I’ve been blogging for quite a while now, and as a result I’ve also attending a lot of blogging conferences over the years. People often ask why I keep attending conferences. There seems to be a perception that once you’ve been to one, you’ve learned all you can and are ready to go.
But that’s not really the case — at least not for me. Going to conferences is one of my favorite things to do, even though I’m an introvert. And no, it’s not just because I get a hotel room to myself.
Conferences are great for a variety of reasons; panels are only the very tip of the iceberg. Networking with other bloggers, exploring host cities, and just changing up your frame of reference are all ways you can help reinvigorate your blog or blogging goals.
I’m attending IFBC in a few days, and I thought I would share my best advice for attending your first blogging conference, or just maximizing your experience.
Research the agenda
Hopefully you’ve already figured out which panels are important to you (after all, why did you buy a ticket?), but go a step further. Which panels would be outside your comfort zone? If you’ve been to any blog conference before, chances are you’ve already been to panels on working with brands, for example. Why not learn about Facebook Live, or attend a hands-on session to improve your writing skills?
Check out the speakers and see what they’re up to. That can give you a sense of the panel’s tone, and you might come away with some extra tips by looking at their site beforehand.
Get business cards
I know, it’s 2017 and we’re still doing business cards? It might seem strange, but until QR codes actually catch on, business cards are pretty important. Having a physical reminder of who you are helps others connect long after the conference is over.
I do try to limit giving out my business cards to brands and others I want to collaborate with, rather than just tossing cards out to everyone at the lunch table. Why? Because I want that personal connection; I don’t want my card to just get lost in a pile of others in the bottom of a swag bag.
Consider a roommate
Having a roommate during a conference, especially if it’s your first one, can be a blessing. First of all, you’ll save money. Secondly, you’ll automatically have someone you can hang with, go to meals with, and share info from the day. They’ll also be there to encourage you to attend that networking session or join you on your morning run.
… or not
For some, going to a conference is like a vacation. You want to set your own sleeping hours, watch terrible TV while eating nachos in bed, and make a big mess of the bathroom countertop. That’s hard to do with a roommate, even if you’re sharing with your best friend. So consider your personal goals for the conference (not just your blogging goals) and don’t be afraid to say, “No, thanks,” to roommate offers.
Practice your elevator pitch
Being able to explain your blog quickly is key. Even if you’re not super niche, you should be able to explain what you do in a couple of sentences. I’m always fine-tuning mine because I have a unique blog name, but I try to go with some variation of:
My name is Megan, and my blog is Stetted. I write about simple, delicious recipes for the whole family. My blog name is an editing term, which means to let an edit stand, and I apply that to food in that we’re always looking for ways to enjoy our food traditions while embracing current trends.
Dress for success
This does not mean put on your power suit, although I have seen all levels of dress at conferences over the years. Make sure your clothes represent who you are. It doesn’t make sense to wear a dress and heels all day if you only haul those items out for date night (or conferences). I tend to wear sleeveless shirts because I have an identifying tattoo on my arm that helps strike up conversations. You might feel similarly about your style of clothing, or your cat-eye glasses.
Most of all, you want to be comfortable, and not worrying about how your feet feel, whether your bra strap won’t stay up under that shirt, or the stain on your “nice” jeans. Or whether you’re shivering — always pack a light sweater or jacket to deal with those conference-room temps.
Research the sponsors
Most conferences have sponsors to offset costs, and often those sponsors are looking to work with bloggers. Check out who they are ahead of time so you can decide if you want to devote time chatting with their reps. (Especially because you might have to skip a panel session to do so.) You don’t have to chat with everyone just because they are there. Be prepared for long wait times at the booths with the more “known” brands, and be willing to give those smaller companies a chance.
If you’re really keen to work with them, reach out ahead of time and see if you can set up a special meeting time outside of conference hours. At the very least, getting your name in front of them will help them connect the dots later on when they meet you face-to-face.
These days most conferences have some element of live coverage, either through Facebook Live, Twitter hashtag use, or a “liveblog” recap that gets posted later. Don’t rely on these — only you know which aspects of a panel are most relevant to you. Be sure to take notes in your preferred format so you can have something to review when you get home and recapture that “conference magic.”
I like bringing my computer so I can Tweet at the same time, but pen and paper works just as well for getting those key topic ideas.
Go on excursions or sponsor events
If the conference you’re attending has optional happy hours, dinners, yoga classes, farm tours, bowling games, make an effort to attend! While the thought of more networking can seem exhausting, you’ll generally come away with better connections at these smaller events and have something you can write about once you get back home.
Find a place to hide
OK, maybe not actually hide, but it’s good to have a place you can get away from the noise and excitement of the conference. This could be your hotel room (bonus if you’re rooming alone!), a chair by the pool, or simply a quiet corner of the lobby cafe.
Conferences can be really taxing on your emotional reserves, especially if you’re an introvert, and getting some time to yourself is key. Have a snack, write down your thoughts, and be able to return feeling recharged.
Finally, once you’ve returned back home, go through your notes, business cards, and other new contacts as soon as you can. Organize them as best you can: follow people and brands on social media, brainstorm ways to work together, and send a quick email letting them know it was great to meet them.
Make a plan to follow through with anyone you want to work with. This is a great time to send them a specific pitch in addition to your media kit. Keep in mind that brands typically plan months out far in advance, so take that into account when sending your great holiday idea.
You can also use the time afterward to reach out to speakers for more info on a topic, or starting a blog share group with fellow attendees.
Relax and have fun!
Conferences are often only as good as you make them. You spent the money, now get out there and come back with as much information and inspiration as you can!
What tips do you have?