I’ve been unemployed – that is to say, 24/7 home-employed – for 10 years. In the first nine years, I made it out for one conference (Maria Shriver’s blockbuster one-day Women’s Conference). In a few weeks, I’ll go to my second conference in nine months: BlogHer, a women’s blogging conference that began in 2005 with 300 attendees and now draws over 3000.
It’s good to get out every once in a while. I welcome the rare opportunity to wear dry-clean-only clothes and leather-soled shoes. I’m excited to be in an environment of peers (or as they say in my day job, grownups). I’m looking forward to having two days to focus on me – listening, learning, eating a meal uninterrupted, hearing myself think.
But what I will enjoy most of all is the opportunity to meet other people that plug away at this strange, solitary endeavor called blogging. Since I’ve only been at this for a year and don’t know anyone who’s been to a blogging conference, I have no idea what to expect. Most answers can be found on Google, but for something like this, Twitter is the place.
The Twitter stream is all aflutter with #BlogHer11 chatter: who is going, who wishes they were going, who is staying where, what they should bring and, most of all, what is everyone wearing? There’s great excitement behind the hubbub – most bloggers by definition don’t get out much – but I also hear a lot of anxiety.
Many people have voiced worries that with private parties and in-the-know events, BlogHer will be an unwelcome return to high school social exclusion. But we’re not 16 anymore. We’re all busy people, and everyone goes to BlogHer with real goals: networking, self-marketing, attending sessions, snagging swag.
People don’t pay money to go to a conference just so they can make others feel excluded. The conference is a whirlwind of social activity. Some people go with a list of many friends they are excited to see or even meet in person for the first time. Other people like me don’t know a soul and are looking around for a friendly face. In any case, everyone is just trying to keep up.
What we see in life is necessarily colored by our own uniquely tinted lens: positive people see everyone as wonderful; negative people think everyone’s an idiot. After a couple of decades of adulthood my perspective has matured.
When I see a tight-knit group, I’m not thinking they’re leaving me out; I’m thinking they’re spending time with friends. If someone seems distracted during our chitchat, I figure they have something weighing on their mind or they need to be somewhere else.
The conference has a packed two-day schedule. Everyone will be busy, everyone will feel rushed and probably confused half the time. When initiating a conversation you may or may not be catching someone in an appropriately focused mental state. You’ll know in a minute whether you connect. If you do, fantastic. If not, both of you will happily and agreeably move on.
I say this all the time to my sensitive second-grader: The way people behave – even if directed at you – is not about you. It’s about them. We all behave in ways we don’t like sometimes when we’re tired, anxious, stressed or merely cranky. If someone doesn’t seem pleasant, move on. You get to choose who you spend time with. Find people that make your day better.
In a book I read in blogging class last summer, the author characterized blogs as conversations. Some of them you’ll find interesting, others inspiring, hilarious, heartbreaking, incomprehensible or offensive. This is freedom of speech in action – you may not be at all interested in what someone else has to say, but very likely someone else will. In that way reading blogs is like surfing the radio: eventually you’ll hone in on the stations that appeal to you.
The diversity of bloggers at this conference is mindboggling: parents, moms of special-needs kids, gay/lesbian/bisexual, people battling serious illnesses, domestic goddesses, humorists. There’s a community for everyone.
Everyone has a voice in the blogosphere if they want it. BlogHer is for those who’ve decided to stake their claim. I look forward to talking with people I relate to as well as to those who are entirely different from me. It’s a blogging conference: everyone is there because they have something to say. And I look forward to hearing them all.
Advice (for what it’s worth)
Although I’ve never been to BlogHer, I have a few words of advice to address the concerns I’ve heard voiced online:
- Relax – no one cares what you are wearing. Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. Be climate appropriate. But as for the look – some people can rock a pair of overalls, others are brilliant in a sari. Boho, retro, buttoned-up or boring, claim your vibe and don’t spend a minute thinking about what anyone thinks of it. Feel good: that’s what people will respond to.
- Consider your business card. Have a high-quality business card if you want to convey a professional image. How you dress is an expression of your personal style, but your card is an example of your work. Make sure it says what you want it to say.
- Double-check the essentials. Be sure to have your driver’s license, your conference pass, your phone, your computer, your chargers and your business cards. Pretty much everything else is not a big deal.
- Pack reasonably (it’s only two days). Overpack if it gives you comfort, but it’s a lot easier to travel light.
- Find a friendly face and start a conversation. You didn’t come this far to act like you’re watching events on TV. Smile. Reach out your hand. Say hello and introduce yourself. Most likely the recipient will be relieved and grateful.
- Know your goals. Are you there to meet other bloggers, network with sponsors/brands, improve your blog, work on your writing, be inspired? Be clear on what you want to get out of your two days and don’t get distracted by what other people are doing. This is your time: make the most of it.
- Go for it – whatever “it” is. You’ll regret what you didn’t do more than what you did do. So get out there.
Talk to me
Anyone going to the conference? Ping me here or on Twitter – I’d love to connect ahead of time and hopefully meet up in San Diego.