I just got back from Blissdom ’13 in Dallas. While I’ve been blogging for almost three years and have built somewhat of a following, this was my first blogging conference.
Ultimately, what motivated me to attend this conference was my desire to connect with three women bloggers I admire: Erin Margolin, Kiran Ferrandino and Greta Funk. While some women opted to have individual rooms during the conference, I’m a summer camp girl. I knew I would feel better if I had a few women I could count on to be my home base, and I couldn’t have picked better roomies.
I woke up at 5 AM and traveled seven hours to get to Texas. I was exhausted when I got to the Gaylord Texan Hotel.** As I mentioned in a prior post, I was anxious about attending BlissDom. But the moment I checked in, it was game on. This brings me to the first thing you have to know about going to a conference for the first time.
1. BEING A NEWBIE IS TOUGH
As a teacher for over twenty years, I’m used to speaking to groups of people and (sometimes) flying by the seat of my pants. I’m pretty good at mixing and mingling, but even I found BlissDom a little overwhelming. The hotel was large and initially difficult to negotiate. I suppose I’d forgotten what it feels like to do something new.
Being at BlissDom reminded me of my very first day of school. Remember how you worried you would never figure out how to find your classes, how you prayed someone would ask you to sit next to them in the cafeteria, how you were in awe of the older students who seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they were going?
An extrovert who is generally energized by people, I felt drained at the end of each day. I can only imagine what some of the more introverted folks felt.
As a newbie, I worried a lot. Was I in the right sessions? Was I missing opportunities? Was I talking to the right people? Sometimes when I’m exposed to something new and scary, one of my least appealing coping mechanisms kicks in. I click into teacher mode and look for mistakes, little flaws and inconsistencies, to make the internal me feel a little bit superior and less out of control.
Case in point. The first night, conference goers attended a Kick Off Reception as well as a Partner Meet & Treat. I knew that there would be corporate sponsors, but holy swag!
I watched people cramming tote bags with towels and hair care products, applesauce and raisins, lip balms and bug spray, diaper ointment and Duck tape. Women were tweeting and Instagramming furiously, trying to win sunglasses, a vacuum cleaner, a cruise, furniture.
Because I felt out of my element, I turned up my nose.
So much stuff.
So much hoopla.
So many cupcakes.
(And no Canada Dry Ginger Ale!)
After a while, I remembered that the Meet & Greet was exactly why people were there. The gathering represented an opportunity. Clearly, sponsors were crossing their fingers, hoping bloggers would fall in love with their products and continue to buy them, maybe even blog about them for their readers. And bloggers were thrilled to directly network with sponsors who were open to hearing different ways of exposing their products to different markets.
Luckily, I caught myself being a Debbie Downer.
Seriously, if I met someone with my attitude, I would have wanted to smack that girl upside the head and serve her with a tall-glass of boot to the face.
Part of the problem was that I kept hearing the voices of all the people who told me I should have attended a writing conference. Truth be told, I don’t think I would have felt any different at a writing conference. I would have been intimidated and out of control and worried I had made an expensive mistake.
At BlissDom, I felt pressure to make sure that I was getting the most bang for my buck. After all, conferences aren’t cheap. I wanted to make sure I was maximizing my time.
And all that pressure was exhausting.
That’s why it’s important to…
2. BE PREPARED
If you are going to a blogging conference, make damn sure you know how to answer the following question:
“What do you blog about?”
Because I soooo didn’t.
I’d say: “I’m a writer. I write about everything. I like to play with words.”
But this concept did not transfer well in the blogging world.
Many of the first people I met had faboo products they were trying to sell: spectacular jewelry and cool aprons and yummy soaps and felted wreaths. Some people baked doggie treats or people treats. And some people focused on hair and makeup and fashion. But everyone asked: What do you blog about? So I had to figure it out. Right there.
What in the hell is my blog about? What am I selling?
Eventually I realized, I am the story behind my blog.
And if folks like the way I tell a tale, well, maybe some of them might want to read my book one day.
It only took me forty-seven hours to figure that out.
3. YOU ONLY NEED TO MAKE A FEW GOOD CONNECTIONS
In his keynote speech, author and motivational speaker, Jon Acuff said the most important thing to do at any conference is to meet a few good people. Not a hundred. Not fifty. A few. Prior to the conference, I had 500 business cards printed. Two-hundred would have been more than ample. I only gave my card to people I genuinely liked, folks with whom I could see myself having future contact.
Unless you are a graphic designer who specializes in business cards, you don’t need to collect eleventy-two jizillion business cards. You’ll meet a few people you like and feel comfortable with. It is with these people you will want to exchange cards. It will happen organically.
If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who has read your blog and be excited to meet you. You will remember these people forever. You will want to buy them things.
You’ll probably meet a few people you admire, people who might be able to teach you a thing or two, people who seem willing to help.
These people will become part of your network and…
4. NETWORKING IS THE REASON YOU ARE AT THE CONFERENCE
I met many talented women at BlissDom.
Aimee Broussard makes the freaking cutest aprons.
And Angela Youngblood. How can a chick with a bod like that have four kids? Kind and funny, she is also one helluva writer.
And Gigi Ross is an even bigger rock star to me now that I have met her in person.
Did I love every session? No.
Did I click with everyone? Of course not.
But each of us found our people.
That’s one heckuva magic trick.
And now I shall leave you with a tip.
5. ENJOY THE VENUE
Once I stopped trying to fix BlissDom, I started to enjoy what it had to offer.
There is much to be said about letting down one’s hair.
And that is probably how I ended up in the Alberto VO5 Hair Salon.
It started with an innocent question about how to control the frizzies.
But somehow I found myself in a chair, getting my hair flat-ironed and styled.
And while I was there, I had my make-up done.
And did I want fake eyelashes?
Um, yes please.
Because why not?
Who knew I was going to have a mini spa-day in the middle of BlissDom?
BlissDom was unlike any conference I’d attended before.
It offered attendees head to toe rejuvenation to its attendees, most of whom are women.
And what woman doesn’t need a little TLC?
I could do as much or as little as I wanted.
I was free to engage with new people without the pressure of having to report back to a principal or department chair.
I was only accountable to myself.
I didn’t have to follow the feet.
I didn’t have to cook or clean.
Thank goodness I recognized how much joy I was missing out on by being judgmental with plenty of time left to enjoy the conference.
Teachers are taught to think critically, to look for the cracks and the inconsistencies. We are trained to listen for the wrong answers. But sometimes, we are too ready to deduct points with red and green and purple pens.
Sometimes it’s more about the process than the product.
All conferences are about growth and self-improvement.
But Blissdom was about feeling and dreaming and connecting and, hopefully, igniting something inside of us.
Personally, I felt like I went on a vacation.
I obviously needed one.
Did the earth move for me?
I don’t know.
But maybe it didn’t have to.
Maybe having that realization is enough.
Now I’ve seen what a blogging conference is all about.
Engaging. Networking. Connecting.
Hopefully, I’ve learned from some of those bigger kids and I’ll start off more relaxed at whatever conference I choose to attend next.
What do you want to know about BlissDom? Or if you went, what was your experience like? If you wrote a post, leave a link so I can come check you out!
tweet me @rasjacobson
**Much gratitude to the folks at the Gaylord Texan. If you’re going to the Gaylord in Dallas-Fort Worth, ask for room 7090. Four women with five suitcases stayed there comfortably for 3-nights with more than ample room. The staff even delivered extra hangers, towels and coffee to our room for us! How nice is that? Thank you Gaylord Hotels!