Knackered. Energised. Proud. Humbled. Educated. Challenged. Inspired.
No, these are not the names of vertically-challenged characters in the forthcoming Hollywood live action remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They’re the words that describe how I feel after my first BritMums Live conference, the largest UK event of its kind for parent bloggers.
I was petrified about attending an event with over 700 peers, of whom I had previously met – hang on a second while I work this out – exactly none. Zero. Nada. Nul. Zilch.
The fact is, I had a whale of a time.
Here are 16 observations – some general, others more personal – from two intense, draining days. They are the reasons why I would not hesitate to sign up for next year’s event and why, if you are wavering over whether to attend, you absolutely should do.
1. Being part of a tiny testosterone island (I counted 11 of us) in a sea of oestrogen – the male-to-female blogger ratio was close to 70:1 – is not the scariest part of being a dad at BritMums Live. Seeing how much free wine a group of mums unencumbered by children can consume is the scariest part. There’s a reason it’s held at a venue called The Brewery.
2. It’s okay being outnumbered to that extent, for three reasons. One, my fellow dads are, to a man, top blokes. Two, it makes you easy to recognise. And finally, three, so many of the mums were so friendly and inclusive. A special thank you to Vicki (Honest Mum), who is so incredibly generous to all fellow bloggers and has been a source of both support and inspiration to me. You rock, Vicki.
3. I have it in me to be a Guinness World Record holder. It may appear from the photos that we were being cast as extras in an episode of The Walking Dead, but we were actually setting a new official record for – and I am 100% serious about this – the most people wrapped as mummies in three minutes. (BritMums, mummies – geddit?)
— GuinnessWorldRecords (@GWR) June 19, 2015
4. Nothing breaks the ice as quickly as introducing yourself to a woman you’ve never met before and saying, “Hi, I’m Tim. Don’t mind me, I’m just going to get intimate with you and some Andrex.” Normally, that gets you arrested, right?
5. I thought I was walking into a room full of strangers. I was wrong. It was more like walking into a family gathering. I was stunned by how many people recognised me and came over for a hug and a chat given that I was (a) a newbie and (b) not exactly a big ‘name’. That felt amazing.
6. If you hustle hard enough, it’s possible to wangle a free meal. Hats off to John (Dad Blog UK) and Martyn (Inside Martyn’s Thoughts), who strong-armed Pizza Express and Nando’s into serving entire groups free food and drink in return for some social media glad-handing.
7. Free wine! (Courtesy of sponsors Lindemans.) Just saying.
8. There aren’t many instances in life where it’s socially acceptable for everyone sat in a room to be constantly on their phones. At BritMums Live it’s almost mandatory.
9. Two days is not enough time to talk to everyone. I went with a mental hit-list of around 100 people I wanted to meet. In the end I achieved perhaps two-thirds of that number, managed a “Hi, catch you later?” with others and failed to connect altogether with a handful. Drat.
The award for the Most Likely Ship That Passes In The Night goes to the lovely Leigh (Headspace Perspective). She and I must have said/tweeted hello in passing 20 times over the two days. But it was not to be. Next time, Leigh.
10. I really need to up my networking game. I’m in awe of people such as Vicki or Aby (You Baby Me Mummy) who know everyone’s name and can work a room, gliding from person to person in less time than it takes me to say “Er, what did you say your name is and what’s your blog again?”
11. I know it’s juvenile, but there’s nothing quite as amusing as the prim and proper Carol Smillie talking about things going “tits up”. And nothing quite as disconcerting as listening to her talk matter-of-factly about women’s sanitary issues and trampolining. TMI.
12. I’ve always said that monetising my blogging is a side benefit rather than an objective. This weekend has only reinforced that for me, as I consistently bypassed talking to brands and PRs in favour of spending time socialising with my peers.
13. Although the geek in me loves poring over my blog stats, I always say they don’t really matter that much to me, and that remains true. But I was genuinely touched by the number of people who went out of their way to say how much they enjoy my writing, often referencing specific posts. I cannot begin to express how much that genuine peer recognition means to me. Thank you.
14. The blogger keynotes at the end of the event, where 13 bloggers read out a selected post to the entire audience, showed just how much I need to up my game as a writer. Heart-tugging tragedy, laugh-out-loud humour – the keynotes ran the whole gamut of emotion with one thing in common: brilliant, brilliant writing that doesn’t so much tug the heart-strings as yank them forcefully from your chest until tears of pain or laughter flow freely. I blubbed like a baby at least five times. I blame the onions.
I don’t really want to single individuals out as everyone was fantastic, but Jenny’s (The Brick Castle) post about her stepdaughter’s suicide earned a standing ovation, while Dave’s (The DADventurer) open apology to his eight-month-old-daughter was a fitting representative of the dads’ community. The man has comic timing to burn. Bastard.
15. I want to up my game. Improving my skills as a writer means more to me than anything. I’ll trade quality over quantity and plaudits over income any day. I love to write. That’s probably to my detriment as a blogger, which is about so much more than just the words on the page. I’m okay with that.16. Finally, an observation that took me by surprise during the keynotes. We naturally tend to read other people’s writing in our own voice. But to hear them read their own words with their own accent, tone and cadence lends so much more weight. And, going forward, I will now ‘hear’ anything I’ve read by bloggers I’ve met in their voice. That’s quite something.
Finally, to all the people I didn’t speak to, spoke to only briefly or looked at blankly when you strode up and said, “Hi Tim” while I frantically tried to associate your face with a name, blog and Twitter handle, I am so, so sorry. I cannot even begin to count the times I was mortified by my own fallible memory. I love you all.
So, who’s up for BritMums Live 2016? See you there?