So you wanna go to a blog conference?
I’m not gonna lie. Your first blog conference is a big deal. A scary thing.
For mine, I picked TypeACon. It has a well-deserved reputation as a great first conference, thanks to the hard work of @KelbyCarr (@typeamom). She caps attendance at 400 people, so it’s a small conference compared to the likes of BlogHer (4,000 people, plus sponsors!). The conference was packed with meaty sessions, so many that my main problem in looking at the schedule was trying to figure out how to be in two places at once.
But back to the nerve-wracking part. If you’re a blogger, you probably spend a lot of time with your virtual friends already, even if you’ve never met. They’re gonna love you, and you’re gonna love them, even if it does take you a while to figure out who they are. So, get those business cards printed (go to @MelACulbertson’s site MomComm.com for tips on what to include on your blogger business card) and hand ‘em out like crazy. Introduce yourself to people. Lots of people. Sure, you’ll say stupid stuff, but who cares? Pretend you’re a humor blogger.
And remember, those friends that live in your computer? They’re just people. No matter how famous. The fabulous Cecily Kellogg @CecilyK is super down-to-earth and easy to talk to. Same goes for Katherine Stone @postpartumprogr and Tanis Miller @redneckmommy.
What do you take? What do you wear? What should you expect?
- Business cards are a MUST. Again, I recommend you go to MomComm.com for tips about what to include. I followed Melissa’s advice and got a lot of compliments on my cards.
- Things I found helpful on others’ cards:
- City/metro area where you live
- Picture (so helpful when you’re meeting dozens of people per day. Also? Please make it recent!)
- Some white space to take a note or two (for instance, “met at xyz session and talked about giraffes” helps me remember who you are)
- Ditch the laptop. Shocking, I know. But you’ve got a smartphone, right? And pen and paper? Much easier to tote around than a computer. If you have an iPad, go for it, or if you’re going to an intensive blog design session where you might need to be in the back end of your site during the presentation, that’s a different story, but for plain old notetaking and tweeting (which was all I did), go for lightweight. Your back and shoulders will thank you.
- A sweater, and if you tend to get cold, a wrap, too. Conference rooms are freezing, even if it’s sweltering outside. It’s just a fact of life. I wore cute dresses each day and froze my tail off, even with a sweater and a pashmina.
- Comfortable shoes. Yes, there are some (ahem, Danielle Smith @daniellesmithtv and Rene Syler @goodenufmother) who can wear heels around a conference for days and look fabulous, but those of us without the secret to Teflon feet would be limping halfway into day one. And Danielle, Rene, if you want to share the secret, I’m all ears!
- Water bottle you can refill. Yes, there will be water there, but it’s nice to be able to carry yours around, especially in a container you don’t have to worry about spilling on either your notes or your laptop.
- People really do introduce themselves by their Twitter handles. So in many cases, you’re dealing with real name, Twitter handle, and blog name. That’s a lot to remember. It’s ok to look at the conference badge if you forget, or to just say, “I’m so sorry, but remind me your name again?” Alternatively, it’s ok to call people by their Twitter handles if you can’t remember their names.
- Personalized twitter necklace: If you want to be super on-trend and your twitter name doesn’t match your real-life name, get a personalized necklace (think the Carrie necklace in Sex and the City, but silver) featuring your twitter handle. Tracy @sellabitmum is the epitome of fashion forward, she wore hers each day.
Don’t be shy
This year, Type A was held in Charlotte, where I live, so I didn’t stay at the hotel. Even though the conference was in my hometown, I knew a grand total of one person attending.
This can be a bit intimidating if you’re a rookie. You look around at a sea of veteran nametags and clusters of women who seem to have known each other for years. The only thing to do is jump right in.
Thursday night I headed over to register and hopefully find a few people who wanted to grab dinner. I introduced myself to several people, all of whom had eaten, so finally, I approached a girl at the hotel bar, guessing she was with the conference, and parked myself on the barstool next to hers. It turned out to be Catherine Wells @theintegralcat, and though she had eaten, we had a lovely chat while I ate and then we both had sinfully delicious desserts.
Saturday night I did the same thing, hitting up people at random until I found some that wanted to have dinner. I ended up eating with a couple of Raleigh bloggers, KeAnne Hoeg @KeAnne and Jessica Lieb @bkeepsushonest. We had a blast. And by the way, next time you’re in Charlotte, I highly recommend Vida Cantina at Epicentre.
Type A’s schedule was jam-packed, but it was never a problem to figure out where to be and when, because there was an app for it.
No, I’m not kidding.
The app Guidebook was customized for the conference: conference schedule, my schedule, attendees, speakers, maps, sponsors. Kudos, Kelby!
Friday I missed the keynote, but jumped right into the sessions. And what sessions they were! Each of them was meaty, and I can’t wait to get my paws on the slides so I can remember all of what was said (I’m not a good note-taker–I do better just listening).
First up was Heather Solos’ @HeatherSolos Traffic Building Boot Camp. That girl has some serious knowledge, y’all. (And for those of you who were there? Yes, I was the one in the pink dress who kept raising her hand to say “No,” when Heather asked things like, “So, everybody here knows what a SERP is, right?” or “You’re all familiar with Google Panda, right?”)
Tech wizard, I am not. Heather Solos, I bow to you in reverence. Also? The girl could seriously be a supermodel.
From there I headed to The Blogger as Storyteller, led by Laura Packer @storylaura.
She ran us through some slides and then treated us to a live storytelling experience that was, honestly, like having front row tickets to a performance at The Moth. She also had us go through storytelling exercises with partners, and through this I made wonderful new friends Nichole @cuteculturechick, Sarah @MainlineMom, and Andrea @goodgirlgonered.
Then it was time for lunch, where I found another wonderful soul who’d been in Laura’s session. Tameka @fromtheinsideout, who brightened my day each time I saw her (which, thankfully, was a lot!).
My next session was a small, pre-registered hands-on class called Crafting a Book Proposal. It was led by Ellen Gerstein @elleinthecity and Amy Fandrei @amyfandrei of Wiley (the company behind the For Dummies series we all know and love). What a session! They pulled back the curtain on non-fiction publishing and gave us a rundown of how one should craft a book proposal. I could have listened to them for another hour.
After their session, I met the fabulous Carissa @CarissaRogers, and relaxed for a bit in the lounge with a free chair massage before the @AboutOne happy hour. (See? Aren’t you wishing you had been there already?)
Then there was a fabulous dinner out with Brittany @BrittanyVandy, Fadra @allthingsfadra, Tracy @Sellabitmum, and Trina @oboyorganic.
And I’m sure you think the night was over.
These crazy bloggers were just getting started. Disney hosted a party, complete with mouse ears and glow-tinis.
But for me, the highlight of the party was getting to meet Katherine Stone @postpartumprogr. She’s an amazing woman and has been an inspiration to me throughout my struggle with postpartum depression. Not only could she join Heather Solos in a modeling career, she has a wonderfully soothing presence. Later, I described her to my husband as being “like human Valium.”
And then from 10 to midnight, Ubisoft and the Clever Girls Collective hosted a dance party that had people decked out in 80s gear and dancing in teams. I kid you not. However, I did go home early. I’m useless without sleep. It’s ok to skip the late night parties. Sure, they’re fun, but would you rather dance all night or get the most out of your sessions the next day? (I’m sure some of you would rather dance, and that’s fine, just be aware you can become absolutely exhausted if you don’t pace yourself.)
Saturday morning, bright and early, we were at it again. I started off in Charlie Capen’s session Creating Content that Goes Viral. And no, I will never be as funny as he is.
From there I moved on to Building Your RSS and Email Subscribers with FeedBlitz’s Phil Hollows. Fabulous accent, y’all. Equally fabulous advice.
Attend sessions that are out of your comfort zone
On a whim I hit Tamara Walker’s @MomRN session, Breaking into Podcasting. So glad I did! It was one of the most informative sessions at Type A. I always thought podcasting was something you could only do if you were a seasoned radio personality or celebrity, but Tamara showed us otherwise. Not saying you’re gonna see me on iTunes anytime soon, but if you do, well, cool, right?
After Tamara’s session I went to Blog Design, by Melissa Culbertson @MelACulbertson, Brittany Van der Linden @BrittanyVandy, and Laurie Smithwick @UpsideUp.
These ladies are incredibly talented and absolutely blew me out of the water with the amount of content and depth of knowledge they provided. Thankfully our session didn’t have anything planned afterward, so they were able to run over time enough to answer everyone’s questions. Basically, if you have questions about blog design, call one of these three women.
Expect the unexpected
We also discovered that we weren’t the only conference in town. HeroCon was all over the streets of Charlotte. You can only imagine the response from my twins when I showed them this:
Back at the hotel, it was time for the BlogWorld Expo Networking Party. It was there I met Cindy Reed @reedster2 and Tonja Deegan @tvdeegan. I’d finally gotten to meet my online friend Jenna Farelyn @Frelle, and she and KeAnne joined our merry band of misfits. So of course we talked about whipped cream bikinis and cookies-that-shall-not-be-named. And of course the convo got live tweeted. Because when you’re in a room full of bloggers, eye contact is totally optional. They can have their full attention on both you and their Twitter feed at the same time. It’s an amazing talent.
Speaking of, during the sessions, expect that virtually no one will look at the speaker. They’ll be glued to iPhones, iPads, and laptops, and yes, they’ll be on Twitter. At first I though this was the height of weirdness. Why bother going to a conference if you’re not going to listen? And then I started checking the #typeacon Twitter feed and realized people were live tweeting their notes. Or, for those who didn’t live tweet them, they’ve put them into blog posts that are so informative I feel like I went to the sessions I missed, and posted them in the group Facebook page.
So yeah, I guess I’m over that whole eye-contact thing. Though I will say, I know from long experience through law school, I learn best when I’m not scrambling to write (or type) down every word the lecturer says, so I will probably continue to look at the speaker and nod. The few times I tried to tweet a juicy tidbit, I ended up missing the next one.
You have to venture out to meet your local bloggers
Until Type A, I’d met all of one other blogger from Charlotte. Maybe two. Online, I was connected with several Raleigh bloggers and the fabulous Shell @shellthings from Wilmington, but I’d never actually met them.
It probably helped that the conference was in Charlotte, but I’ve now met so many North Carolina bloggers. Now I know people from all over the state.
Nits to pick
- This is going to sound insane, given how much content the conference provided, but I wish the sessions had been longer. There were many sessions in which the speakers were just hitting their stride when we had to move on to the next one, or where there wasn’t a lot of time for Q&A because people had to move on.
- Those cupcakes. Heather McDonnell (@stepfordlife or @cupcrazed) made such wonderful cupcakes all weekend that I’ve gone home, not with muffin top, but cupcake top. And a craving for more of the carrot-cake cupcakes with cream cheese icing. As in, they’re appearing in my dreams, y’all.
So that’s it. Your mini-novella on Type A Con 2012. If you’re on the fence about which conference to choose, pick this one for next year. If you’re unsure whether you should go to a conference at all, go to this one.
You’ll have a great time, learn more than you can possibly absorb, and meet amazing people.
And guess what? Some of them aren’t even Type A.