Blogfest 2016: The good, the bad and the ugly

I attended my second Blogfest, organised by Mumsnet, on Saturday. Here’s what I thought of it: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good

Let’s start with what was good about this year’s Blogfest.

Two words: Davina McCall. For 15 minutes she spoke without notes about her recovery from drug addiction and how difficult she found it to love – or even just like – herself again. It was a personal and positive story of female empowerment – everything you could want from a keynote speaker.

If Davina was the highlight, there was other good stuff too. The five-minute ‘thinkbombs’ delivered by Bryony Gordon, Ed Balls (by pre-recorded video from Strictly rehearsals) and Lucy Porter were entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.

lucy-porter-trump-quote

I also found some of the points made in the Blogging: A force for good session about campaigning very apt in the light of Brexit and the US election result. The danger of online ‘filter bubbles’, where social media algorithms are biased towards showing you only opinions similar to your own. The importance of bridging the divide between strongly polarised views, seeking to understand the opposing viewpoint to help build common ground. Stonewall’s Ruth Hunt talking about how you deal with entrenched beliefs that denounce and deny the existence of the LGBT community.

The closing panel session, Know your voice, provided some insightful perspectives on honing your writing voice.

Overall, Blogfest makes you think more about the craft of writing and wider issues in the world around us than other conferences do.

And, of course, the social aspect of the day, which is my primary driver for attending blogging events. There is never enough time to have a proper conversation with everyone but it’s always lovely to meet up with friends, both old and new. More than anything, it’s the relationships that bind the blogging community together. Well, that and prosecco.

blogfest-2016-social-friends

Blogfest has a different focus from the other major blogging events. It is great for writing inspiration and issues with a feminist slant, offering a range of content you simply don’t get elsewhere. If this floats your boat, Blogfest is for you.

The bad

Okay, not so much the bad as the ‘meh’. Some sessions worked very well but some only half-delivered and left me wanting more.

When I attend a session at a blogging conference, I am looking for at least one of four things: be inspiring, be thought-provoking, offer practical advice, be entertaining. At this year’s Blogfest, the hit rate was 50% at best for me. Having sounded out several others during and after the event, I’d say there was a fairly even split – about half thought it had been a great day, half were less impressed. It varies a lot depending on what you are looking to get out of the day.

For me, I was less inspired this year than I was last year.

A personal opinion: while it’s great that Mumsnet brings in some heavy-hitting names as speakers and panelists, not all of them brought that much to the table sofa and it pushes the ticket price up. I left at the end of the day having jotted down three lines in my notebook. I expected more.

Another key element of the day for many bloggers – albeit one that means little to me – is the range of brands present and the quality of the goodie bag. This year I have been to BML, BlogOn and now Blogfest. Blogfest has the least impressive array of brands and is middle of the pack in terms of the goodie bag. Again, this is based on anecdotal evidence from other attendees rather than solely my individual view.

The ugly

Yes, there were bits that weren’t very good. All the large blogging conferences suffer from this to a degree – you can’t possibly be everything for everyone – but I left at the end of the day feeling both uninspired and disappointed.

Too many sessions meandered aimlessly. Panelists waffled on at length, unmoderated by the session facilitator, without really saying much of value. There was insufficient time to do more than cursory Q&As in many cases. Overall, many of the sessions I attended lacked real depth (although I understand some of the more practical sessions such as the YouTube ones were good).

Worse still, I felt the strongly feminist agenda (which I’m fine with) strayed too often from being pro-women to being man-bashing. At times I felt invisible as people talked only about ‘mums’ and ‘women’ rather than ‘parents’. And then someone would mention men, but only in the context of raising a cheap laugh, at which point I wanted to be invisible again. Mumsnet’s motto ‘by parents, for parents’ is inclusive. The behaviour and the language used in many of the sessions was not – that’s a subject for a separate post.

There were (I think) just six male bloggers present on Saturday out of (at a guess) 400 attendees. There was little to encourage them to feel welcome and want to return next year.

In summary … I love blogging conferences. But I was disappointed with this year’s Blogfest. Its content didn’t deliver enough and the vibe was unpleasant. And so, to borrow a catchphrase from TV’s Dragons’ Den, for that reason I’m out. I’ll be spending my blog-related cash elsewhere next year. Blogfest 2016 gets a thumbs-down from me.

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