Tomorrow morning I leave for my third big BlogHer conference in San Diego. I’m not packed. Heck, I haven’t even started my laundry. I haven’t really nailed down my schedule. And, as of yet, I don’t have transportation to the airport or a hotel to stay in my first night. But I do have the most important thing to me. First, a story…
Two years ago, I arrived in Chicago. I had been blogging for 8 years, but was representing a fairly new blog of mine. I had a decent following on Twitter and was hosting one party of my own and co-hosting a larger brand event. I was speaking on a panel. In other words, I wasn’t a total newbie. Not only that, but I had fairly extensive international solo travel experience. But when I walked into the grand lobby in Chicago, I immediately felt intimidated and lonely. Everywhere, families roamed, friends hugged, and people were happy. I didn’t know anyone.
As I went to my room, I looked hopefully at a few people who looked like they might be fellow bloggers. No one paid any attention to me. When I finally got up to my room, I was tired from travel and near tears. I was ready to go home.
I logged onto Twitter in desperate search of a friendly face. I’ve shared this story before, but @AnissaMayhew saw my tweets and invited me down to the bar where she and Amanda from @HighImpactMom greeted me with big hugs. Neither one had ever met me in person.
This interaction set the tone for me at BlogHer Chicago. Sure, there were still moments when I felt lonely or overwhelmed, but it reminded me to put myself out there. It reminded me to reach out to other people as well.
By the time BlogHer New York City arrived the following year, I was a veteran of blogging conferences, having attended (and spoken at) another 3 major events. I knew enough bloggers to be confident walking into a room that I was likely to know somebody. Instead of being like the first day of high school, it was more like a reunion full of friendly faces. Still, I relied the relationships I had already built to ensure that I never attended a party without knowing at least one other blogger. I coordinated my schedule with one or two other friends. We weren’t glued to each other, but we always knew we had a friend nearby. When one of us felt overwhelmed or tired of small talk, we could turn to the other. It was a simply comfort in a circumstance that is, by nature, a difficult one.
Over the years, I have heard my own story echoed by other bloggers, often with less than positive outcomes. When someone tells me they will never attend another BlogHer, I immediately know what tale they’ll tell. It will be about feeling alone, overwhelmed, and, unfortunately, about the lack of friendliness in the blogging community. I know that this is simply not true, but it’s all about perspective. If you’re alone in a room of people who aren’t paying attention to you, it feels like they’re being rude. More likely, they are also overwhelmed and tired and are seeking out their own sources of comfort. It usually isn’t personal.
So, as I head into my third BlogHer, I’ve done two things. The first is make sure I know where my go-to people will be. In fact, I’ve got a list of emails and cell phone numbers. I don’t need this quite as much as I have in prior years because I know I’ll find friends pretty much wherever I go. The second is make it my mission to keep others from feeling lonely. I can’t be there for everyone, but I’ve got plenty of friends who are attending for the first time. I can be there for them. And I can be there for you, if you need it. If you see me, walk up and introduce yourself and tell me you read this blog post. I’ll give you a hug if you need one…
The tip? Find at least one go-to person at BlogHer. Get their email address, Twitter ID and phone number. Coordinate party schedules and meals if you want. Don’t close yourself off to meeting new people, but do know that you always have someone to pick you up when you’re struggling.
Here are the rest of my conference tips, but I’m pretty sure this one is the only one you’ll need to have a great time.