how to keep your sanity at BlogHer

I’m gearing up to head to BlogHer this weekend.  This will be my 3rd time going, and it’s in New York again so I am looking forward to the conference as well as a couple days of geeking out to Broadway shows. Mark will be joining me on Saturday for what we’ve dubbed our Epic NYC  Date Night Weekend.  Our last time together in New York was two years ago when we were on The View.  That time, we had about 24 hours in the city and stayed out all night visiting places we love.  I’m excited that we’ll have a bit more time this year. My brave sister-in-law and her husband will be watching our kids, along with their two, while Mark and I hit the town. I’m gonna owe them BIG.

This is going to be one of those posts where I break the first rule about blogging: don’t blog about blogging. It’s also a re-work of my advice on BlogHer last year, but I think most of it still stands.  So . . . .if long posts about conferences full of social media devotees aren’t your thing, skip this one. But if you are a blogger and you are headed off to BlogHer this week, here are some of my best tips, being the expert BlogHer attendee that I am.

(I’ve been twice)

But first!  A little plug for my friend Tara Livesay.  Tara’s blog is the first I ever read, and was one of the main inspirations for me to start blogging as well.  She’s smart and funny but more than that, she makes me think differently about the world and inspires me.  She lives in Haiti, doing incredible work with at-risk mothers.  Every year, the BlogHer conference honoros Intenrational Activists,  women who “work tirelessly for social change through blogs and Internet tools.”  I nominated Tara this year, and deservedly, she won!! She will be at BlogHer receiving her award and speaking, and you should definitely check out her panel, along with the three other Activist recipients (Ana Santos, Fungai Machirori, and Maha El-Sanosi).  It’s on Friday at 1:15. I will be there with bells on.

Alright, now for the part where I pretend to know what I’m doing.

 

How to stay sane at BlogHer

The drama.  The egos.  The social posturing.  The politics.  The parties.  The private invites, the rejections, the corporate deals, the free stuff, the cat-fights over swag, the celebrities, the drinking, the dancing, the tattoos, the time Mike Tyson's tiger was found in Pioneer Woman’s hotel bathroom . . .

BlogHer is crazy, ya’ll.

BlogHer was kind of like a big giant stress-dream for me.  I think it is anxiety-provoking for all of us.  It is a bizarre alternative universe, this blogging world, where corporations are courting stay-at-home moms, and where the amount of traffic or comments you get in a day somehow moves you up the social totem pole.  Most bloggers spend their days sitting at a computer – many of us doing our jobs surrounded by small children.  To suddenly be swept into an environment where there are leaders in our industry, along with brands we’d like to work with, along with cocktail parties and drinking and dancing and 2000+ other women?  It’s easy to be overwhelmed.  Hence, my first tip:

Expect to be overwhelmed.  The pacing of BlogHer is insane, and so is the sheer volume of people.  Prepare to be overstimulated.  If you are an introvert, prepare to be REALLY overstimulated.  It’s normal.  Figure out what you will need to regroup a few times a day.  Don’t be afraid to skip a session to go lay in a quiet hotel room, or to seek out a few friends and go to a quiet coffeeshop.

Be present.  There are a million things happening at once at BlogHer and it’s easy to get caught up in wondering what everyone else is doing.  And with the phenomena that is the Twitter hashtag, you know at any given moment that there is something going on that you are missing.  To be honest, it seems like some people take a little glee in this, announcing at regular intervals about HOW FUN this ULTIMATELY PRIVATE PARTY is that they are at, along with the appropriate hashtags.  (i.e. #blogher11 #yousowishyouwereatthisparty  #seriouslythispartyisbetterthanyours).  Don’t worry if the place you are at is the best place to be.  MAKE it the best place to be by being present.  You can’t be five places at once, but you can enjoy yourself wherever you are.

Don’t take it personally when people look over your shoulder, snub you, or are generally rude.  It will happen.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a conversation with someone at a conference while they checked their twitter stream, craned their neck to see if someone better was standing nearby, or walked off to say hi to someone else mid-sentence. Normal human rules of interaction and courtesy sometimes fly out the window in this environment.  Try not to act like a douche, but don’t get your panties in a wad if someone does it to you.  Everyone is over-stimulated and social graces may fall by the wayside.  It’s not you, it’s them.

Find solace in the Serenity Suite. The Serenity Suite was created for the overwhelmed at BlogHer.  It is the brain child of my friends Heather and  Maggie, a space created for people to come and decompress from the madness of the conference.  Last year it ended up being an amazing resting spot for a lot of people (and also a space for an impromptu 12-step group . . . love that).  It’s open during most of the conference, in ROOM 4246.

Pace your drinking.  The 10 drink cards that came with your 3-day BlogHer pass should be an indication of the amount of alcohol involved, and the private parties will be passing out lots of cocktails as well.  If you drink, you might want to think through your strategy/boundaries before you find yourself struggling to walk straight after an overly-sweet Truvia cocktail at 5pm with three more parties on your roster (speaking from experience).  BlogHer is about having fun, but it’s also about networking, and at the end of the day it is a professional conference full of people you may work with in the future.  You probably don’t want to be remembered as the girl who fell on the escalator outside of Sparklecorn and bled all over the hallway. So monitor your drinking accordingly. 

Prepare to be sleep-deprived.  The parties go until the wee hours, and even then you may have a hard time sleeping.  I barely slept last year . . . I think it was a combination of my body still being three hours behind my own time zone, and the way my brain was racing with thoughts of ALL. THAT. SOCIALIZING.  I have a hard time settling down to sleep after any big social event, be it girl's night, a party, dinner with friends, etc.  But at Blogher, it all seems so magnified because instead of one party, you are hopping to several, and meeting SO many people, most of them people you have never met before but feel like you know because of their blog.  So at night my brain was buzzing, as I rehashed every interaction and worried whether or not I had adequately expressed admiration without seeming stalkerish, or fretting over the fact that I had not had more time to chat with certain people, or whether or not I was succeeding at seeming fun and friendly because my default mode of morose and sarcastic is not that approachable.  You may have to really concentrate to quiet your mind at night.  If you have insomnia at home, you may want to bring whatever helps in that scenario along with you.

Wear clothes you are comfortable in.  I am always amazed at how much of the BlogHer twitter stream is devoted to clothing choices.  And shoes.  And losing weight.  You'd think we were all attending some sort of a beauty pageant.  As opposed to a conference FULL OF WOMEN.  Women who sit with a laptop on their lap most of the day.  Who probably don't spend a lot of time fussing with their hair (or slipping out of their pajamas).  I'm really not sure who we are trying to fool. Don’t get me wrong – I get caught up in it, too.  But I really think the best strategy is to avoid going and shopping for a bunch of new outfits, and to wear things you know make you feel good.  For one, wearing a new outfit means that you might be in the middle of an important conversation when you realize that your Spanx show when you sit down, or your new dress wrinkles in an unflattering way if you bend.  Most of these people don’t see you in your daily life, so your best outfit at home is probably your best choice for a conference.  Stick with what you know works.

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(And I will be doing just that.  Prints and summer patterns be damned.  I like black dresses, and that’s what I’ll be wearing.)

Pack your clothes in outfits.  Speaking of clothing and pacing . . . BlogHer is a whirlwind.  It is unlikely that you will have a lot of time between keynotes and cocktail parties to leisurely change into your evening attire.  Most of the time at conferences I am busting into my room with about 15 seconds to spare as I change for the evening.  I’ve made it a practice to have my outfits on a hanger, with corresponding jewelry and accessories hanging from a ziploc.  I iron all my clothing for the weekend on the night I arrive, and have everything hanging and ready to go.  I am never this anal at home, but I really value the time at conferences and don’t want to be spending the dinner hour ironing a dress and fishing earrings out of my suitcase.  Also, since I typically fail to sleep at conferences, I like the time that this buys me when I’m trying to get out the door in the morning.

Make a map on mapquest.  There’s nothing quite like being lost in a new city.  If you have some off-site activities, you can plot them all out on a saved map with mapquest and then print it.  It helps to have a visual of where parties are, especially if you are as completely directionless as I am.

Put everything in your schedule.  It really is helpful to plot out where you want to go, and to put the times and locations of parties into your phone’s calendar so that you aren’t trying to search through eventbrite or your email archives for addresses prior to the parties.  Again, the pacing is crazy.  A little planning before-hand will help you be less frazzled during the conference weekend.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people you admire, but give them grace if they disappoint.  It is normal to want to introduce yourself to writers that you admire.  But keep in mind that they are human, too . . .  and if they are making a living writing about their personal life on the internet, there is a good chance they are either introverted or socially anxious OR BOTH.   They may also be overstimulated, or late for a session, or tired, or just at the limit of social interaction.  Also, certain bloggers might feel like celebrities at a conference but with very few exceptions most of us aren’t used to being recognized when we go out on a daily basis.  It can be disconcerting, therefore, to suddenly find yourself in a group of people who know who you are, and not everyone handles it well.  I can say for myself, the one thing that goes through my head when someone gushes about loving my blog?  I’m going to disappoint you right now.  That’s what I’m thinking about – that this person won’t find me that likeable in person.  I know this has caused me to act less-than-personable before.  If you do have the courage to approach a blogger you like and it is awkward or you feel snubbed, don’t overanalyze it. and definitely don’t let it ruin your night.  It happens.   It’s not you, it’s them.

Get out of your comfort zone.  It’s easy to gravitate to the group of people you know and feel comfortable with, but do try to put yourself out there and meet new people.  One of the things I love about the blogging community is seeing the unlikely close relationships that happen between people from really different walks of life.

Say yes.  BlogHer is a short time frame.  Give yourself over to it, make the most of it, and sleep and work later. 

GO TO THE COMMUNITY KEYNOTE.  Seriously.  This is what it is all about – hearing the best writing of the year, read by your peers, and boosting them with your support.  I don’t care what brand event it coincides with.  There’s just no excuse to miss the Keynote.  It is awesome and you will be missing out.

Don’t fret about the private parties.  Private party events are not a measure of your worth as a blogger. Let’s repeat together, shall we?  Private party events are not a measure of your worth as a blogger. Most of the private parties are sponsored by brands that are looking for bloggers who will promote them.  Some of them event required promotion to get on the invite list, making people tweet or schill posts for a ticket in.  If you aren’t going to private parties, make your own fun.  Invite people to dinner, and enjoy the public parties because they really are a ton of fun. 

Go to Sparklecorn.  I promise, the fact that I am now writing for MamaPop does not influence this recommendation – Sparklecorn is legit awesomeness. This party is the most fun of the conference, due in no small part to the fact that it is a) open invite b) devoid of product pitches and c) focused on dancing to great music.  I had a blast last year, and managed to get through the evening without my feet bleeding.  Plus there is a famous DJ and unicorn cake.  UNICORN CAKE!

Prioritize friends and learning over parties.  If you do get a lot of invites, it can be difficult to decide which parties to attend, and how this fits with the friends you want to spend time with.  BlogHer can feel very decentralized and so dominated by private parties and invite-only events that the feeling of community can really get lost.  Last year, even though there were upwards of two thousand women, none of us were ever in the same place at once, and many times I had to split off from friends because of different party schedules. This dynamic felt really awkward to me..  I was invited to some parties.  I wasn't invited to others.  It was weird either way, since I couldn't just invite whatever friend I wanted along to wherever I was going.  But it all pulled the focus away from the thing.  You know, the blogging/community thing.  And speaking of parties . . .

Be honest about the private party dynamic with your friends.  It’s hard to know how to approach the party situation.  You can be open about where you are going and share notes, but then someone is liable to feel left out (or assume you are bragging about your invites).  But the other alternative is to keep mum about where you are going, which is a weird dynamic between friends, too.  One of the yuckiest moments for me last year was when a friend lied to me about a private party.  She told me she was tired and going to bed, and later I saw her out at a private event that I hadn’t been invited to until the last minute.  It would have been so much better to just have her tell me that she had a private event and excuse herself.  Remember, your loyalties are to your friends, not to the PR person who asked you to stay mum about a party. 

Keep perspective on the swag.  You’ve probably spent a lot of time, money, and effort to get to this conference.  Do you really want to blow off a session to go to a swag suite to get a labeled tote bag and ipod speakers?  Is a bag of stuff valued at $25 retail really worth a taxi-cab ride to an off-site party?  Is it even worth paying for an extra bag to lug it home?  It’s easy to lose rationality about free stuff, and if you really lay out your priorities for the conference, I doubt it’s about sample-sized detergent or hair pomade.  Keep your wits about the swag.

Adjust your expectations. It is a crazy, manic experience, and I didn't feel like I got enough time with any one person, but that is probably just not possible with that many people in one place.  You probably won’t make it to everything you want to attend, and you probably won’t get to talk to everyone you want to meet.  That’s okay.

And if you are going to this conference and see me, please say hello.  I really would like to meet you - please don't mistake my deer-in-headlights expression for aloofness.  In case you want to find me, I look like this:

Okay, that is a seriously flattering photo of me. At the conference, I will look more like this:

Please note the bags under my eyes, the obligatory special event breakout, the butchered bangs, the double chin from eating crappy hotel food all week, the food stuck in my teeth, and the stain on my shirt.  Not pictured: the sunburn I got on my head in Palm Springs that has resulted in a peeling scalp that looks like mutant monster dandruff flakes.

If you’re going, leave a link to your “about me” page in the link-up below so I can stalk you a little before we meet. (If the link-up isn't showing below, click the post title to refresh).


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