Blog conference tips by Layla Morgan Wilde.
With digital devices, bloggers can and do work from everywhere these days; from a bedroom in Chicago, a subway in New York, a beach in Miami or a cafe in L.A.. Bloggers hide behind a screen most days and it’s easy to forget our fellow bloggers and online pals are real. A conference like BlogPaws offers an opportunity to meet many of your friends and others you’d like to meet all under one roof. It’s like a family reunion, working holiday and adventure all rolled into one. It’s exciting, fun and informative but can be exhausting and daunting if you’re not prepared. These are my tips gleaned from years of attending a variety of conferences. More than one of these tips may save your bacon if not your life.
1) It’s an equal playing field
Whether you’re a first-timer, a veteran, a blogging star or newbie, you all have something in common: a love of pets and a love of sharing your passion online. Everyone has something to learn and something of value to share. No blogger is an island. It can be overwhelming or intimidating to be with hundreds of fellow bloggers but guess what, we’re all part of the same tribe or family. Many of us are shy about meeting new people and if that’s you, focus on the other person and the pets. Animals are the world’s best icebreakers and one of the reasons the vibe at pet conferences are friendlier. Afraid to walk up to the biggest bloggers? Don’t be. It’s in their best interest to be nice. Go on, ask them questions, Instagram a selfie, but don’t hog all their time. It’s an intense environment. Don’t take any reaction personally.
- Chances are you already belong to niche blogger group i.e. cat bloggers, dog bloggers, rescue bloggers who have may have a private or public Facebook group or G+ Hangout. Find out in advance who is going and where they’ll be meeting for breakfast, drinks or a private party.
- All the brand reps at the exhibit booth are super friendly and eager to meet you. It’s their job to share what’s great about their brand and make you interested.
- Seeing someone wear a silly or fun t-shirt is easy way to make conversation especially it’s a blog or brand you know.
2) Plug-in or UnPlug?
Most conferences are digitally-based so everyone is plugged in. Use the op of being there to live tweet who you just saw, met or having lunch with. That said, don’t be so busy with your head in the digital cloud that you miss an exchange with a real person. The biggest takeaway for any conference is the value of one-on-one connections. Enjoy the memorable moments, the laughter and heart-to-heart talks. Bring a portable charger and a power strip is nice for sharing. Ditto, sharing mints or chocolate.
Warning: You may need ear plugs. When bloggers who are friendly online finally meet in person, there is very loud squealing and shrieking of excitement with hugs and happy dances 🙂
3) Packing: Luggage and bags.
Conferences are usually 2 to 4 days which means you won’t need a ton of clothes but you will likely bring back lots of swag and product samples. You have two choices if flying. 1) Pack a large enough suitcase to hold your clothes and anything you might bring back. 2) Pack a carry on with a large tote bag for swag and on the return flight check the bag. Not checking luggage saves time and money. Most airlines have an extra fee for even for one checked bag.
- Be sure to check with your airline for their carry-on sizes, policies and limitations.
- On the off chance that your checked luggage gets lost, pack your must-have essentials: digital devices, favorite cosmetics, meds and toiletries in travel-size (up to 2 oz. for liquids.) in your carry-on bag.
- Airlines allow one handbag/tote/computer bag. Choose a bag big enough to use during the conference to lug digital devices, notebooks and incidentals.
- I like to be as hands-free as possible and prefer either a tote bag with shoulder straps or a knapsack style bag. If you have tote with your own brand’s logo/tagline/image, it can be a great icebreaker or way to connect your brand with conference attendees. A pin, t-shirt or bag with your city/state/alma mater or favorite pet is a good conversation starter.
4) Wardrobe Tips
They say clothes make the man (or woman) but they also brand a blogger. Appearances do count. You can blog in a dirty t-shirt or pajamas at home but think about how you want to perceived by your peers. You are your brand. No matter how casual the destination, you’ll never see me wear blue jeans, gaudy jewelry (okay, maybe cat ears) or sport cleavage at a conference. You can be comfortable, casual but professional. My brand is all about cats, so I would never wear a t-shirt with a dog or other animal. It doesn’t mean you have to buy a new wardrobe but pick through your closet carefully.
- Try on everything you’re thinking of packing at least a few days in advance. Check if it’s clean, in good repair: no snags, stains, rips or moth holes and most importantly, fits. A long mirror in a brightly lit room is your best friend.
- There are wrinkle-resistant fabrics but I do two things as soon as I check into a hotel. I immediately unpack and anything wrinkled is either ironed or hung on hangers and placed on the curtain rod and steamed to release wrinkles. Close the bathroom door and run a steamy, hot shower. Hang clothing hangers outside the shower curtain. Hop in yourself. It feels good to have a hot shower after travelling. Leave the clothing to hang in the steamy room for an hour or longer. Then hang in the closet.
- I prefer hanging all ironed garments in the closet instead folded in drawers and usually request extra hangers when checking-in.
- Pack according to the season and destination. Most conferences strike a balance of casual during the day and dressier in the evening. If the conference is in a location with hot weather, it will be air-conditioned and can get chilly. Airplanes can get chilly too and I always bring a pashmina to double as a wrap/scarf/blankie. They can be rolled up and squished into corner of a bag without wrinkling. Layering a scarf, cardigan over a top or long sleeved top under under t-shirt all work. Choose colors that mix and match easily. All neutrals can be mixed but don’t be afraid of a pop of color, if that’s your style.
- You’ll be sitting, standing and walking in a jam-packed schedule; a conference if not the time to break in a new pair of shoes or to find out a dress is too tight because you gained weight and forgot to try it on before packing (I’ve been there, done that creating unnecessary stress).
Accessories and extras:
- Conferences have dinners, cocktail parties and perhaps an awards banquet, women should bring a small evening bag. It’s a nice break from lugging a big bag around all day.
- I suggest packing
two pairs of comfortable shoes and one pair of dressy shoes. Check for scuffs, dirt and condition before packing. If you don’t have shoe bags, use tissue or plastic bags to avoid dirt or shoe polish staining clothes.
- If you’re planning to workout in a gym or go for a swim, bring trainers, workout gear, headband or hair bands, bobby pins, flip flops, a swimsuit and cover-up or sarong.
- Bring enough undies, socks, tights or pantyhose as needed and a plastic bag to stuff a wet swimsuit or used lingerie before returning home. If wearing sandals or heels on a plane, I like to give my feet a rest and pack a pair of cozy socks on board.
- If you’re bringing pricey jewelry (I don’t recommend it) remember to lock it in the safe.
- Cat bloggers: If you like wearing cat ears, bring a pair or more to share.
- If you can’t bring Fifi or Fido, consider bringing a flat pet, a large photo cutout of your pet.
- A travel sewing kit and mini first aid kit is handy.
- Lint brush. There are mini-travel versions but in a pinch pack a strip of masking or painters tape.
- If you have blog branded t-shirt wear it; it’s an instant calling card.
- Conferences are hyper-stimulating and exhausting. If you are prone to nervousness or insomnia, pack over-the counter calming aids i.e.homeopathic Rescue Remedy or prescription meds and remedies for headaches, upset stomach in travel-size packs.
The OCD Worry Wart Checklist
If you worry about forgetting to pack something important, remember most items can be found at your hotel or obtained nearby. Ask the concierge or front desk. I prefer to be prepared. Call it detail-oriented or neurotic, it will make your experience easier and more rewarding. Remember to bring small bills for tips for cabs, doormen and housekeeping.
- I keep a standard 8.5 x 11 (hard copy) list of toiletries and misc. items from earplugs, sunglasses to umbrellas and check if off as I’m packing with a colored marker.
- For clothes, shoes and accessories I make a infographic checklist. You don’t need to know how to draw and it really works! It acts as a wardrobe planner to save time when you’re frazzled after a long day. You can make one online but it’s quicker to do a rough sketch by hand. I take a standard blank sheet of paper and sketch with pencil (erasable) every item to pack by category and description i.e. t-shirt graphic (white T, gray T with cat, black tank with logo etc). It creates an instant virtual “closet” to easily see what goes with what. One look and you may realize you don’t really need to pack five sweaters.
- Edit your final choices. Note what outfit is worn on each day with choice of shoes and accessories. Use colored markers to highlight categories. Check off every item packed. Repeat at the hotel before check-out so you don’t forget anything at the hotel. But also do an idiot check in drawers, behind furniture and doors anyway.
5) BUSINESS CARDS and other means of contact
- Before attending any conference, you’ll want to make sure your business cards have up to date contact info and reflect your blog’s core message. Make them as visually pleasing and professional as possible. You’ll be handing out lots to other bloggers, conf. attendees, brand reps, PR peeps and perhaps strangers on a plane. Be prepared. It’s better to have too many than not enough. You don’t want to be the person who says, ‘I don’t have any cards left”.
- I keep my cards in a small box and transfer a dozen to a small card holder in an easy to access location in a bag. I also keep a couple handy in a pocket ( I choose conference clothing with pockets if possible) at all times because you just never know when you might meet someone, like in an elevator. You don’t want to be fumbling deep in a handbag when opportunity strikes. I learned my lesson the hard way. Many years ago, I was assisting a film shoot on the tarmac of the Westchester County Airport. A world renowned designer stepped off his private jet and walked over to me, asked what we were doing and asked if I had a card. I rifled through my bag and wallet to no avail feeling like an idiot. Needless to say, I never did that again.
- You’ll be collecting plenty of business cards. Place them into their own card holder or even an envelope or ziploc baggie will do. After meeting dozens if not hundreds of people, it’s hard to remember who was who. I like to jot down a note on the card after saying good-bye to the person to jog my memory of the connection. It may remind me to call them, Google their website, connect them to another person, a small detail about them like the name of their pet. Cards come in all kinds of finishes. Glossy ones are hard to write on so I carry pencils, pens, markers and highlighters for writing on.
- If you have a media kit, you could print out a few one pagers to hand out to brands but it’s not mandatory. If you don’t, at least have all your contact info up to date including any press or awards or latest accolades on your blog/website.
6) Prepare in advance for the #1 question: What do you do or what’s your blog about?
Keep it short and succinct. Think elevator pitch. You should be able to sum it up in a sentence or two. i.e. it’s a lifestyle blog about special need cats with a focus on nutrition. We’re all about senior dog wellness with a baby boomer demographic and a California flavor. X is an offshoot of my work as an X and my pets act as their advocates with weekly adoption spotlights.
- Share how your blog is unique. Let your passion speak. Only you are you!
7) Keep Your Eyes, Ears and Heart Open
Why are you really going to the conference? Be honest. Do you want to connect with other bloggers? Grow your platform? Have an mini-vacation? Learn about monetization? Get inspired? Improve your social media skills? Or maybe to figure out what’s the next step in your blogging career? Everyone has different goals at a blog conference. Make sure you know what your goals and intentions are before you get there. It might mean Googling some of the bloggers, speakers or sponsors in advance. Perhaps follow them on social or LinkedIn. Note what they look like so you’ll recognize them in person.
Plan your schedule but be open to Plan B. I always sneak way for a swim or quiet drink with a friend away from the madding crowd. My most fortuitous connections usually happen spontaneously and sometimes in unexpected places. Stay open to your intuition.
Listen to your body. Drink extra water to stay hydrated. If you’re feeling headachy or unwell, skip a session and head outdoors for some fresh air or to your room for a quick nap.
8. GIVE YOURSELF EXTRA TIME
When planning your travel arrangements, it never hurts to arrive early or leave a little late. This might mean staying an extra night. Spend some time browsing the conference hashtag on Twitter or on the Facebook group that most conferences open in the months leading up to the event, to find out who is going, when they’re arriving or departing. Arrange to share a cab to the airport. Use your extra time to connect with your fellow bloggers and brands. It is nice to be able say yes to an impromptu dinner or breakfast without having to worry about rushing to catch your plane.
9. TAKE NOTES AND THEN — — — USE THEM
- Take notes during every session you attend. The act of taking notes will help you to stay more engaged with the material the speaker is offering. This is very important by the time you reach the last session of the day and you have already learned so many things your brain might explode from TMI.
- Even if you take notes digitally, have a back-up. I like taking notes old school style: pen/pencil in a notebook or a legal pad. I like doodling and often get ideas while listening to a speaker that has nothing to do with what they’re speaking about. Bring extra pens. They always seem to disappear. If they have your brand logo all the better.
I usually sort through cards and make notes during the flight home. Once when you get home, open up a blank document on your computer, and start organizing your notes into categories. This will help you decide what things you are going to do right away, and what ideas will take a little more planning or preparation.
10. Follow-up with thank-you’s, queries and emails within a few days.
Remember to bring homes some treats for your pets who will be missing you. Sort through your swag and freebies and only bring home what you really want. Give the rest to another blogger or leave at the swap table.