Wow! BlogHer16 was amazing. I didn’t quite know what to expect from a blog conference, but the experience was one I will never forget. I’m so glad I got over my newbie shyness and jumped in with both feet. In this post, I share 5 things that made the conference such an awesome experience for me.
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? My first tip is to just say yes. Say yes to attending the conference, say yes to invitations to sponsor events, say yes to sitting at the table with a bunch of people you don’t know and learning about what they are passionate about. Once I made the leap to attend, I decided to say yes to as many things as possible that felt like a good fit for me and this space.
That last part is key – only say yes to things that feel like a good fit for you and your particular space. There were several sponsor events that sounded super fun, but I couldn’t see developing a relationship with that particular brand so I said no. I couldn’t bear the thought of taking a spot from someone who would work with the brand in the future just because I thought the party sounded awesome.
One of the things I said yes to was a fabulous walking tour of downtown LA hosted by Mixbook and Discover Los Angeles, featuring designer/photographer Kyle Huber and led by Red Line Tours. I’m so glad I said yes to this tour. Not only did we discover some really interesting things about downtown Los Angeles, we also had the opportunity to hang with a great group of bloggers before the conference began. For a first-time blog conference attendee, this was huge. I didn’t know any bloggers in real life before the conference and this gave me the opportunity to talk about shared interests and get to know each other in a way that simply isn’t possible during a conference. Saying yes to this one event set my entire experience up to be a success. Several of the bloggers on the tour were session panelists (Yvonne and Sarah from MomsLA ) and BlogHer veterans (I’m looking at you, Stacy Jill of Geek Til You Drop and Evelyn of Mommy Mafia). The tour was an awesome way to get to know ladies who I would see again and again throughout the conference. I’m so glad I said yes. (Also, the Mixbook peeps are so much fun. More on them another day, promise)
Reach out before & during the blog conference
If you are attending BlogHer or another blog conference for the first time, you probably haven’t met many other bloggers in person before. (That’s totally normal!) BlogHer has a private Facebook group for attendees that provides great info about the conference and has posts for everyone to share their blog address, social media accounts, and dedicated posts for different genres. This is a great way to find other like-minded bloggers and follow them on social media before the conference.
A good first step to connecting with other attendees is to comment on their posts, reply to a tweet or share their work on social media. This is something that you are probably already doing, but if not, is a great way to informally introduce yourself to other bloggers online. As you get closer to the conference, send a few of the bloggers you think you would connect with a private message to see if they want to meet up during the conference. I’ve found people are super sweet and open to saving others a seat during a keynote or grabbing lunch or dinner.
Reaching out to Joules of PocketfulofJoules turned out to be one of the things that made this experience so wonderful. I love her posts and thought we would have a good bit in common, especially after her Odd Ducks post, and reached out via Twitter the week of the conference to see if she was interested in meeting up for dinner Thursday night. Thankfully, she said yes and it turned out that we had a lot in common. We wound up hanging out off and on throughout the conference and she introduced me to another of my favorite people from the conference, Meredith from Plenty Woman, who blogs about women and anxiety. (I’m fairly certain I nearly hugged her when she shared what she blogs about.) Reaching out can be scary, but it absolutely made the conference for me.
Remember that the speakers/presenters are people too. If someone says something that is particularly helpful or interesting, let them know. Stay behind to thank them for sharing their expertise or send them a tweet. It never hurts to be generous and friendly and it goes a long way to making your conference fun and it might just make someone’s day.
Also, blog conferences are full of swag – if you get something that you think another blogger would like, pass it on. I follow Krista from Knit one, pug two on Instagram and knew the awesome pug push pins I got at the Staples party had to be hers. We met up before lunch on Saturday and bonded over our mutual affection for cute office supplies and Mayim Bialik. It was great to meet her and her sister Keara and learn about their blog about books for the young and young at heart, YaYaYaReads.
Realize everyone has a different agenda
Consider this a counterpoint to the previous tip. While your agenda may include meeting new people, not everyone’s does and that’s okay. Just because someone doesn’t write back when you reach out to them or is so booked with other things during the conference that they can’t make time to meet you doesn’t mean it’s about you. I met several people who were very upfront about the fact that they were at the conference purely to meet with sponsors and were not interested in the keynotes or sessions (or making new friends). Others I met come to BlogHer each year to see their girlfriends from across the country and were friendly, but weren’t really interested in making a ton of new friends. Everyone is different and at different points in their blogging journey, so it’s totally normal that we would all have different agendas.
My advice is to figure out what your blog conference agenda is and not worry if yours is different from those you are hoping to meet. My agenda for the conference was simple: 1) Meet a few bloggers who I felt I would connect with and hopefully make a new friend or two 2) Learn as much as I could during the sessions 3) Attend a few sponsored events to get a feel for what those are like and possibly begin a relationship with a sponsor. I felt like these were great goals for a new blogger and would have been happy if I accomplished two of the three. As it turns out, I made a handful of new friends, learned a ton during the sessions and met a few sponsors that I think would be a good fit for this space. (Also, Mayim Bialik is amazing and you must check out her site, Grok Nation.)
Plan your time
Before you get to BlogHer, or any blog conference, take the time to look through all the keynotes, sessions, open labs and special events and plan your day. I know this sounds basic, but making a plan really makes a difference. Also, selecting some backup sessions is a good idea. You never know if a session will work out, or if a session in the afternoon turns out to cover the same topics as one you attended in the morning. Planning in options is a great way to stay flexible and get the most out of the experience.
On a practical level, printing out a daily calendar and writing in all the sessions and events worked well for me. Remember to add the room numbers for each thing you are attending – I forgot to do that and had to look them up/add them in as I went. Joules is a veteran BlogHer attendee and scheduled her day in excel and then taped her schedule into the notebook she carried for taking notes. This is a great idea and one I will probably borrow in the future.
As you are working on your schedule, remember to add in breaks and down time. This is a key for introverts or people with social anxiety. Heck, even extroverts need bathroom breaks. One of my bigger breaks was dinner Friday night with my girlfriend Meghan that I hadn’t seen since we were in middle school. We reconnected on Facebook years ago, but it was fantastic to actually catch up in person. While I’m sure I missed out on some blog conference fun, getting my head out of the game for a bit was great. Also, Meghan is amazing – check out her Instagram feed and you will see why. (And yes, she really is a superhero)
Bonus tip: Do the homework
This one is simple – follow-up with the people you met and loved and further develop those relationships. Follow your favorite session speakers on social media and let them know how much you appreciated their session. You can also ask if they have handouts or additional materials available for attendees (many do, just ask!). Those brands you loved? Reach out and remind them what you talked about at the expo and flesh out the details of the sponsored post you think will be a good fit. Don’t let the contacts you made go to waste.
Going to BlogHer16 was a fabulous experience for me. If you are on the fence about attending a blog conference, I can’t encourage you enough to attend. Even if you don’t make a single blogging friend or sponsor connection, you will learn so much about the business of blogging, especially if you are just starting out. If you have any questions, or would like more information, please feel free to reach out. I’d love to talk with you about it. You can reach me at jenna @ outrageouslywonderful.com.
If you attended BlogHer16, let me know what you thought about it. If you have a favorite blogging conference, share it below, I’d love ideas for future years.