I've had the good fortune to attend several conferences for bloggers and other social media types, both as an attendee and as a speaker. I know firsthand how intimidating the whole experience can be. So if you're planning to attend a conference like BlissDom Canada for the very first time, keep these tips in mind (and if you're a savvy veteran, feel free to drop some knowledge bombs in the comments).
This is a tough one to get used to. In most polite company you wouldn't walk into a conversation in progress and start listening in, offering up your two cents as you . . . find . . . pennies in your pocket? I guess? Ok, I'm bailing on the metaphor. Suffice to say, and I mean this in the nicest way, this isn't polite company. This is a blogging conference. People are used to the conventions of Twitter and the like. And they're probably there to network anyway. Sidle on up and make some friends. This is like networking sex panther—60% of the time it works every time (by which I mean use a little discretion. If there are people standing in a quiet corner, engrossed in a quiet conversation, that might not be the best conversation to bomb. Look for the groups of people talking loudly and freely).
This can be tricky, too. I mean, it's nice to go to a session where you know the speaker or where you know the topic is something that interests you. You know you're unlikely to be disappointed and it's human nature to want to hear people say things that reinforce what you already know. But roll the dice once in awhile. Check out a speaker you've never heard of before. Dive into a topic that confuses you. There's a lot to be learned by being the dumbest person in a room. Maybe you'll find a new area of interest or topic of passion. Maybe you'll be challenged to think differently about things you already know. Regardless, you'll certainly broaden your horizons.
I've helped organize conferences before, so I feel a bit like a traitor saying this, but . . . sometimes your best opportunities to learn and connect fall outside the programmed content at the event. Whether it's going to get a beer with someone you've met at a break; carrying on a hallway conversation long after most people have settled into a session block; or simply finding some quiet space to reflect on what you've learned, it's okay to colour outside the lines a bit.
You're going to be bombarded with hashtags. Sponsors will be everywhere encouraging you to tweet their hashtag of choice, whether to win a prize or just to be part of the festivities. Organizers will be promoting the event's hashtag and asking you to share your experiences. Speakers will drop carefully-crafted twit-sized pearls of wisdom, then pause in anticipation of the rush to share their insight online. Remember you can do all, some, or none of those things should you choose. My approach is, generally, to tweet about the event itself in the downtimes. I used to livetweet sessions I attended, but recently I've found I get too distracted trying to tweet—I prefer to immerse myself in the session instead. Your experience may vary.
As for the sponsor thing, it's touchy. I get that sponsors help these events happen. But don't forget their motives aren't wholly altruistic either. They're paying for access to you. This isn't to say all sponsors are bad—far from it. I've had some great experiences thanks to corporate sponsors at these events and I've been perfectly happy to tweet my appreciation. But I also don't feel comfortable with the sense of obligation some conference-goers seem to feel simply because someone's paid to have their logo splashed all over your lunch room. If you want a rule of thumb, tweet what you're comfortable tweeting. Don't tweet out of a sense of obligation.
When I used to work in the technology space it was common to talk to clients about the difference between a platform and a service. A service is something that you turn on and immediately see how it works and how to extract value from it. A platform is something you build on top of. The value comes from what you build and how you use it. A blogging conference is like a platform. Organizers do their best to find a mix of speakers with interesting things to say then combine that with opportunities for you to interact with these speakers, other attendees and, yes, sponsors. If you don't take advantage of these opportunities, it's not the platform's fault. It's yours for not building on it. Push yourself a bit. Get out of your comfort zone. Ask a question in a session. Introduce yourself to someone in the lunch line. And most importantly, listen as much as you talk. You'll be amazed how much you can learn.
There’s nothing worse than picking up your mobile device at a conference and seeing that the battery power is almost gone. Here’s how to avoid that problem.
For more articles, tips, and tricks to help you get organized and make the most of your blog and business visit our BlissDom Canada 2014: How Do You Find Your Bliss? page.
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