other project notes in Scrivener for future reference.

Tip number three: Start a conversation with a stranger
The SWF offers you the fantastic opportunity to connect with like-minded people: writers, journalists, editors, authors, and, of course, readers. The long queues to enter the free sessions are a perfect time to connect. It can be a bit tricky though, given the (sad) fact that most people stare on their iPhones – busily typing away or scrolling social media pages – avoiding any eye contact with their neighbours in the queue. However, I found that at some point in time – I usually spent between 30 and 45 minutes standing in the boiling sun – there is the chance to strike up a conversation.

If you have never spoken to a stranger, I highly recommend the book You Should Have Asked - The Art of Powerful Conversation by Stuart Knight. I saw this guy speaking a few weeks ago at our Connect For Success networking event and purchased his book the next day. His book is a recipe for having powerful conversation – with anyone really. Stepping out of your comfort zone and speaking to a stranger in the queue or the audience of the SWF can create opportunities you might not have envisaged. Try it next year.

Have you been at the Sydney Writers’ Festival? If yes, what was your highlight? Share it in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you!

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