10 Tips to Help you Survive a Blogging Conference Alone

This past weekend I attended Blogalicious in Washington DC thanks to the generosity of the CLEVER GIRL COLLECTIVE and a twitter contest I won.  It was FABULOUS!  I am so very grateful to Clever Girls and Blogalicious for the experience and so very excited to attend more conferences.  They are absolutely delightful!

However, they are only delightful if you have your big girls boots on.  I did a lot of mental prep for the conference because I knew it would be difficult terrain for me.  I knew that if I were my turtle self, all nervous and withdrawn, I wouldn't meet anybody I needed to or anybody that I wanted to.  I knew that I would just wade through the days without connecting with people and I knew that I would probably end up leaving early a lot.  SO I had to put my big girl boots on and get with it.  I figure there are other girls like me, attending a conference for the first time, or attending a conference alone and I wanted to give you a few tips on how to make the most of your time without feeling like a doofus all by yourself.

How you might feel after a blogger conference if you follow my tips...

#1  I'm not kidding about the boots.  When I say put on your big girl boots, I truly mean put on your big girl boots.  I don't know about you, but when I wear boots I feel powerful.  There is something really awesome about a great pair of boots that make you feel like you are walking on top of the world.  So I brought 4 pairs.  4 pairs of boots - black, grey, brown and even slipper boots.  Don't judge...I had a car so I just piled my collection of boots and scarves in the passenger side floor and picked out which ones I wanted to wear that day when I arrived at the convention center.  If you are taking a plane, perhaps 2 pairs would suffice?   The point is not that you have to run out and buy some boots for the conference (though that would be quite fun!).  The point is to have at least 1 item of clothing that makes you feel strong, confident, self-assured.  I had my boots and my scarves.  The scarves serve a bit of a different purpose.  They too can be stylish, but also provide a layer of warmth and a layer of protection.  Whenever I wrap a big scarf around my shoulders, I feel comfortable, warm, and less vulnerable than without.  These clothing items are little things, but they literally set you off on the right foot.  So go through your closet and find clothes that you feel strong, confidant and comforted that look great.

#2 Once you have a few wardrobe basics knocked out, it is time to do a little research.  You need to figure out where you need to be and when because there are going to be multiple things going on at all times of the day.  You need to skip the fluff that won't help you and soak up the good that will.  When prepping for the conference, I went through the list of sessions to see what sounded like it would be beneficial to me.  They got one star.  Then I went through the speakers at the sessions and checked out their blogs, their history, their expertise.  If they were someone I thought I would relate to or learn a lot from, they got a star.  If there were lots of speakers that were fabulous on one panel, well - that session had like 6 stars.  Carol Schiller's session had 7 stars just because she is a rock star.

Now the trick is to be flexible with your schedule once you get to the conference.  I had all of my sessions mapped out and everything starred that I wanted to go to, but I did not follow that list to a T.  You have to be willing to walk out of a session.  This is where your figurative big girl boots come in.  If a session is not "speaking" to you right away, it is ok to leave the room.  Wait for a lull in the lecture (perhaps when panelists are switching at the podium), be quiet, open the door just enough to slip through without letting noise in and make sure it doesn't slam.  You are not going to break the speakers heart, but you might just get the information you need to rock your world in another session.

For example:  I was in a travel session that sounded really great (and it was!).  There were several speakers that I wanted to hear from and it was on travel - who doesn't want to travel?!  Well, me.  While I love traveling with my husband and family, it really is not a blogging passion of mine AT ALL and I realized that within the first 5 minutes of the lecture.  There was no reason for me to soak up all of this information on building a travel blog when I knew that that was not the direction I was headed.  So after the first speaker, I quietly got up, slipped out and jumped in the other session.  That other session just happened to be led by Tara Ziegmont of Feels Like Home where she dissected SEO optimization.  It literally rocked my world.  I am so glad I went.  Not to mention Tara is a local Harrisburg area blogger right in my backyard and I was able to meet her and greet her and share some fettuccine later with her at lunch.  THAT is the reason you need your big girl boots on and your schedule open.

#3 Be aware where the freebies are.  There are freebies EVERYWHERE at a blog conference and some are great, but some are not so great.  If you aren't particularly interested in a product, don't take it just because it is free.  Save it for somebody that loves that product.  However, if you LOVE a product, make sure you are there to take advantage of it!  For example, the Sears/KMart Suite offered massages, hot coca and cider and eventually a Dirty Santa giveaway complete with flat screen TVs, GPS devices and mini-tablets.  My new friend Jenna and I arrived at the suite just in time for the last two massages of the day.  That free massage and spiced cider were perhaps the most awesome treat of the the entire conference.  Seriously.  Of course, I was at the WRONG place when it came time for the Dirty Santa giveaway, so shame on me for missing out, but you get my point, right?  Keep your eyes and ears open and you will walk away with some wonderful experiences and product!

#4 Have a home base.  These conferences go from morning until late at night, so you will need some peace at some point to just get away from everything.  For a lot of the girls, it was simply their hotel rooms, for me it was my car.  Perhaps a quiet couch in the hotel that nobody else has found can be your spot.  Whatever and wherever it is, you need somewhere with a mirror, snacks and quiet.  Freshen up, eat a cheap snack and rest for a bit and go back to the conference refreshed.  You do NOT want to buy snacks at the convention center.  Things are always horribly priced and usually quite stale, so either grab a snack from the free provided tables or bring a few things yourself.

#5 Speaking of money, you will end up spending much more than you anticipated if you do not research and plan for meals and transportation.  Many of the meals for blogalicious were included, but there were a few that I had already left the conference for.  Make sure you bring along your own food, have an idea of the city and where to find something great and cheap, or have your wallet open.  In terms of transportation, the Gaylord complex where Blogalicious was held is fabulous, but absolutely terrible for getting around.  It is actually quite brilliant the way the complex separates itself from the city, so that guests have to pay quite a lot to either park or be transported back and forth.  (It is such a puzzle that I will actually be writing another how-to for the Gaylord Event Center in DC.)  Suffice it to say, do your research; read reviews, read blog posts, read the site's website and weigh the cost and benefit of various options.  I chose to drive and park off site and both decisions were good ones.  I saved at least $140 and had a lot more piece of mind having my car around.

#6 Speak to the speakers.  They are just people too.  I am horribly intimidated by speakers and people "in charge" (anybody else cry buckets every time they get pulled over just because you are in trouble from an authority figure?!?).  Anyway, you have got to seriously pull those big girl boots up by the bootstraps and TALK to the speakers that made an impact on you.  I am so glad that I went up and spoke to Erika Ward.  She is the most wonderful, kind hearted girl and she has been where I want to go.  I learned so much from her and Jess C and am so thankful that I got up the courage just to go chat with them after their session.

#7 In the same stroke, talk to the people around you.  You never know who is sitting next to you.  I have to admit, I'm pretty sure I ignored Ted Rubin (the former CEO of E.L.F. and a PR Guru) the first night.  There was a movie on and there was this white guy sitting on a bean bag in the back of the room.  I assumed he was with the hotel or something because this was a blog conference celebrating diversity.  He couldn't be one of the people I want to meet, right?  Wrong.  I should have been brave and said hello and talked to the guy.  This is not to say everyone you talk to is successfull and has something to "offer" you in terms of relationship or opportunity.  The truth is, most of the girls are just bloggers like you and me, but you never know which ones you will connect with.  I feel like I made many friends at the event and look forward to growing relationships with them virtually until I see them at some point again.  I would not be able to create and build those friendships if I am afraid to talk to people.  So  again, pull up those boots and say Hello.  After you say Hello - ASK QUESTIONS and actually be interested in their answers.  Attempt to move beyond small talk and don't focus on yourself.  Focus on them and if they do the same, your conversations will be natural and bonding. 

On a side note: you might be wondering what happens if someone ignores you.   Perhaps you think attending a blog conference by yourself is a bit like going to a new high school on the first day when everyone else knows each others.  In some ways, it is like that.  That is why you need your boots and scarves.  If you aren't outgoing and tough (at least on the outside), there is the chance that the conference could be really hard for you.  The honest truth is that there are some people that are going to ignore you.  There are some people that you will try to open conversation with and they will literally not look up from their computer.  There will be others that just keep looking over their shoulders trying to escape from you.  That is ok.  Just say nice to meet you and move on.   From my limited experience, NONE of those girls were big names in the blogging world.  None were tremendously successful and clearly none of them would have been a good friend.  The big names that were at the conference were actually amazingly kind, willing to talk, willing to share and very, very helpful.  It is the girls that feel threatened or think more highly of themselves than they ought that are standoffish and weird about talking, so don't feel looked over or put off if you experience it.  Just move on and find a kindred soul or two.  They are there.  You just have to find them and be confidant enough to introduce yourself.  If you are one of the mean girls - stop.

How you might feel if you do a blogging conference without these tips...

#8 Have cards you are proud of.  I totally missed the boat on this one.  I have my photography business cards, but I don't have separate cards for my blog.  Oops.  I should have.  I felt ridiculous writing my blog name on the back of my card.  Luckily I HAD a card though...it is very hard to remember people that did not have a card because you meet SO MANY PEOPLE over the course of the weekend, so have some made!  Vistaprint offers 250 free cards when you sign up, so just do it!  If you are investing in the conference, the one tool you really need to invest in (besides your boots!) is a simple business card.  Bring more than you think you will need!

#9  Write little notes on the back of business cards.  It is hard to remember who everyone is and where you met them and what you talked about.  It is invaluable to jot down a few facts about that person and what you spoke about on the back of their card.  I also arranged my cards from front to back in a little binder depending on whether I really connected with the person or not.  It really helped when I returned home and started going through the cards.

#10  If you are uncomfortable, it is ok to leave.  One of the best decisions I made while I was at the conference was to leave a few of the events.  Mainly the social events at night were 100% socializing and I am such a closet introvert that that type of event is very, very draining.  I had spent a ton of energy toting around my big girl boots all day long, and if I were to stay all night every night, I would not have enough confidence the next day during sessions when I really needed it.  So know your limits - know that it is ok to skip an hour of sessions if that is what you need to take a long bath and get yourself put together before the evening events.  Take a walk by yourself outside, read a book for a half hour somewhere, go talk on the phone with your hubby for awhile.  The world will not pass you by.  Just be sure that you don't chose to do any of those things when the HDTV is being given away in the Sears Suite...then you'll be kicking yourself...

Traveling to DC?  THIS is a fun, interactive trip planner :)


Laura said…
I like this post as I've never been to a blogger conference before. Interesting! And I love your tip about writing on the back of the cards - I did that all the time when I worked and it was super helpful.
Ted Rubin said…
Amy, feel fee to talk to me now. Looking forward... tedrubin@gmail.com :-)
Great advice! I am nervous and excited to go to Haven conference by myself, and I know that home bloggers are some of the nicest chicks out there. I will need biz cards! Thanks for the tip. I'm dreading saying the words "Unskinny Boppy" over and over. lol
Very cool post Amy. I've never been to a bloggy conference before. I am seriously considering going to Blogher next year. It's in New York which will be a quick plane trip from Virginia. Thanks for the heads up and I will make sure to pack my big girl boots.
Mmmmmmmmm said…
Great post and very good advice!

I always have a "survival pack" in a backpack when I go. Lipbalm (very important, very dry air in many large venues), a banana, chocolate and half a liter of water.

Pen and paper or other note-taking device is also a must.
great tips!! I agree on the paper and pen...many were provided, but I preferred my own notebook that I brought along...familiar, you know?!

You girls are making me want to go to Blogher and Haven too!! AHH!

....and um anybody else a little starstruck that Ted Rubin commented on my blog??/...no? Just me?? ah well then...
Snooty said…
At a 4 day writer conference I discovered nearly the same group of presenters at the panels and solo presenter sessions that I was interested in. Ask thoughtful Q's and make sure to take notes - this marks you as someone who is taking the opportunity seriously.

I met some amazing people, was invited to a few unforgettable dinners and had a great time.
Check out Serena's take on oddballs at a conference here: http://www.graceisforsinners.com/life/ode-to-the-oddball/
Great article Amy! Thanks for submitting to So You Want to Be a Blogger-it will go live today! Feel free to grab a Featured button!