In less than a week I’ll be headed to sunny Orlando and BlogHer 2017. To say I’m excited is a tiny bit of an understatement. This is my third BlogHer blog conference…my fourth if you count BlogHer Food…so obviously the social media powerhouse combo that is BlogHer and SheKnows are doing something right because I keep coming back, along with thousands of other creatives.
If you’re not familiar with BlogHer, it’s the largest social media conference for women in the world. I’m a big fan of the blog conference and find it a great experience on many levels: networking with other bloggers, writers, editors and brands, learning to up your social media, writing and tech game and so much more. I’m a firm believer that you’ll get out of it what you put into it and with a conference the size of BlogHer17 (slated to have over 2K attendees) what we take away from it will vary according to our personal goals.
See also a blog conference allows me a mini vacation to get some much-needed alone time away from my kids. I’m not going to lie, that is my favorite part. Yes, I love my kids and I miss them when I’m away. Yes, I value my blog conference experience for so many reasons besides time away from my kids. But, not having to cut the crusts off anyone’s sandwich or be asked to wipe someone else’s butt or find someone else’s stuff for four days sounds pretty amazing right now.
Disclaimer: Although I’m approaching the “conference veteran” status, I still feel like I’ve got so much to learn and I feel like a newbie every time I step foot into a conference venue. I’m sure some of that is down to being introverted and awkward but I learn something from every experience. Isn’t that what life is all about? That said, here are a few tidbits I’ve picked up along the way that I’m sharing in the hopes they will have a good impact on someone else’s blog conference experience.
5 Things you need to do before a blog conference
Plan outfits before you pack
Check out the conference agenda and consider any side excursions you’re going to be taking and plan what you’re going to wear accordingly. This method is much more effective than just randomly throwing (way too many) clothes in a suitcase. Ask me how I know.
You can typically get by with business casual at most conferences, although some conferences may have a more formal or a more casual vibe. The important thing is to look and feel like you while putting your best foot forward.
If you’re going to a Thursday through Saturday conference and know what events or activities you’re going to be taking part in during that whole time then planning outfits is easy. If your agenda includes an awards dinner then you might need a cocktail dress. If you’re going to be taking part in something physical, dress accordingly.
I generally pack two outfits per day and stick to simple knits. They’re flattering, don’t take up much space in my luggage if I don’t need them, and don’t get wrinkled. I jazz up my look with various accessories which also don’t take up much space.
On my “must pack” list are plenty of business cards, a light sweater (conference venues are ALWAYS cold), charging cables, extra power supply and comfortable shoes. I usually start my day in heels but I always (always, always) have some flats to change into.
Scope out sponsors before you go
A blog conference can’t happen without sponsors, so know in advance who is helping pay the bills. Some conferences, such as BlogHer are going to have a ton of major sponsors. Smaller conferences may have less sponsors and you might see smaller brands, which is okay, too.
Connect with brands on social media, especially Twitter. I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter but one thing it’s super useful for is connecting with brands. If there’s a particular brand that you’d like to connect with, do your homework and possibly set a meeting time (or at least introduce yourself) before you get there.
It should go without saying that you should only schmooze with brand reps that you have a genuine interest in but saying “thank you for your sponsorship” in front of or after a blog conference is never the wrong thing to do. Everyone likes an acknowledgement for their work and contribution and sponsors invest time and money to come to blog conferences. Showing your appreciation goes a long way.
Connect with other bloggers
There will be some kind of online forum to connect with other conference goers, usually a Facebook group. Join and be active. And, while it’s awesome to go to the same conference you go to every year and see the same people, do make an effort to talk to and connect with new people.
This is the hardest part of conference life for me. I’m not a shy person but social interactions are scary for me sometimes and I tend to gravitate toward someone I already know or someone I know I’ve got some common ground with. While a lot of conferences are geared toward a particular niche, what I love about BlogHer is that it appeals to everyone and offers me the opportunity to get to know people outside my circle.
Reaching out and getting a head start on those new friendships before the conference will give you a head start on the networking (and the fun) so join that Facebook group and start connecting.
Plan your time
Conferences are typically two-day events and the schedules are usually published beforehand. Larger conferences have options and different tracks so you can attend whatever portions suit you while smaller conferences are usually in one room with all attendees getting the same program. Either way, you know what you’re going to get before going in, so figure out a plan of attack.
This is good time to think about what you’re hoping to get out of a blog conference and pick what sessions are going to move you toward your end goals.
You might like to be spontaneous and I do, too, to a degree, but I also like to plan my social interactions. Two days will go fast and that “maybe we’ll bump into each other and grab that drink” might not happen if you don’t get deliberate about it.
If your conference is in a cool destination or a place you haven’t been to before, consider planning some side trips and taking some pictures, especially if you write about travel and lifestyle. The conference might offer some opportunities for these kinds of events or, you can go off on your own and see where that takes you.
Factor in your self-care when planning your conference time. Most conference venues are going to have a gym or a running track or trail. If you’re an introverted extrovert (or maybe extroverted introvert) like I am, think about planning your down time as well. I love people but peopling makes me tired. I might need an evening free of activities or a mid-day break in my room.
Bottom line, it’s your conference and your time. Unless someone is paying you to be there, you get to decide your own agenda. If you want to power through the agenda and run from seminar to seminar, then do it. If you want to spend an afternoon working your way through the expo hall followed by drinks by the pool (that’s called networking by the way) then do that. It’s up to you and there’s no cookie cutter way to experience a blog conference.
If you don’t plan it out in advance, the conference is going to be over in a blink.
Also? The beauty of owning your own conference experience is that you can change your mind and change your plans. Because it’s all about you.
Get your blog ready for company
I saved this for last because I think it’s the most important. You’ll be asked a bazillion times “So, what’s your blog about?” so you’ll want to craft an “elevator speech” to answer that question. But what if your elevator speech or all of those business cards you handed out prompt people to…you know, actually look at your blog? Are you ready for company?
Does your site load slowly? Are there a ton of broken links? If someone clicks on your “about me” page is it relevant and current? Was your last post published two months ago? Do your social media icons point to your social media accounts?
These are all things to think about. You might have a killer interaction with a brand or potential publisher but if your website is sloppy, that might be a deal breaker. Spend a few minutes clicking around on your blog or, even better, ask someone else to take a peek. Many things that might make you look sloppy in front of people you're trying to impress are easy fixes.
Even though this post makes a heavy mention of the BlogHer conference, these are good “before you go” tips for any professional conference. What are your best conference prep tips?