BlogHer ’09 is fast approaching and I’m so excited. I might as well be going to Disney World. Ok, not really, but I’m still very excited. I can’t wait to meet so many blogging friends in person and share ideas. That said, I’m nervous about it, too. Firstly, I’m awful with names and faces – that’s a whole separate blog post there. Second, I turn into a blathering idiot when I’m nervous. Third, I still have baby weight to lose (at what point is it no longer “baby weight?”). And, lastly, although I love meeting new people, I find the whole process exhausting. I’m sure I’ll need to sleep for a week upon my return.
With all that said, I’ve been to a lot of conferences. I’ve even planned a few myself. Sure, most of them were a bit smaller than BlogHer, but the general principles hold for most events like this.
1. Leave the guilt at home. Sure, call and check on the kids, wish them goodnight, and buy them souvenirs. But try to leave any parenting guilt at home with the unfinished laundry and dirty dishes. They may watch too much TV while you’re gone, or eat pizza every night, but most likely they’ll still be relatively happy and healthy upon your return. It’s good to have some time apart… it’s important for kids to learn that even if you go away, you’ll come back.
2. Skip the starstruck behavior. You may meet someone that you admire. Guess what? They also have people that they admire. Say hello. No one there is better than you, and if they ignore you, you’re better off without their friendship.
3. Know your priorities. Take a moment to think about why you’re attending a particular conference. Is it all the profound things you’ll learn? The great contacts you’ll make? The fabulous people you’ll meet? The swag you’ll collect? Being honest with yourself will allow you to make the most out of any conference experience. For example, I attend conferences almost entirely for the friendships, contacts and inspiration. I rarely learn anything that I couldn’t learn at home. When I’m planning my time, I make sure my schedule aligns with my priorities.
4. Know your limits. Even though I know better, some perverse part of me insists that I’m somehow obligated (to myself and to conference planners) to attend as many sessions as possible. But, going back to number 3, that doesn’t always match my priorities. First of all, there won’t always a be a session that you’re interested in. But, more importantly, sometimes you’ll have an opportunity to chat with someone really amazing, or chat with vendors/manufacturers. A lot of the best learning happens outside of official conference sessions. I also make it a point to take a break (quiet time, nap, walk, whatever) when I need to. If you’re too tired, you can’t learn anything anyway.
5. Bring your best self. Don’t try to be someone different at the conference, but DO strive to grow and learn. Push yourself to sit down at a table of new people and say hello. Try new foods. Go to parties. Exchange business cards. Invite yourself along. Heck, you don’t know these people! See tip #2. Rinse, lather, repeat.
6. Pack what you need, but don’t go crazy. There are a million lists about what to pack, so I’m not going to get into that except to add a few of my favorite things. They may not be the things that make you feel more comfortable, but maybe they’ll inspire you to make your own list. As you pack, remember one golden rule (I used to use this on trips to the Philippines, so it certainly holds in Chicago): almost anything you might forget will be available to buy wherever you go. So, my three little comfort items:
- Munchies. I always pack a few portable snacks because I hate being hungry. Crackers or mixed nuts or M&Ms (maybe all three). If you’re stuck in the airport, you’ll thank me.
- A candle, perfume or incense. Don’t tell the hotel, because I’m sure this is frowned on, but I like to bring something in a favorite scent. Obviously, don’t go crazy if you’ve got a roommate, but a little air freshening improves even the nicest of hotel rooms. Don’t douse the furniture or anything – some people are very sensitive to scents.
- A jacket, sweater, etc. This one is mentioned everywhere, but can’t be stressed enough. Conference rooms are always set at temperatures appropriate for businessmen in suits. Imagine an arctic breeze and you’re on the right path. In fact, I am convinced that the rooms are cooler in the summer than they are in the winter. Figure that one out.
7. Have fun. Trite, but true. And if you’re feeling lonely, hunt me down. I’m the bi-racial gal with a bushy ponytail, newly waxed brows and quite a bit of remaining baby weight. I won’t remember your name, but I’ll be nice to you anyway.