I went to a party and a conference broke out: My Blogher09 recap

(Note: I apologize for the weird line breaks in this post. I can't seem to fix them!)

I've needed a week to digest my first Blogher experience. Bottom
line: Blogher09 was a mixed bag for me.

Maybe, I had unrealistic expectations about
Blogher09. I wanted to learn something about blogging, maybe a tidbit
about making some money, and maybe some techhy stuff. I also hoped to
meet some of my favorite bloggers and find my new tribe. And go to some
parties. And get a little swag. I won some and lost some on my list.
What I didn't expect was that I would have so much fun while
simultaneously feeling disgusted and a little shy. Yes, me.
Back-in-middle-school-shy.

Here's the good and bad of Blogher09, which I hope is helpful for
any other newbies who are interested in attending in the future.

Good: Blogher offers good value for the fee. Breakfast,
lunch, cocktail parties with heavy finger foods and free booze, all
included in the price of admission, kept my cash in my wallet. I only
spent $100 outside of my hotel room, flight and conference fee, and
that includes transportation from and to the airport, checking a bag in
each direction and tips.

@talesofrachel and @banteringblonde
@talesofrachel and @banteringblonde

Good: Camping in Room 2332. I
met up with my roommate, Rachel, at DIA, and we shared a shuttle with
Fiona of Banteringblonde to the Chicago Sheraton. Rachel is a sweetie,
and we had a great time hanging out on Thursday, walking through the
rain to the Embassy Suites for a party, then again for dinner. She
kindly kept me out of the bread basket, thank god, although the way she
ate her french fries seemed like a huge tease to me, since I couldn't
have any.   I am so grateful that she and Julia let me share their room
... and have my own bed. It was all good. Somehow, we wrangled the
bathroom share with ease.  No one's snoring kept anyone else up. We
were respectful and kind to each other. All was great in room 2332.

Bad: Blogher's conference content is subpar to what I expect for professional conferences.
Given that it was easier to find the party list than the session list
on the conference website, and that the pre-conference Twitter convos
centered on parties and fashion, I shouldn't have been surprised. Yet I
was. I expected more sophisticated content from the world's largest
blogging conference. I usually come back from a meeting with more ideas
than I could ever implement, but that wasn't the case at Blogher. I
took only six pages of notes, and I'm a prolific notes-taker. I wanted
practical ideas, how-tos, great case studies, and I didn't get any of
it from the sessions. I did learn a little from fellow attendees.

with @tarable in a Blogher09 session
with @tarable in a Blogher09 session

In full disclosure, I do PR for a living. My job includes
programming for several professional conferences, including sitting on
my professional organization's board which plans the annual meeting. I
may be more sophisticated in my needs than other Blogher attendees.

The breakout sessions I attended were poorly moderated with rare
exception. The panelists often turned discussion over to the audience,
which took the conversation off track and detracted from their
expertise. The sessions didn't usually match their descriptions. I've
read a few other Blogher wrapups, and perhaps panels I didn't attend
were better than the ones I did.

With heavy emphasis on mommy bloggers, non-mommy bloggers like me
were left without a home. I think the conference would be stronger if
it had clearly identified tracks. I'd love to see a defined track 
which could cover how-tos of building a viable blogging business (as
opposed to using blogging in your business, as I think the Blogher
Business day is programmed), ethics, case studies and more could be
popular for bloggers of all genres. A must-have session: How to work
with marketers and PR agents, as most of the attendees had not
reference or training in this area. Another great topic: are we media
or not? And if so, how does this definition effect how we do business.
I would also love to see a whole track on the craft of writing; many
women I met write to express themselves but have no formal training,
and I'm always looking for workshops that improve me.

Community keynote
Community keynote

I think the conference organizers need to take a serious look at the
programming, do some pointed surveys of attendees and deliver more
professional content. Almost everyone I talked to about this topic also
had mixed feelings about the content quality. I was hoping to get my
employer to pay for my attendance next year. As the content stands, I
wouldn't be able to justify the expense.

Good: Community Keynote. What do you get when you bring more
than a dozen excellent writers to the podium to read their best work?
Tears, laughter and perfection. The community keynote is Blogher's home
run. The only thing to be improved is the warning: waterproof mascara
and tissues are required. I can't remember the last time I was so moved
by a reading event. The community keynote makes me understand what
happened to all of those great writers I knew in high school and
college: they're blogging.

I found some great new bloggers to follow, and even inspiration for what I think is my best post yet on my blog.

Good: Dying is Easy, ROTFLMAO Comedy is Hard. This Room of
Your Own Panel, featuring Anna from Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder,
Deb from Deb on the Rocks, Jenny from the Bloggess, Jessica from
Bernthis, Kelcey from The Mama Bird Diaries and Wendi Aarons killed.
Not only was it funny as hell--Jessica Bern is my comedy hero--but I
actually picked up a few pointers. Namely reminders that blogging is
writing, no matter the style, and each post should be crafted (like
this post, which has been through about 73 revisions), and not to worry
if funny isn't my style because there's room for everyone and every
style in the blogosphere. Deb moderated the panel beautifully, too. It
was good all around.

Good: What Blogher lacked in content, it made up for in networking, social activities and fun. I
may have taken only 6 pages of notes, but I came home with nearly 100
business cards and gave out about the same number. I attended six
parties. I skipped a session to hang out in the Shutter Sisters Suite, where I was able to test drive a camera lens called the Lensbaby--something I've been interested in for a while. (See my flickrstream for
cool photos I took with this lens.) I had great conversations with
several bloggers as we walked to the Millennium Park and tested
different accessories.

Weinermobile!
Wienermobile!

I also took a basic digital photo class with Erin Manning of HGTV-HD's The Whole Picture at lunch on Friday that ended in a 1:4 lesson in using bounces and
diffusers. Such a session would have cost me at least $200, and I
learned about something I had many questions about, a pleasant surprise
and fun.

I had some excellent conversations with Kevin Burke of momswhoblog.com, which he fashions as a trade magazine. We will be talking about me doing some writing for him.

I took advantage of a foot massage in the Hanes booth and a chair
massage in the Microsoft Suite. I also attended a swanky private party,
sponosored by Nintendo, thanks to a last-minute invitation from my
friend Amber. The evening included a ride in a horse-drawn carriage to
the John Hancock Building, dinnerat The Signature Room with its 95th
floor views of the city, and a new Nintendo DSi. I lucked into that
adventure, and I'm incredibly grateful still. I made a little video, in
which I said, "I feel like a movie star." More fun. I also sang karaoke
at the Friday night cocktail party ... in front of about 500 people.
That was OMG fun, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Nintendo party
Nintendo party

I heard actual squealing out of grown women as they found their online
friends. I've never been a squealer. Ever. Maybe I felt a little left
out since I'm new and don't know many people. I found myself standing
alone quite a bit, and I was instantly rushed back to middle school.
It's always been hard for me to make friends with people in large group
settings. I just joined Twitter and recently learned I'm not the only
blogger in Denver. So I don't have a ton of online friends yet.  I can
bullshit with the rest of them, but it's hard for me to make those real
connections in this setting. I have a complex about always being the
girl on the outside looking in (as has generally been my life
experience), and it reared its head at Blogher.

That said, almost everyone I met was friendly. I'm still not sure
how to take an A-lister's exclamation: "You're so different from what I
imagined! You're ... stunning!" (What, do I write ugly? I'm sure she
meant something else, but she seemed to avoid me after that.) And even
though another has commented on this blog--twice--she had no
idea who I was when I introduced myself. She was sweet about it and
gave me a lip balm. I felt silly for assuming she'd know me, even
though I'm a frequent commenter on her blog.

Then, I was thrilled and equally weirded out when I met someone who
actually reads this blog (hi!). Even though I love the idea that people
read it, all of a sudden I was all OMG this woman has read about my deepest darkest secrets and fears and health issues. Then I got over it and became thrilled again.

60 minutes of solitude
60 minutes of solitude

I
got some relief from the constant running and chaos of this conference
with a little me time on the ridiculously soft Sheraton beds. I was
glad not to have roomed with anyone I needed to entertain. Fun can also
equal an hour of quiet time with What Not to Wear before a big party.

Bad: Some people, though, have no class and should just stay home.
I'll call them the Swag Hags. These are those handful of women who
acted unethically and downright rudely when it came to scoring the best
freebies. They cheated and stole. They elbowed people out of the way
and took more than what was rightfully theirs. And they inappropriately
propositioned sponsors for free stuff. Disgusting doesn't begin to
describe their behavior. I like free stuff as much as the next girl,
but not enough to be a greedy bitch about it. I was happy to bring my
kids home some clown noses and coloring books, and to pass out endless
thumb drives to my work friends.

Bad: I was honestly surprised and slightly put off by the commercialization of Blogher, spurred, perhaps, by all the swag.
I would have liked the Expo Hall to include vendors who can help me
make my blog better. Instead, I got to get pitched by Johnson &
Johnson, Ann Taylor, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Ford, Pepsico, Michelin Tires
and McDonalds. I don't do paid reviews or contests, so their appeals
fell on deaf ears.

On Saturday, I sat at lunch with a woman who wants to lose weight.
So she's looking for sponsors. Seriously. "I'm going to need a new
wardrobe!" she told the table. "I'm going to need personal trainers.
And nutritionists. I don't have money for that stuff." I was baffled. I
don't see how you can do what she's proposing and not become a shill. I
think that's the Journalism School in me speaking. I'd love to make
enough money from this blog to write off conference expenses and cover
my annual costs. I'd like it to generate freelance writing and
photography jobs. But I couldn't write to the brand, or the product.
It's one of the issues I'm struggling with as I think about monetizing
this blog, and I've come to the conclusion that maybe it's not for me.

The other thing that surprised me is that many bloggers are afraid
of writing a negative review. "If you can't say something nice ..." one
woman said in a session on Sponsored vs. Unsponsored. If she
doesn't like a product she's been asked to review, she doesn't write
about it at all. That seems backassward to me. I rely on the negative
product reviews almost more than the positive ones. Apparently there's
some fear of being sued for slander. I say a) good luck suing me for
assets I don't have (I'm no Oprah) and b) First Amendment. Maybe I'm
being naive. Still, I'd never be afraid to state my honest opinion
about anything. Example: this post. And while I've never been offered
anything free or been paid in exchange for reviewing a product, it
seems logical and just to disclose if I were. Why wouldn't you? The
excuse, "it clutters up my blog" is bullshit. Disclose, disclose and
disclose. If we don't, the FTC will crack down and, like
physicians and PHaRMa, we will no longer be able to accept a pen or
water bottle, let alone cash. (/soapbox)

Overall, I feel like I went to a weekend-long, kick ass party
and a conference broke out. A highly sponsored, branded and SWAGged
conference at that. While I didn't really find my tribe, I did make
some new acquaintances. And got my name out. And didn't think about
real life the whole time, which almost makes up for whatever the
conference was lacking. If I return to Blogher 10 in New York City,
I'll change my expectations for the conference with my fingers crossed
that content will be improved and hope to find my tribe the second time
around.

 

Agree? Disagree? Read my blog at humanbeingblog.com.

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