My approach to conferences: pack it all in

_ZB45209I wrote this in a coffee shop in Madison, NJ, on Saturday while waiting for my family to pick me up. We were on our way to a pool party in northern New Jersey, and it made more sense for my family to drive from Philly to meet me vs. my going all the way back out there. I had spent the previous few days in New York for the BlogHer conference. This annual conference focuses on women’s voices and storytelling, and the business and logistics thereof.

Parts are quite commercial. There’s this reality of the blogging world: brands know that bloggers are influential, yet don’t operate by journalistic rules. The idea of sponsored posts makes me cringe, and yet I know that all the media outlets I write for have sponsors and ads on their websites. I also know that blogging is a way for many women to earn a living or supplement family income, and I’m all in favor of entrepreneurship. All this is to say…it’s complicated.

But this is not a post about blogging, ethics, and money. I’m writing about my new approach to conferences, which I have developed over years of being disappointed by conferences. I love efficiency, and sitting in a 75-minute panel session to learn one new thing strikes me as inefficient (and sometimes you don’t even learn one new thing!).

Eventually I realized that conferences are not about the panels. Sometimes they’re awesome, but more typically panels serve as a way to get bigger name people to attend the conference. Once I accepted that, I realized that conferences are about cementing relationships with people you know, turning virtual relationships into real relationships, having an “anchor” reason to be in town to meet people or do things, and then celebrating whatever serendipity happens.

I took this approach this time. I put out on social media that I would be at BlogHer, and I also looked through the Facebook group of attendees for people I knew virtually or had met once before that I would like to see again. I set meetings with people who’d told me to let them know next time I was in NYC.

Then with these anchor events in place other things started to happen. I heard on Wednesday from a WPIX producer that she’d read a piece about my book, and wondered if we could film something when I was in town next. Turned out I was in town quite soon! On the train into NYC on Thursday, I heard from a CBS LA producer who wanted to do something on a different topic. I managed to fit in that taping too with the NYC affiliate (and then a separate story, too, for the NYC affiliate itself).

All this involved a lot of running around town, which meant I didn’t actually attend any panels, but I did attend part of the meals and I spent some time at the expo. In these cases I elected to be my most gregarious self, so I would chat people up in line — including, awesomely, one woman who’d read my book — and sit at tables where people looked friendly. I am not into expo swag (well, OK, I visited the Baskin Robbins booth twice) but Prudential was offering make-up and professional headshots, so I took advantage of that. This is the new shot, accompanying this post. I realized that the headshot I’ve been using is actually 7 years old, which is possibly bordering on fraud.

I left Saturday morning to meet up with my family, so unfortunately I missed the Boyz II Men concert (sponsored by McDonalds — yes). But I read in the email that they were only going to perform 3 songs before racing over to another show they had to do in Atlantic City. I guess they sort of had the same approach to the conference that I did. Pack it all in!

(Side note- I did my first “walking meeting” on Friday at 7:30 a.m. through Central Park – very nice).

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