July 16, 2011

BlogHer Bound: San Diego, Here We Come

Once more, the behemoth that is BlogHer is almost upon us. If you have no idea what that is (or know what it is and don't care), I suggest skipping this post because you'll probably be bored silly. Come back again in August. ;-)

If anyone is still reading, I just have a few things to say about it. It's not so much advice for those who are new to it as it is a few cold, hard facts and realities about it from my point of view that I feel like sharing. If you're an old hand at BlogHer and agree with what I have to say, then I'd appreciate it if you'd share it with newer attendees. If you don't agree with what I have to say, the comments section awaits!

This will be my third BlogHer conference, so while I'm not an expert on them, I'm certainly experienced. And each time, in the period leading up to it and during the event itself, I see some of the same things being played out over and over again. A lot of it has to do with expectations, I believe. I think if your expectations aren't set too high, you can get a lot out of BlogHer and have a great time. If you go into it with a mile-long list of people you MUST meet or parties/panels that you MUST attend, or you're too scared to go outside the comfort zone of people you know, you're setting yourself up for some disappointment.

So here are a few things I think might be helpful to keep in mind as you plan to make the trek to San Diego and go to BlogHer for the first time.

1. "Big" bloggers are just people.
They just are. Some of them are nice, some of them are not so nice. If you put them up on a pedestal and approach them that way, your interaction with them is going to be stilted and one-sided and not very fulfilling. Most of them are there for the same reason you are: To hang out with the people they've met via their blogs/Twitter/Facebook and share some good times. They're (generally) not there to be fawned over. And if they are, well, that kind of shortens that pedestal anyway, doesn't it?

2. Not everyone cares about your BlogHer experience.
By all means, share it; Twitter is the lifeblood of BlogHer and some of the best exchanges ever come out of the confluence of all these amazing people in one location. But if you tweet your every move (i.e., "OMG I just met @PioneerWoman!" "OMG I just hugged @RedneckMommy!" "Time for lunch, I have to find my peeps!" "OMG I am talking to @mommywantsvodka and I'm swooning!") from the moment you arrive, there are two reasons to just stop and take a breath: A. It's annoying to hear every detail, even if you're there. I'm sorry, but it is. If you're not there (and especially if you want to be there but can't) it's torturous and will likely get you muted by people who otherwise like you. B. If you're tweeting everything you do, you're missing half of what's going on.

3. Do not be afraid to go with the flow.
Some of the very best things that happen at BlogHer are organic and unplanned, and just grow from coincidence and happenstance. While waiting in the lobby for a friend who's flat-ironing her hair AGAIN, talk to the person standing next to you who's waiting for her friend who's hungover (AGAIN) to get up and get dressed, even if she's a total stranger. Handing her your business card/social media calling card and saying, "I don't think we've met yet," is all it takes. (And if you're waffling on getting cards, do it. You still have time and they don't need to be fancy. They are the currency of BlogHer and you will likely regret it if you don't. Get free ones from VistaPrint if money is tight.) You may find yourself giving up on waiting on those friends and going over to the coffee shop to continue the fascinating conversation you end up starting. Your friends can always text you to find out where you are when they finally get their shit together.

A big group of people, some I knew, some I didn't, ended up sitting on the floor of the hotel last year on Sunday, waiting for it to be time to head to the airport to go home. Check-out was at noon, but our flights weren't for hours yet, and no one really wants to go home when there are still so many people to meet and so many stories to hear. So we sat with our luggage, introducing ourselves where necessary and just shared and laughed and talked, with people coming and going over time. Eventually those who remained divided ourselves up into groups of 2-3 to share cabs to the airport for flights leaving around the same time. I met and completely bonded with two women during that two-hour ride, women I didn't know in the least before we got in that cab, and they're now two of my very favorite people. We talk all the time and meet up whenever possible and laugh about the kismet that brought us together when we're so alike but our lives are so different.

4. Keep Calm and Carry On.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm sick to death of hearing, "I'm freaking out!" constantly, especially at BlogHer. You're not freaking out. You might be nervous, you might be afraid, you might even be close to panicking, but chances are you're not actually freaking out. (If you are actually freaking out, please be sure to have your anti-psychotic meds in your pocket so we can get you some water and help, m'kay?) So try, just try, to calm down and deal with whatever situation is at hand. Being prepared will go a long way to avoiding unnecessary freak-out-ness. Some tips to being prepared:
  • Have the cell numbers and full, real names of the people you're rooming with but haven't met in person, and make sure your full, real name is on the reservation, too. More than once last year, people were stuck when they tried to check in at the hotel but didn't actually know the true name of the person who had made the reservation! A desk clerk is going to be sympathetic but unhelpful when you're crying, "I only know her as @TwinkleToesMama!"
  • Have enough cash to take care of emergency situations and a credit card, if at all possible. If you have budgeted exactly $50 for meals for the weekend and $25 for souvenirs and have only $75 in your wallet, with no cushion and no credit card, you are just begging for something unexpected to go wrong. Something like your roommate's plane being diverted to Cleveland and you not being able to get in your room because they insist on having a credit card to give you the key. (Please see the tip above about making sure your name is also on the reservation for this one.)
  • Take a big enough suitcase to take home all the swag and other free stuff you're going to end up accumulating. In fact, if you're flying in on Southwest, consider taking two, since they don't charge for them. I put a small one with my clothes and stuff inside a larger one, then use the larger one for all the booty, which I always have even when I say I'm going to be more selective and take only those freebies I really want or know I can give away.
  • Be selective when hitting the Expo hall and parties and don't take every free thing that comes your way. Companies have realized what a excellent opportunity BlogHer is to get their products into the hands of the most powerful demographic in America: The adult woman. That is great because it allows BlogHer to keep the cost of the conference down and we get the opportunity to try products and services we might otherwise miss. But it also means that the sheer amount of loot you can collect is insane. Having to deal with it at 7am on Sunday when you're racing to catch a 9am flight and you overslept because of that awesome party that went 'til 2am...it sucks. So does paying extra because you took everything and your bag weighs 50+ pounds. Have a swag plan of some sort and stick to it. Or at least try.
  • Realize that your cell service may or may not work at all times in all areas of the conference. There are going to be dead zones. There are going to be dead batteries. There are going to be texts that never get to their intended recipients. There are going to be phones set to mute because having them ring in the middle of an intense panel is rude and embarrassing and you will not hear the call telling you that plans have changed. This will all lead to not being able to locate your friends from time to time, even when you really need to. Accept it and plan for it the best you can; perhaps establish a default meeting place so you can have someplace to go to look for each other or leave messages. (Note to BlogHer staff: a communal message board, like they often have at professional, career-related conferences, or a screen showing hashtagged tweets for people looking for each other would not be a bad idea.)
5. Accept that you will not fit in every single thing you want to and just enjoy what you do do.
It's only one weekend and there are about three thousand people there. You won't meet everyone you've ever met online and you are bound to miss connecting with at least a half-dozen people that you simply HAVE to meet. You will pick the panels that interest you for whatever reason and later discover that you spaced and didn't get to one you absolutely intended to attend. You will also hear that the panel you skipped so that you could actually have some lunch was THE. BEST. ONE. EVER. and how could you have missed it?!? Related: Make time to freaking eat. You will remember being passed out on the bathroom floor and having a famous blogger trip over you more than you will remember every word said in every panel. (Not that I know this from experience, of course.)

So, if you're going, I hope to see you in a mere three week's time and I also hope that you have a fantastic time at BlogHer. But if we don't manage to be in the same place at the same time, it's okay; there's always next year.