Saturday, July 17, 2010

BlogHer '10: Tips from a Party Animal

Now is about the time that all the parent-bloggers and women bloggers headed to NYC for BlogHer '10 (only three more weeks!) are starting to seriously attempt to unsnarl the conference's labyrinth of possibilities. I don't have experience with other conferences, but for this one there are actually TWO separate schedules that must be figured out.  First, there is the slew of fantastic sessions that you will want to attend. Second, there are so many parties going on that one can't possibly attend them all.

As a person who tapped BlogHer '09 like a rockstar on viagra, I am here to impart some of my Party Animal wisdom to those of you who want to really take advantage of this too-short weekend away.

Sparklecorn "W"isconsin solidarity with my ladeez: Me, AnnsRants, & MaggieDammit
This was my third party of the night. Whee!

My main concern for BlogHer last year was "WHICH PARTIES WILL I GO TO?" Unfortunately, if you are just reading this now and you have not RSVP'd for anything... your options are limited. You will still have a great time because BlogHer has made sure that there is an "open" party to attend each night, and their Serenity Suite and Chill Out Spaces will be great places to catch interesting people taking a breather between events. If you have RSVP'd for everything that came your way, though, you now have to figure out how to get to as many as possible. :)

To a lesser degree I fretted about clothes and shoes, i.e. How can my wretched orthotic loving feet make it through the three days of conference going without looking like little old lady feet?  I ended up recruiting a much more fashionable friend to help me coordinate outfits and give me some loaners, so I felt pretty confident with what she gave me and once I threw away any big ideas I had about NOT wearing my Keens during the daylight portions of the conference, everything fell into place.

FYI: It makes me a little sad that clothing is a priority for having a good time at BlogHer, but I own my womanhood and all its complexities, good and bad, so vanity must be addressed.  That said, it is my personal opinion that if you feel good in your clothes, you can then concentrate your energies on the thousand other more important and exciting things happening around you.

So, unless you are completely confident in your fashion-sense, my first tip is:

1. Recruit a fashionable friend (who is approximately the same size as you) to help you coordinate outfits.

As it turned out,  I over-packed by about 25 lbs. (that is a conservative guess, by the way) and nobody noticed my giant black Keens one way or another.  (Jeans during the day FTW!) In fact, I ended up wearing the same top for the Friday and Saturday night parties. (Again, did anyone notice? No, of course not! If anyone did, why would they say anything?) All I got for over-packing was a blister on my hand because I ended up having to wrangle a 60 lb. suitcase up a two story flight of El steps outside the hotel.  NOT FUN.

OK, so your wardrobe and shoe issues are resolved.  Believe me when I say to you that what you wear really doesn't matter, as long as you feel good in it and can walk around with confidence. The reason you are at the conference is to learn more about blogging and meet your favorite writers, right? So, if you like how someone writes, you will not like them more when you see they are wearing Prada shoes. If you adore someone's blog for it's cleverness, you will not suddenly disrespect  them because they are wearing ugly American Apparel gold lamé tights. Okay, bad example.

2. If you want to meet someone at BlogHer, ask them for their mobile number before you leave for NYC. 

If you are going solo this is of utmost importance!  Keep the mobile numbers of other bloggers you are friendly with pre-programmed in your phone and written on a sheet in your wallet, it is easy to feel confident when you have a plan and you know what at least the first few steps are.  I.e., you will call so-and-so to meet in the lobby at 3pm to get a drink before heading to the SocialLuxe party. On the flipside, if you are going with friends, be sure you keep schedule your own time, too. 

Last year, I met tons of people that I wanted to (i.e. I read their blogs religiously, commented all the time and even had emailed saying I wanted to meet them), but I also got to know even more people that I'd never heard of but ended up falling in love with after chatting for a few minutes. Everybody is "somebody" at this conference. :)

I was fortunate in that my roomie, Ann of Ann's Rants, coordinated quite a few of those meetings.  She is a planner and had emailed and tweeted with several people to get their numbers so we could meet when we got there. She also coordinated a dinner on one of the nights.  So, I went to BlogHer with only one cel number in my phone and a lot of emails saying "We have to get together when we're there!!" And that may have worked out for me, but I was hugely relieved when she pulled out her cel and had everyone's numbers already in it. Thanks, Ann!

Now, let's move on to the HOW you will get to as many events as possible.  Follow my tips and you will have an amazing time at BlogHer while maintaining somewhat normal stress levels.  And when I say stress levels, they should only peak when you realize that you are late for another event.

3. Make a schedule.

Take all your RSVPS and BlogHer sessions that you CANNOT miss and turn them into a calendar that you can print and take with you.  I had mine in my computer and in my purse on paper at ALL times.  With relevant phone numbers, tickets, and addresses.  This is critical, should you get stuck trying to get from one location to another by yourself or if your damn cel phone runs out of battery power. (Personal experience much?)

Here is my insane schedule for the conference:

How am I going to do all that?  Very carefully and with the expectation that, in reality, I won't be able to do it all.  Huh?  See Reason #7.

In addition to this, I have the BlogHer agenda marked up with my 1st and 2nd choices for each time slot.  If you get in a session and you aren't feeling it or you think you've gotten all you need from what it's offering... then get up and walk yourself to another session.  I actually went to THREE different sessions during one of the Saturday time slots last year.  Note: The ROYO sessions are often completely full because the rooms are much smaller than the other main agenda speakers' rooms, so if it is an even split between two sessions and you can't decide which one to go to, I recommend trying the ROYO first because it will be easier to leave the room than go into it.  Which brings me to another point:

     3.5: Get to ROYO sessions EARLY.

Many of my favorite sessions were in the Room Of Your Own section of the BlogHer agenda. Almost all the ones I went to ended up being standing-room only with people gathered around the doors outside, even.  The ROYO sessions are more intimate, more interactive, and give you a chance to hear your favorite bloggers talking about their blogging passions (and yours) in a less formal setting and riffing off the cuff on the subject of the ROYO.  Your chance of getting a question in are better, too.

(And since I'm talking about ROYO's. I feel compelled to put in a plug for How To Edit Photos For Your Blog here. ;) Pauline from Classy Chaos, Ryan from Pacing the Panic Room, and I will be your hosts. Be there Saturday morning at 10:45! FYI: This is a how-to for the technologically-challenged blogger who takes photos and would like to learn how to better process and upload them to their blog.)

4. Don't be afraid to ask anyone anything.

If you see Jenny the Bloggess and you are overcome with excitement that she is standing only four feet away from you and you recognized her?  Go say hi and tell her so.  If you have ever commented on her site or tweeted her, I bet she'll recognize your name. And when she turns on that smile of hers, you will feel loved. I don't know how she does it, but she does.

Example: I was in the Shutter Sisters Suite last year and was messing around with a Lens Baby that I had put on my Nikon. I had no idea who the other ladies in the room were, and unwittingly asked Chookooloonks' Karen Walrond and Kirtsy's Laurie Smithwick if I could take their pictures.  When Chookooloonks took the stage for the Community Keynote later that day, I was like... Holy crap! I recognize that face, I can't believe that is who I asked to photograph! I never would've had the nerve to ask if I'd know she was such an amazing photographer/writer/blogger, but wouldn't that have been silly to miss out on that opportunity? One that she was obviously willing to participate in. So, see there? Ignorance pays.

5. Be curious. Be brave.

If you walk by a suite in the hotel where it looks like something interesting is going on, then walk in! Why not?  It made for some of the swag craziness at last year's event, but after all that mania died down, cool things would start happening. One of the best moments of the conference, for me, was randomly ending up in Lolita Carrico's suite party that provided delicious martinis and a never-ending stream of Baskin-Robbins ice-cream cakes.  I'm still not sure what was being promoted, but we ended up meeting more fabulous bloggers and drinking more fabulous free drinks.

6. Be willing to go to places alone.

If there is an event that you want to go to or that you are invited to and your friends aren't.  Say sorry and go anyway.  You never know what might happen.  I begged, borrowed, and wheedled my way into the Nikon event last year and felt extremely lucky to get the invite not too many weeks before the conference. I didn't know ONE other person who was going.  And I was really late to the event (because of reason #5, see below).  But I got my ass into one of the limos anyway, rode their alone, and had a ball flirting with the adorable host at the bar where the event was held, while I partook of the top-shelf liquor goodness that I was being served.  After getting my hair did and having my photo taken with Carson Kressly.  Who told me I looked like a movie-star, thank you very much.  And then I rode back to the hotel in a limo with Heather Spohr and Stephanie Wilder-Taylor, both of whom I had seen speak earlier that day.  What the heck?

7. Be flexible and wonderful things will happen. 

This dinner with friends (new in real life, but many were bloggers I had been reading for months) happened on Friday night. I finished making reservations for 15 during the last part of the community keynote (half a hour before we left for the restaurant).

It turned out to be one of my best memories of the weekend, even though I was initially torn about going because it would mean missing the BlogHer karaoke (I had a song planned and everything!), and then I was freaking out about being late to the Nikon Party... and if I was late to the Nikon party, then I would be late to the Sparklecorn Party.

Once I let go of the building anxiety and decided that I going with the flow and enjoying this brilliant (and relatively quiet and calm) moment with friends was absolutely the best use of my time, it all fell into place. The bonus was that it turns out being late to the biggest BlogHer parties can be your best bet because you avoid lines and the stress they induce!

 8. If you need to take a break: TAKE A BREAK.

The BlogHer experience can be overwhelming. You might be missing your family or your kids. You might be so over-stimulated that you feel like your eyes are getting all stare-y and crazy looking. You might just need to take "a moment."  And that is okay.  Go to your room, climb in bed, maybe shed a few tears.  Rest and re-coup until you start to laugh again.

Pictured: Ann taking a little break in our gigantic king-sized bed (another "be flexible" moment when we found that we hadn't gotten two beds in our room!).  This was taken on Saturday evening... I will have you know that half and hour later, we were touching up our make-up and then on our way to the BowlHer party's red carpet.

See what a little break can do?

 Poorly reproduced photo taken by the BowlHer photographer on their red carpet.

I hope these tips are helpful and I hope I see you at the conference!

I'll be the social butterfly flitting about from person to person, handing out hugs and European double kisses, throwing my head back in laughter and checking my watch for the time. ;-)

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