There aren’t many things that will get me out of bed and on to a train on a sleety, wintry morning at 6:30am, but a day out at Mumsnet’s annual Blogfest conference is one.
Here are 14 things I took away from the day.
1. Let me get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Dads remain an under-represented constituency at parent blogging conferences. Yes, I know it’s called ‘Mumsnet’. The store is called ‘Mothercare’ too, and I doubt anyone would argue that should be a female-only preserve. By my count there were four dad bloggers out of an audience of (my estimate) 400 or so – an even lower proportion than at Britmums Live, which I’ve talked about previously. I’m not saying dads should represent anywhere near 50% of the attendees but equally 1% doesn’t feel right either. Is 10% a realistic target?
2. I don’t think it helps when the opening panel session takes a distinctly negative, male-bashing tone. Yes, I appreciate that 99% of the audience were mums and there was a lot of laughter in the room. Yes, I know it’s possible to take things too seriously. But there’s not much point complaining about the unfairness of female stereotypes on the one hand while applying the most antiquated of male ones on the other. Contrary to the caricatures, we’re not all beer-swilling misogynistic monsters. (Some of us drink wine rather than beer …) And don’t think this is just the dads being overly sensitive. Some of the mums collared me afterwards and made a point of saying that they felt bad on our behalf.
3. It is entirely possible to promote a women’s agenda with intelligence and wit and without mud-slinging. Exhibit A: Sandi Toksvig. Exhibit B: stand-up comedienne Shappi Khorsandi. Maybe you just need to have ‘Sandi’ in your name somewhere.
4. It can be a little daunting coming to an event like this for the first time, especially when so many people already know each other. But if you say hello, the vast majority of people will chat to you. Saying, “I follow you on Twitter/Instagram/your blog” is a perfectly acceptable opening line and not at all stalker-y. (I find it works better than “Do you come here often?”)
5. According to Sandi Toksvig, 17 of the top 100 companies in the FTSE index are headed up by men named John, versus seven companies led by women. I’m not sure which is the scarier number.
6. David Baddiel is a very funny man. This should not come as a surprise. But crime writer Val McDermid was great too. The ‘Think Bombs’ session featuring Toksvig, McDermid and Baddiel was the highlight of the day for me.
7. Even as bloggers who aren’t beholden to a strict word count, it’s good discipline to hold yourself to one. In the words of professional columnists such as the Guardian’s Tim Dowling and the Times’s Robert Crampton, good writing is not about using lots of flowery language, adjectives and adverbs. And the phrase you love the most is probably the one you should drop first. (Or, as a former mentor once told me, check your ego at the door and be utterly ruthless about your own work.)
8. In a nutshell, the biggest difference between Britmums Live and Blogfest is that Britmums focuses slightly more on the tools and techniques of blogging, while Blogfest focuses a bit more on the craft of writing. One isn’t better than the other – they’re just different and cater for varying needs within the same audience.
9. Blogging events are the one place where it is not only socially acceptable to be surgically attached to your phone checking your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but it is practically mandatory. Even if the people you are tweeting are sitting right next to you. It’s all about the banter. (That’s my excuse, anyway.)
10. People who use the Q&A at the end of sessions to ask 18 supplementary questions after their first one – it is not a one-on-one clinic session with an audience of 400. Ask your question, let other people have their turn and don’t be so bloody selfish.
11. Forget what non-bloggers say about blogging. There are some seriously talented writers in the parent blogging community, who can both inform and entertain, and make you laugh or cry. The brilliant Hurrah for Gin, Brummy Mummy of 2 and Complicated Gorgeousness were thoroughly deserving winners of this year’s awards, but there is inspiring writing everywhere you look.
12. The best part of these events is the social side of it. Come to learn new skills. Come to be inspired. But, most of all, come to have fun.
13. No matter how efficient you are at working a room – and I’m really not – there simply isn’t enough time to meet and properly talk to everyone you want to see. That’s just how it is. No one will be offended if you cut a conversation short. At least, I hope not.
14. Bloggers will drink any bar dry, no matter how well stocked it is. This is a scientifically proven fact.
Despite the odd quibble, I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Blogfest. The event itself was well organised and the venue (Kings Place, a stone’s throw from Kings Cross station) was excellent.
Most of all, though, the content was good but the company was better. See you next year?