The conferences I now attend as a blogger are way different than the conferences I attended as an academic, but a state of overwhelm appears to be a commonality. As does, apparently, a primordial predilection towards longing, whether it be for connections, access to events, or material goods. For the most part, I had a fantastic time at BlogHer 2009, but I had some regrets too. From what I experienced last year and from what I’m already seeing in anticipation of this summer's meeting, I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to BlogHer 2010. Probably not surprisingly given my obsession with minimalist parenting, I'm taking a less is more approach to the event. Here are the key tenets of my approach; I hope some of these ideas will resonate with you. 1. Be realistic about the conference program…and take a step outside your comfort zone.
Situation: I’ve gone to conferences where I have wanted to attend every single session, and conferences where I’ve mostly gone to see people. In my experience, it’s impossible to go to back to back (or even close to back to back) sessions all day without feeling like a total zombie at the end.
Approach: Wherever you are on the program stamina spectrum, I suggest mapping out what sessions you plan on attending in advance and keeping the number of sessions reasonable. Obviously, this number will vary from person to person, but I might recommend identifying 1-3 must attend sessions then a handful of additional sessions across the conference to add on depending on your stamina for sitting and listening. And if you're mostly going to BlogHer for networking, I recommend scanning the program and attending 1-2 sessions beyond your reach or comfort zone. I did this last year by attending the marketing to women of color session and it ended up being one of the most energizing blog conference sessions I have ever attended.
2. Take a realistic look at your social calendar.
Situation: My presence on Twitter has been sporadic in recent weeks, but I apparently had an uncanny ability to log on when organizers started tweeting about parties. Which I mostly RSVP’d for across the board because I wanted to support my friends who were organizing events. Which, when I finally sat down and looked at my Outlook calendar yesterday, led me to conclude that the current schedule will serve no purpose other than to drive me to the point of exhaustion. Which seems absurd and greedy given the discontent I’ve seen over people missing the RSVP window for parties.
Approach: I’m taking a realistic look at my calendar (and a map of Manhattan) over the next couple of weeks, stripping out double bookings and un-RSVP'ing for events where I'm pretty sure it would be un-fun or impossible for me to get from point A to B to give the event's organizers any meaningful amount of my time. Also, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by the volume of off-site private invitations that are rolling in. Strangely, the thing I feel most bad about with many of these invites is that the events sound great and 6-8 weeks of advanced notice for a party seems reasonable; I feel bad saying no to these invitations, worried that they won’t be able to find people to come. (Crazy, I know!) But I’m taking a firm line and politely declining if I already have a conflict, no matter how tempting the event is or how much I’m fretting for people about their event planning (again, crazy, I know). These two action items will not only make social events more reasonable and fun for me, but will open space for other people.
3. Book face time with friends.
Situation: Last year was my first big BlogHer and I had no idea it would be so crazy; I just assumed I would bump into the friends I wanted to see, which didn’t happen for several friends. I felt as if I knew a lot of people going in to the event, yet when I would arrive at lunch, it literally looked like a giant sea of unfamiliar faces. I tried to look at this positively, and chat it up with lots of people I didn't know, but ultimately I found myself totally exhausted by the high volume of small talk.
Approach: I want to strike a balance between meeting new folks and having quality time with friends. Clearly, experience has shown me that I feel most fulfilled and energized in intimate gatherings, so I’m going to make sure I book face time with friends.
4. Pack what makes you happy and comfortable.
Situation: Now, I will admit that I love clothes and shoes. When I’m out in public I like to look reasonably put together as a change of pace from my yoga pants (beloved as they are…). But the frenzy and stress I see around attire and BlogHer makes me sad. It immediately makes me think of middle school, when girls would stress about whether they had the 3 pairs of Guess jeans and 2 Benetton insignia sweaters required to sit at the lunch table. (I wish I was making that up.)
Action: Let’s throw down the collective gauntlet that people come to BlogHer in whatever clothes they feel most happy and comfortable in. Because if you are miserably trying to be something you are not, you will be uncomfortable. Which will make it harder to interact with people. I can’t speak for everyone, but if you come find me at BlogHer, trust that I’ll want to talk to you, not whatever it is you are wearing.
5. Be mindful about swag.
Situation: This topic makes me cringe but it must be addressed. Last year’s swag frenzy made me so uncomfortable. It was scary. And tacky. And sometimes causing of physical harm.
Approach: I am asking everyone to be mindful about swag; to think before you pick something up or consider elbowing someone out of the way in the name of a free eco-friendly sponge or key chain. Think: do I really need this? Will this bring me joy or utility? Is it worth hauling this home? Am I just picking this up because it's free? Do I even know what the hell this is? Have I spent at least 10 seconds thinking about the sponsor and what it is that they are offering? If the answer to any of these questions even vaguely hints at no, step away from the swag. At Mom 2.0 in February, one thing I loved was that the registration bags were swag light, and if you wanted to pick up items from sponsors, you could do so directly from sponsors at the expo. I walked the expo floor and thanked the vendors for supporting the conference and learned more about what they had to offer, but I didn’t need anything so I didn’t pick anything up. I felt so much happier taking a light and mindful approach to the conference. Please consider doing the same.
Are there any issues I have missed? I would love to hear about ways you are looking to create a fun and meaningful experience at BlogHer. In my opinion, the key is to remember that the experience is yours to create. And I would wager that a less is more approach to the event will make for a happier experience for many people.