How to Teach a Craft Session at a Conference

I’ve just returned from the Muse & Marketplace 2017 Conference put on by Grub Street It was a wonderful, happy, exhausting, enlightening, and inspiring time. I was chosen to be a presenter, along with my friend and fellow crime writer, Emily Ross. We co-taught a session on how to use thriller and mystery techniques to make your own prose project more compelling.

There is no nicer feeling than having conference attendees tell you that they found your craft session useful. Especially when they liked your session so much that they imperil their hands trying to stop a closing elevator door to tell you!

So how did Emily and I construct a session that folks found useful, no matter what sort of project they were working on?


We began planning our session months in advance of the conference. We chose a topic and worked and reworked the description so that it accurately foretold what we’d cover. We didn’t want someone to come to our session and leave saying, “That wasn’t at all what I thought it would be about.”

Honing In

Once we knew our topic, we narrowed the scope and picked recommended tactics and things we would discourage writers from doing. Then we divided them. We each took the topics we felt the most passionate about.


Our original plan was to discuss six to dos and six not to dos, but we came to the conclusion that ten, rather than twelve, tips worked better, partly for time and partly because we each decided (independently) we’d rather cover five.


We created handouts. The first gave a brief summary of our tips, in order of the presentation. The second recommended books that showcased “good” tension and suspense techniques and that related to the topics we were discussing. This was a great exercise and I have a list of go-to books to refer to! And the attendees have something to refer to months later, when most of our words will have been lost.


We got together two weeks before the conference and did a run through of our talk, timing ourselves so we had a sense of if we were running long or short. We talked through how we’d handled Q&As. I discovered my topics were running on the short side, so I knew I needed to give more examples, and work in more depth on some areas.

Setting expectations

Before we began dispensing wisdom, we gave people the handouts and set forth how we’d conduct the session. I also asked that people try to keep their questions as general as possible to be of the most benefit to everyone in the room. Letting your audience know how things are going to proceed helps prepare them for what’s ahead.


Emily and I chose to allow for one question after each topic we covered. That way, attendees might not have to hold their questions in their mind for a whole hour (challenging) and it interrupted the flow of our lecturing.

Stretch break

At the halfway mark, we gave folks the opportunity to stretch. Sitting in a chair for 75 minutes can be tough and uncomfortable. Sleepiness sets in. By allowing people to move their bodies for a minute, you help reinvigorate them. An attendee later thanked me for this!

Expect the unexpected

We were lucky not to suffer from the fire alarm that plagued other panels, but we realized that you can’t prepare for all situations. Fire alarms happen, people ask questions you’d never expect, and maybe your session is up against a bestselling author’s. Things outside your control are just that: outside your control. Don’t beat yourself up.


Thank everybody who came to your session and any volunteers who helped set it up or run.


Take some deep breaths, smile, and enjoy the rest of the conference!

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