Next weekend I’ll be travelling up to Manchester’s Hotel Football to attend the BlogOn conference with close to 200 other bloggers. I’m a veteran now but I remember how scary going to my first one was. So if you’re a first-timer and feeling apprehensive, here are a few words of reassurance and advice to get the most out of your experience.
BlogOn attracts a diverse range of bloggers, covering a range of niches and experience. For many this will be their first blogging event. It can be nerve-racking, throwing yourself into a room full of 200 strangers. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
For starters, even if you’ve never met another blogger face-to-face before, not everyone will be a complete stranger. Everyone at BlogOn is united by a common interest. And the reality is we do all know other people already via their blogs and social media. We’ve shared photos of our kids, talked about common interests, traded jokes and memes. In some cases we may never have met before but I talk to many bloggers and share little snippets of my daily life more than I do with my ‘real’ friends.
It’s all about the people
So the reality is you will know some people there, at least virtually. But there will also be lots of people you may never have encountered before. That can be scary too. Again, it doesn’t need to be.
One of the biggest benefits of BlogOn is the sense of community and friendship it engenders.
Now if you’re an introvert like me – and blogging and introversion often go hand-in-hand – the thought of meeting new people may make you want to hide behind your smartphone or the nearest large pot plant. (At least, that’s what it does to me.) If you really want to, it’s possible to get through the whole day without doing anything more than sit in sessions and occasionally say “excuse me” or ask for directions.
If that’s all you do, fair enough. But you’d be missing out.
Even if (like me) you’re the shyest of the shy, get out there and introduce yourself to someone. Bloggers are always delighted to meet someone new, even if they’ve never read your blog and don’t know your name. (You quickly get used to the three-pronged approach of introducing yourself by your name, your blog name and your Twitter handle, in the hope that a penny drops somewhere.) And even if you don’t click immediately with someone, there are always 200 other people to try.
We were all newbies once
This will be my seventh BlogOn – and 12th blogging conference in total. But I still clearly remember the feeling of going to my first one. I’m painfully shy. I didn’t know anyone. I nearly turned around and went home. Twice.
But I’m so glad I stayed. I made lots of new friends, many of whom I’ve remained in close contact with even though some have long since stopped blogging. I may only see them once a year, but we’re always chatting on social media. We trade tips and stories. We participate in weekly Fitbit challenges together. Some of us are even doing a Tough Mudder as a team later this year. The people I’ve met through blogging inform, entertain and inspire me on a daily basis – more than many of them will ever know.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all been the conference newbie. So we know what it’s like. And we survived – and thrived – supported by the new friends we made.
So whether the first person you meet at BlogOn is a fellow newbie or an old hand, don’t be afraid to say hi. Even those of us who’ve been around for a while (like me) or who seem to glide through the whole thing effortlessly and seem to know everybody (not me) are often still that shy, nervous newbie on the inside. So don’t be intimidated – even the so-called ‘big’ bloggers who we mentally put on pedestals may be just as shy as you are and desperate to talk to someone new.
So what do I do?
If all else fails, come and say hi to me. I’m one of the more recognisable faces in the crowd – the benefit of being both male and Oriental! – and I will always make time to chat with someone new. (I’ll be hiding behind a large pot plant studiously pretending to be reading something really important on my phone.)
But there are also things you can do before and during BlogOn to make things easier for yourself. If you’re not in the Facebook group already, get yourself added to it. Maybe there is another attendee who lives near you who you can arrange to travel with. If you’re coming up the day before, there will be different groups heading out to dinner together who will gladly add one more to their party. Likewise, there is a small chance that some of us will be in the bar at Hotel Football or the Premier Inn afterwards, shooting the breeze. (Obviously, we will all be sipping soft drinks and no one will have a hangover the following day. Ahem.) Or maybe you could arrange to buddy up with someone in the morning and sign in together.
And, of course, there is the after-conference party on the Saturday evening, where you can spend even more time with your new-found friends.
So, yes, bring a big suitcase – you really will need one! – for all your goody bags and raffle winnings. Bring your phone/camera, your power banks and your business cards (strictly a nice-to-have, you’ll be fine if you don’t have any). But most of all, bring a smile and a willingness to interact with others. Even if the thought of making small talk with new people fills you with the kind of dread you normally reserve only for changing the nappy of a baby with diarrhoea.
You will make new friends at BlogOn. That’s just the kind of event it is, and it’s why people like me keep coming back twice a year.
See you there?