Monday, September 29, 2014

10 Tips Surviving Your First Blog Conference (or any conference) Successfully

If you've been following FITO Blog (or any of my social media outlets) you haven't miss the fact that I just attended one of the most beneficial & influential conferences ever! I attended the Blog Elevated Conference in Galveston, Texas this past weekend. I haven't been to a conference in years, and especially never attended a conference that is solely centered around blogging. It was quite the experience and thrilling all at the same time. Today I am going to share 10 tips I think any conference goer could should know, whether for blogging, business or pleasure.

1. Be prepared and get ready to network, network, network - being prepared might seem like a no-brainier, since after all you know what you're getting yourself into... including travel and arrangements. But, a I truly believe a little preparation can go a long way. Make sure that you've practiced your introductions and can properly introduce yourself. Be ready, and willing to shake peoples' hands (and look them in the eye). Know what you're going to say about yourself and allow yourself to truly engage with others. Make a list of questions you'd like answers to, related to the conference. Ensure you know where you're going and have a solid game-plan established.

2. Business Cards - this one was my biggest mistakes and I am super bummed I missed this. I wish someone would have given me the heads-up before attending so that's why I think it's so important to share here. Bring business cards! (and lots of them!) Any type of business cards will do - fancy, elaborate, hand-written, whatever. You don't have to shell out tons of money on this, just get something with your information on it! Conference goers want to know who you are and how to get in touch with you once the conference is finished. It sets the tone that you are a professional and serious about your efforts. I feel like I missed out on one of the biggest opportunities to connect outside of the conference, and so many more further connections simply because I did not have any business cards on hand. For example, from just ONE quick 15 minute meet & greet session I gathered over 40 business cards. I have compiled over a hundred business cards from the 2 1/2 days of conference, of people with whom I want to connect with, and remain connected to. Yet they don't have my information... Exchanging business cards are quite standard and I promise you'll be asked if you have a card. Make sure you pack extras because you can't have too many cards to pass out, so bring plenty and hand them out at every opportunity.

3. Step out of your comfort zone - there are hundreds of like minded people that you are surrounded with. Jump out there and get to know those people. They could be your next collaborator, business partner, contributor so go introduce yourself. Have lunch with people you've never met before and open up. Sit next to someone new in each session, get up and move around. I promise (PROMISE) you will have things to chat about and discuss. All it takes is a little effort on your part. Get out there and make connections - there are some pretty amazing people out there just waiting to meet you too.

4. Express yourself and show gratitude - if you've been following a blogger for years, or really enjoyed a blogger's post about empowering women, go tell them! Let people know that you love their work. This really goes a long way and helps set you apart. Also, express your gratitude. There are many people behind the scenes busting their tail for YOU and your experience. Tell them "Thank you". Express gratitude to the speakers and sponsors. Let them know that their hard work is not going unnoticed and that you will use the tools they provided to you to help reach your goals. Then follow-up with telling them why you liked their session on "vlogging" and how you plan on using their social media tips in the (near) future. You'll have nothing to loose and at the end of the day, this good blogging karma.

5. Battery Packs -  bring back up batteries, cords, and chargers. I've never been somewhere where it is acceptable to be on your laptop, phone, and tablet all at the once while attending a speaker's session or lunch. You're in a constant networking mode and being on your Twitter feed all day is completely normal. But,  you never know when your wireless keyboard will loose power of your phone is dying because you've over loaded it with photos, Tweets, and recorded sessions. Bring back ups. I really liked the external battery packs to keep my phone charged. And always had access to power cords. Take a break and re-charge, and if you're not using your power cord to charge your phone, share it with your neighbor who's phone hasn't charged for a day. You never know when you'll be at your next conference and need an extra power cord.

6. Be willing to help out - if you see someone who needs help - extend a helping hand. Help pass out agendas, assist with people who look lost and help them get where they're going, lend someone your power cord to charge up (as mentioned above), pull up a seat for someone. Help when and where you can. We are all in this together and just because you're not a volunteer doesn't mean your knowledge can't help the person next to you, and visa-versa. It's better to be known as overly helpful than not helpful at all.

7. Listen & Ask - Dayna Steele said something so simple, yet so profound. "Listen and Ask". Listen to those you're speaking with. Ask them engaging questions about themselves. Explore their world. If they want to know your entire life story they'll ask, but for now listen to what they have to say and who they are and truly connect with their stories.

8. Be open to suggestions and feedback - this goes right along with #6 & # 7. Please do not get your feelings hurt when someone suggest you should change the colors or font on your blog photos. Or that you should really be using WordPress. Or that you should do a blog post about something else... This might seem disastrous and earth-shattering to some, but be open to suggestions. Many of these people have been in the business for years and they've had countless successes. They're there for a reason and want to help YOU succeed too. Use their insight and knowledge to help propel yourself. Suggestions and critiques are not meant to hurt you, they're meant to HELP YOU. Be willing to accept it, and accept it with grace, and then THANK them for their insight. What kind of conference would it be if people are not giving you feedback and suggestions?! Isn't that the reason you're there in the first place? You need to know what others are thinking about your presence and image so listen, accept, and adjust. Take the suggestions that you can to heart, and gracefully accept the ones you can't. It's all about collaboration, and the more you know, the more you'll grow.

9. ALWAYS have access to the agenda, establish a game plan, & divide and conquer - you know those three break-out sessions that are all occurring at the same time and you want to go to ALL of them but can't be at 3 places at once? Have a game plan. The agenda is your best friend and you need constant access to it. Come up with a game plan before you start attending. Partner up and tackle each session individually. One way of doing this is to record the sessions. For example, my TSMRI team and I each went to different sessions and recorded each session. Then we uploaded the session recordings and our notes to share with each other. First establish which sessions are most beneficial for you and then divide and conquer. If you're traveling alone to the conference partner up with other attendees. I guarantee you they're looking for someone to partner up with and collaborate on the sessions as well. Simply ask and let them know what you can help to help them too.

10. Have some extra room - allow yourself some extra room and time. You will receive many handouts, notes and "swag" from some of these conferences. Make sure you have some extra room in your luggage, car, or carry on to stow away all of your goodies. Give yourself extra time to digest everything that you've been learning. These are jam packed days filled with alot of useful information, take time to reflect. I enjoyed taking a quick break down to the beach to reflect on all the knowledge I gained each day. At the end of the conference our car was packed to the max with all the things we acquired during the conference. Give yourself some breathing room so you can bring home all you gained from the conference.

Our car is packed up and ready to go the last day

Enjoying a nice stroll and selfie break by the ocean

Are you gearing up to attend any conferences in the near future? If so, what conferences? 
Do you have any tips not listed here for new conference goers? If so, use the comments below to share your tips and insight.