Ashley Nickels and some of her students showing off their projects at Craftcation 2016.

I love creative conferences. Years ago, after I attended my first Craftcation in Ventura, CA, I am fairly certain that I changed my life as a result. I took business classes, made a necklace out of legos, drank cocktails with some of my crafty heroes, dipped my toes in the Pacific, and decided to quit my job to follow my dreams, all over the course of a four-day conference. It was special.

Creative conferences are special, which is one reason I enjoy teaching at them. The more I am on the instructor side of these types of conferences, the more ways I’ve discovered to “survive” being in this leadership role. Allow me to share a few tips!

Before you get there:

Know what to expect.

Each conference has a different structure for determining what you are paid for, what you are reimbursed for, what you are expected to do, how much you need to promote your classes, etc. Make sure you are clear on this. Read your contract, ask questions about it, and ask other people in the community about how their experience has been working for this organization.

Be prepared.

Schedule enough time before your departure from home to get ready and practice. This includes getting all of your supplies, samples, demos, and products ready.

Pre-conference jitters are normal!

One of the biggest differences between being an attendee and an instructor is that we are doing this for work. And this can often mean flying far from home, being away from loved ones, or sharing a hotel room with a stranger. When I start feeling nervous about this, I try my best to think of it as work, and how amazing that I’m getting the opportunity to share my passion in exchange for a paycheck. And if that doesn’t work, just try to remind yourself to expect the unexpected. Ask, “What amazing connection or moment is going to happen to me at this conference?”


Ashley Nickels doing a sewing machine demo at Craftcation.

During the conference:

Get to know people.

Some conferences have an “office hour” style setup where people can sign up for chats with you. Outside of this, try to make yourself available. As an attendee-turned-instructor, I can personally attest to how much of an impact a personal connection can make on someone.

Take some “me” time.

The opposite of being available! Give yourself a time-out to stare at the wall, lay on your bed, or walk around the block if you need it. This might be your key to survival, especially at a multiple-day conference.

Bring earplugs.

It is fairly common to have a roommate at conferences where your lodging is covered by the organizers. There is usually an option to pay the difference to have your own room, but I usually prefer not to do this. Sometimes your roommate is one of your pals (or in my case sometimes it’s my mom!) but often it’s a stranger, which can be hard. Just try to keep in mind that most people want to get sleep, too. Go into it with an open mind and a curious attitude, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Grab those emails.

It goes without saying that conferences are an excellent venue for getting mailing list signups. Make it happen.

Swipe those cards.

Sell your books and other products! Craftcation, for example, has a pop-up shop where most instructors sell their goods. At other conferences, you can set up your own pop-up shop within your classroom. I have found that students love buying things within the classroom. Make sure you check in with your conference organizers about their expectations around sales.

Don’t forget to have fun.

Oh yeah, that! You are there because you are considered a leader, and you have something really valuable to share. Have fun and watch how people are inspired by you!

After you get home:

Close the loop.

Follow up with the organizers. Send them a quick thanks, as well as any constructive feedback you might have. Everyone benefits. Also, make sure you do something with all of those emails you gathered!

Schedule several days of R & R.

This is something I did not do at first. Even as an attendee, you might need a vacation from your craftcation after all the stimulating conversations, classes, experiences. As an instructor, this is exponentially true. Whether or not you are an introvert or an extrovert, listen carefully to my words: You will need SEVERAL days to recover. Schedule them.

*For more tips and tricks on teaching, check out Ashley’s CreativeLive class, (Ashley’s affiliate link) How to Teach a Craft Class.

**Check out Craftcation, a craft and business conference in Ventura, California, for inspiration, rejuvenation and solid business advice in a warm and friendly environment. Tickets go on sale October 13 and often sell out fast so mark your calendar!


Ashley Nickels is a quilter, teacher, and writer in San Francisco, California. She grew up surrounded by quilters and makers– making her first nine-patch at age eight– and was designing her own bags by high school. Ashley spent the first ten years of her career as a classroom teacher in Spain and San Francisco, teaching both English and Spanish literature and language. Now she is fully immersed in the creative community, teaching in-person and online sewing and quilting classes, writing, and running her business, Alphabet Summer. Ashley’s most recent work has been published in Uppercase magazine, QuiltCon magazine, and she is a regular contributor to the Dear Handmade Life blog. Ashley’s classes can be found online on Creativebug and CreativeLive. Find out more about her complete class offerings on her website or by signing up for her mailing list!

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