6 personal reflections on #BML16

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Last year BML (the parent blogging conference formerly known as BritMums Live) was virgin territory for me. So how different was my experience second time around?

For one thing, this year I was more bleary-eyed – it was the morning after the night before yada yada yada – than bright-eyed. And also this year the format of the conference itself changed. Instead of being spread out over 1½ days, it was condensed into a single day with a separate social event the evening before.

So, let’s start there, shall we?

1. The new one-day format didn’t work for me

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. I don’t think the change of format worked. And, based on conversations with veterans of previous years’ BMLs, many others also preferred the old format of spacing out the event over two days (with a later start on the first day and an earlier finish on the second), rather than one long, intense and tiring day.

Maybe that’s resistance to change as much as anything and maybe I’m attributing the wrong cause to the wrong effect but it felt like the number of attendees was significantly down on last year and I do wonder whether people found it harder to justify a trip to London for a one-day event that in many cases required a two-night stay because of the early start and late finish.

I don’t know the answer to that, other than to note that most of the other major blogging events are single-day (and, obviously, a one-day event is cheaper to organise). But I do feel moving away from two days sacrificed one of BML’s key differentiators. Food for thought.

2. The Friday Fringe was a success (sort of)

BML did kick off with a lower-key social event on the Friday night. The ‘Friday Fringe’ was a smaller social gathering – I’d say there were 100 or so of us – which offered an opportunity to ease in without walking straight in to the mania of the main event.

I enjoyed it. It gave people a focal point to fit in a full evening of chat – I arrived early and met up with others at All Bar One ahead of the do and subsequently returned there for another drink or seven.

What wasn’t so good was the logistics of travelling to a secondary venue a fair distance away. It put a lot of people off going. A shame.

3. Bloggers and parents really can change the world

I listened in awe as Anne-Marie Cockburn (What Martha Did Next) spoke of her daughter Martha’s death aged 15 after taking Ecstasy and the traumatic but positive path it has subsequently propelled her on.

I listened to Helen (Actually Mummy) talk about how she is rattling the cages of Parliament to raise awareness of the threat of type 1 diabetes.

I listened to Oana (Mama’s Haven) speak about the horrific reality of losing a child.

All three are reminders of the power that parents and bloggers can wield simply by sharing their stories. We rock.

4. Tick that off the bucket list

I don’t think anyone has ever sung a BML blogger’s keynote presentation live before.

I certainly never expected to do so myself. I’m a pathologically shy person who can normally be found at conferences hiding in a dark corner pretending to be taking a phone call. Standing on stage in front of an entire audience singing a parody version of the 1980s classic Pretty in Pink is not something I ever expected to do.

Pretty in Pink

But do you know what? It felt brilliant. I have never before received a standing ovation and probably never will again. I was shaking with fear as I stepped on to stage; I was shaking with pride as I walked off it.

People called me ‘brave’ afterwards. I prefer to use the word ‘foolhardy’. But I did it. And that’s what counts. I have blogging to thank for that.

5. It’s all about the social

Having just admitted how shy I am, it sounds contradictory to say I love the social aspect of BML. But everyone there has something in common – we are all bloggers, we are all parents (and I unreservedly include those who have suffered the loss of their child, such as the amazing Leigh from Headspace Perspective) – and my time at BML is mostly spent not in the workshops but simply chatting to friends old and new.

Sometimes it is people I have only recently become friends with, such as the force of (social media) nature that is Donna (What the Redhead Said).

And sometimes it is just about connecting with people who appreciate your work and, conversely, those whose writing you admire. I am so grateful for every positive comment I received from fellow bloggers during BML – so often we exist in our own bubbles and it’s easy to forget that what you write has an impact on others – and, in turn, there are those I look up to such as Sunday Times bestseller Sarah (The Unmumsy Mum), who graciously sought me out for a chat rather than resort to our usual 140-character trading of banter on Twitter.

BML16 Sarah Turner Unmumsy Mum

But the reality of a huge event such as BML is that you never have time to speak to everyone. For every conversation I had, there were three that never got past a hasty “Hi, speak later?” or a wave across a crowded room.

Plus, you know, I’m musical royalty now, right?

6. Bloggers make for amazing friends

BML is more than about meeting new people for a day. I have made connections and friendships that go beyond mere fellowbloggeritis.

For instance, if not for blogging conferences I would never have worked with Meet the Parents podcast crew-mates Amie (Finding Our Feet), Dave (The DADventurer), Vicky (Verily Victoria Vocalises), Hannah (Budding Smiles) and John (DadblogUK). (And also Hayley and Mark, who were unable to make BML this year.)

I won’t even attempt to list all the other friends I have made through blogging. But let me single out Tony (Papa Tont), one of the most generous, honest and underrated bloggers I could ever wish to call ‘friend’, who was not only the first person I encountered at last year’s BML but the first this year too.

We’ll have to aim for the hat-trick next year.

And I will be back next year. In truth, I didn’t think this year’s BML was as good as last year’s. But the conference is about so much more than workshops and awards and the opportunity to connect with brands. It is about something more important than that: it is about a community that has become a second family.

Like blogging itself, BML is more than about the words, images and videos we post – it is about the people behind them. And that’s where its true value lies.

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