Hard-Earned Tips for Enjoying the Madness of BlogHer '11
BlogHer '11 is this week and with so much brainy estrogen in one place ... it can be overwhelming. This marks my fifth year attending and I've learned a few things that might help anyone looking forward with excitement and trepidation. The biggest surprise for me is always getting in touch with my inner wallflower. I'm a ballsy, brash, opinionated woman but folded with thousands of other ballsy, brash opinionated women, well, we tend to cancel each other out sometimes. So, I had to suck it up, dive in and pretend like I was cool too, and guess what? Nobody knew the difference.
Here's what I've learned:
I see a lot of excellent posts about what to pack for BlogHer but I always come with a half-empty suitcase knowing that it will likely be stuffed full of products and schwag unobtainable anywhere else. I cannot stress this enough. Also, business cards fly back and forth like feathers in a storm - pack lots.
DRESS NICE BUT COMFY.
The first couple of years, I was a bit too comfortable. Flip-flops and yoga pants work fine but I recommend putting in some effort at night. Initially, I wasn't prepared and sincerely regretted it. I have finally caught on to this tradition and really enjoy this dressy aspect of the convention. I'm no fashion plate but I'd underestimated one of the great joys of mass girl gathering - sharing girly things! Clothes, shoes, make-up, hairstyles, crafts, fabrics, bargains - all great fodder for conversation and mutual admiration.
LIGHT SWEATER, PLEASE.
Yes, it's summer but those conference rooms tend to be over air-conditioned no matter where we go. It's some sort of national hotel standard. Many a time my arm fat has turned to gooseflesh while watching some amazing panelist discuss her life. Brrrrr!
SEND YOUR MESSAGE.
Got a message you'd like to promote? Buy a T-shirt and use The Girls to get it out there. As a frequent flyer, I recently realized that walking down the aisle of airplanes, my chest twins gets stared at anyway -- so why not give them a job? (Look for me in the purple "Grown Your Own Food" T-shirt.)
Also, there will be gobs of companies at the conference. I view it as proof that women bloggers have attained very real power and I intend to use that power wisely. This year, I'll be looking to engage marketing reps of companies that test their products on animals or food products that use GMOs -- if any. I have been slowly phasing such products out of my life, and I want companies to know this. My advice is to heartily embrace your consumerism, in whatever form makes you comfortable, and have your say while scoring some free new stuff along the way.
I'm always impressed with the food at BlogHer. I can tell that much thought and care go in to the menus to accommodate a wide variety of tastes. Last year, I had a great conversation with the Hilton's Executive Chef, Richard Brown, who was charged with satisfying the palates and stomaches of the entire convention. He was so pleased to get positive feedback. "It's a tough crowd," he said, "Most of you gals are foodies, cooks and writers so we had to have healthy variety."
Furthermore, when it gets 'round dinner time, I always head straight for the food bloggers and try to tag along. They always know where to go. (San Diego has incredible Mexican food, especially Fish Tacos.)
I understand this year will be more of a free-for-all when it comes to shindigging and I can't wait! Be open to anything and everything but focus on those that align with your interests. I always look forward to whatever the Green Team comes up with…
Remember all those biz cards you handed out? Well, they are checking out your blog right now. Spend time crafting spontaneous posts/tweets/updates about your experience - it's a sure way to gain followers and friends. Same goes for sharing photos.
RETURN THE FAVOR.
Remember all those biz cards you got? Go there. Read. Comment. That's why we are here.
ASSUME EVERYONE IS PRESS.
A BlogHer convention is like taking an intergalactic trip in the Mothership to the Blogosphere. Go ahead and assume that you, your quotes, your face, your blog may be included in someone else's blog post, if you're lucky. Leavy your privacy issues at home.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR INSECURITIES.
You know that part of yourself that relentlessly compares You to Others? And it's never the Loser Others, it's always the Over-Achieving Others, right? Well, don't be surprised when that happens at BlogHer. Just plan for it and know that everyone is doing the same thing. I recall one year meeting a woman who had turned her blog into a full-time job, was writing a cookbook and teaching photography while homeschooling her three children. I shrunk next to her until she confessed to me: "God, all these women are so amazing. Makes me feel like I don't do anything." I hugged her. Then I went out and got drunk.
Most important tip of all….. SECURE A HOMEGIRL.
Yes, you'll meet lots of wonderful women - smart, funny, clever, ambitious, sardonic and just plain adorable but try to narrow it down. This is crucial social strategy: All you need is one solid Homegirl per year and you're golden. Every social engagement can branch out from her or in addition to her but you need at least one consistent place to set your drink down, confess your insecurities and record your observations. My previous BlogHer homegirls - all fabulous - include:
2010 (New York): Beth Terry
2009 (Chicago): Melissa Massello DuBeau
2008 (San Francisco): Leslie Madsen-Brooks
2007 (Chicago): Laurie White
(Gosh, I when Iine 'em up like this, I feel like I should spring for tiaras and sashes.) Each of these women either demonstrated enough consistent amusement with me or a sheer unwillingness to actively ditch me but either way, they ended being a Home Base of sorts. A place where I could 'check in' and see about evening plans. I'm so grateful.
At my first BlogHer Convention in 2007, I was hanging with Laurie White and other cool ladies on an outdoor deck on the Navy Pier. It was a big party, lots of madness. Laurie was sitting at a table with others and evidently, I twiddled my fingers like an evil mastermind and said the following:
"I'm going to infiltrate various social groups, committing to none. It will be just like high school."
Then, I put my cocktail down in front of Laurie, mumbled "Be right back" and took off, only to return every few minutes with an update on my progress. See? You need a witness to those ridiculous statements.
EXCHANGE YOUR STUFF.
Don't really want that branded nipple pump? Get thee down to the Exchange Room where you can dump the free schwag you don't need and get extras of the stuff you really do want. One year, I donated my Mr. Potato Head and scooped up a few more of those 'Got Milk?' mugs plus extra coupons for a free salad at McDonald's - an excellent thing to find in your purse when you are in a hurry, starving and broke.
BE NICE TO THE BOYS.
Every year, more reps from the hairier gender have attended BlogHer and I'm so glad. It seemed like in the early years, it was mainly dudes supporting their wives and girlfriends, then came the male marketing reps (wtf?) but along the way, I've met some very insightful (and yes, brave) male bloggers who attend and engage, albeit shyly. Make them feel welcome, please. I mean, it has to be a little scary, no?
EXPLORE THE HOST CITY
Picture it: BlogHer '10 in New York. Saturday night, about 10:00 p.m. There's a group of us hanging out in one of those hangy-outy rooms with free snacks and drinks, winding down from the day's official events. All of a sudden the realization hits: The night is still young! Am I going to spend it sitting under fluorescent lighting in New York City -- this miracle of a metropolis -- on a Saturday night? In the same building I've been in all day long? Wrong, wrong, WRONG.
I leaned over to Homegirl 2010, Beth Terry, and said: "We have to get out of here. Meet me in the lobby in 10 minutes." Like the excellent Homegirl that she is, Beth happily complied and 20 minutes later we were laughing our asses off in a Times Square comedy club. I think we finally got home around 4:00 a.m., delirious in the joy of Gotham.
If you see someone standing alone or feeling awkward (takes one to know one), please take the initiative and introduce yourself. I try to do this every year and my efforts are always greeted with gratitude and relief. I feel the same when someone does it to me as well. It's a large gathering but that doesn't mean it has to be lonely. We're not in high school anymore and nobody is cutting you out because you are not a cheerleader, although sometimes it can feel like that. (I still say there is no scarier sound than a gaggle of nearby women all giggling at something unknown.)
Last year, there were a bunch of us heading out to dinner and I saw an elegant, smiling woman standing nearby, clearly alone. I just went up to her and asked if she was attending the convention. She was indeed, a home decor blogger from Connecticut. I invited her to join us for dinner and we had a great time. She must have thanked me a gazillion times in person and by email - it felt great.
And for next year....never too early to start planning!
Get a room at the hotel. More expensive than the Motel 6? Maybe, but will have you more time and less hassle during your visit. Trust me, it's worth it, especially when you want to ditch those painful heels or finally hit a wall and need a nap, pronto.
GET AN AWESOME ROOMIE.
For the past two years, I've had the great luck to room with Deb Roby. Alas, she is not attending this year but I will be rooming with my old friend, Kristen Lanter, whom I have known since we were both six years old. She is fairly new to blogging and certainly new to BlogHer and it was she who inspired this post. It will be fun to herd her through the madness and have a built-in Homegirl for BlogHer '11.
Most of all, just relax and open all your pores at this event. You will meet so many inspiring people and take home memories of enlightening, hilarious conversations. Sure, BlogHer is one big mama of a convention but it's also a very real, powerful community that wants your voice. I am looking forward to being impressed and inspired over and over again this week.
Other great posts to prepare for BlogHer '11:
See you there!
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE; Proprietor, ClizBiz