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5 Things I Learned at BlissDom 2013

I just got back from Blissdom ’13 in Dallas. While I’ve been blogging for almost three years and have built somewhat of a following, this was my first blogging conference.

Ultimately, what motivated me to attend this conference was my desire to connect with three women bloggers I admire: Erin Margolin, Kiran Ferrandino and Greta Funk. While some women opted to have individual rooms during the conference, I’m a summer camp girl. I knew I would feel better if I had a few women I could count on to be my home base, and I couldn’t have picked better roomies.

Screen shot 2013-03-26 at 1.06.35 PM
Erin, me, Kiran & Greta

I woke up at 5 AM and traveled seven hours to get to Texas. I was exhausted when I got to the Gaylord Texan Hotel.** As I mentioned in a prior post, I was anxious about attending BlissDom. But the moment I checked in, it was game on. This brings me to the first thing you have to know about going to a conference for the first time.

1. BEING A NEWBIE IS TOUGH

As a teacher for over twenty years, I’m used to speaking to groups of people and (sometimes) flying by the seat of my pants. I’m pretty good at mixing and mingling, but even I found BlissDom a little overwhelming. The hotel was large and initially difficult to negotiate. I suppose I’d forgotten what it feels like to do something new.

Being at BlissDom reminded me of my very first day of school. Remember how you worried you would never figure out how to find your classes, how you prayed someone would ask you to sit next to them in the cafeteria, how you were in awe of the older students who seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they were going?

An extrovert who is generally energized by people, I felt drained at the end of each day. I can only imagine what some of the more introverted folks felt.

As a newbie, I worried a lot. Was I in the right sessions? Was I missing opportunities? Was I talking to the right people? Sometimes when I’m exposed to something new and scary, one of my least appealing coping mechanisms kicks in. I click into teacher mode and look for mistakes, little flaws and inconsistencies, to make the internal me feel a little bit superior and less out of control.

Case in point. The first night, conference goers attended a Kick Off Reception as well as a Partner Meet & Treat. I knew that there would be corporate sponsors, but holy swag!

I watched people cramming tote bags with towels and hair care products, applesauce and raisins, lip balms and bug spray, diaper ointment and Duck tape. Women were tweeting and Instagramming furiously, trying to win sunglasses, a vacuum cleaner, a cruise, furniture.

Because I felt out of my element, I turned up my nose.

So much stuff.

So much hoopla.

So many cupcakes.

(And no Canada Dry Ginger Ale!)

After a while, I remembered that the Meet & Greet was exactly why people were there. The gathering represented an opportunity. Clearly, sponsors were crossing their fingers, hoping bloggers would fall in love with their products and continue to buy them, maybe even blog about them for their readers. And bloggers were thrilled to directly network with sponsors who were open to hearing different ways of exposing their products to different markets.

Coffee Cup

Luckily, I caught myself being a Debbie Downer.

Seriously, if I met someone with my attitude, I would have wanted to smack that girl upside the head and serve her with a tall-glass of boot to the face.

Part of the problem was that I kept hearing the voices of all the people who told me I should have attended a writing conference. Truth be told,  I don’t think I would have felt any different at a writing conference. I would have been intimidated and out of control and worried I had made an expensive mistake.

At BlissDom, I felt pressure to make sure that I was getting the most bang for my buck. After all, conferences aren’t cheap. I wanted to make sure I was maximizing my time.

And all that pressure was exhausting.

That’s why it’s important to…

2. BE PREPARED

If you are going to a blogging conference, make damn sure you know how to answer the following question:

“What do you blog about?”

Because I soooo didn’t.

I’d say:  “I’m a writer. I write about everything. I like to play with words.”

But this concept did not transfer well in the blogging world.

Many of the first people I met had faboo products they were trying to sell: spectacular jewelry and cool aprons and yummy soaps and felted wreaths. Some people baked doggie treats or people treats. And some people focused on hair and makeup and fashion. But everyone asked: What do you blog about? So I had to figure it out. Right there.

imagesWhat in the hell is my blog about? What am I selling?

Eventually I realized, I am the story behind my blog.

Me.

And if folks like the way I tell a tale, well, maybe some of them might want to read my book one day.

Duh.

It only took me forty-seven hours to figure that out.

3. YOU ONLY NEED TO MAKE A FEW GOOD CONNECTIONS

In his keynote speech, author and motivational speaker, Jon Acuff said the most important thing to do at any conference is to meet a few good people. Not a hundred. Not fifty. A few. Prior to the conference, I had 500 business cards printed. Two-hundred would have been more than ample. I only gave my card to people I genuinely liked, folks with whom I could see myself having future contact.

Unless you are a graphic designer who specializes in business cards, you don’t need to collect eleventy-two jizillion business cards. You’ll meet a few people you like and feel comfortable with. It is with these people you will want to exchange cards. It will happen organically.

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who has read your blog and be excited to meet you. You will remember these people forever. You will want to buy them things.

You’ll  probably meet a few people you admire, people who might be able to teach you a thing or two, people who seem willing to help.

These people will become part of your network and…

4. NETWORKING IS THE REASON YOU ARE AT THE CONFERENCE 

I met many talented women at BlissDom.

Aimee Broussard makes the freaking cutest aprons.

And Angela Youngblood. How can a chick with a bod like that have four kids? Kind and funny, she is also one helluva writer.

And Gigi Ross is an even bigger rock star to me now that I have met her in person.

Did I love every session? No.

Did I click with everyone? Of course not.

But each of us found our people.

That’s one heckuva magic trick.

And now I shall leave you with a tip.

5. ENJOY THE VENUE

Once I stopped trying to fix BlissDom, I started to enjoy what it had to offer.

There is much to be said about letting down one’s hair.

And that is probably how I ended up in the Alberto VO5 Hair Salon.

It started with an innocent question about how to control the frizzies.

But somehow I found myself in a chair, getting my hair flat-ironed and styled.

Screen shot 2013-03-26 at 1.07.10 PM

And while I was there, I had my make-up done.

And did I want fake eyelashes?

Um, yes please.

Because why not?

Who knew I was going to have a mini spa-day in the middle of BlissDom?

BlissDom was unlike any conference I’d attended before.

It offered attendees head to toe rejuvenation to its attendees, most of whom are women.

And what woman doesn’t need a little TLC?

I could do as much or as little as I wanted.

I was free to engage with new people without the pressure of having to report back to a principal or department chair.

I was only accountable to myself.

I didn’t have to follow the feet.

I didn’t have to cook or clean.

Thank goodness I recognized how much joy I was missing out on by being judgmental with plenty of time left to enjoy the conference.

Teachers are taught to think critically, to look for the cracks and the inconsistencies. We are trained to listen for the wrong answers. But sometimes, we are too ready to deduct points with red and green and purple pens.

Sometimes it’s more about the process than the product.

All conferences are about growth and self-improvement.

But Blissdom was about feeling and dreaming and connecting and, hopefully, igniting something inside of us.

Personally, I felt like I went on a vacation.

I obviously needed one.

Did the earth move for me?

I don’t know.

But maybe it didn’t have to.

Maybe having that realization is enough.

Now I’ve seen what a blogging conference is all about.

Engaging. Networking. Connecting.

Hopefully, I’ve learned from some of those bigger kids and I’ll start off more relaxed at whatever conference I choose to attend next.

blissdom @ gaylord 0313_7DN1063

What do you want to know about BlissDom? Or if you went, what was your experience like? If you wrote a post, leave a link so I can come check you out!

tweet me @rasjacobson

**Much gratitude to the folks at the Gaylord Texan. If you’re going to the Gaylord in Dallas-Fort Worth, ask for room 7090. Four women with five suitcases stayed there comfortably for 3-nights with more than ample room. The staff even delivered extra hangers, towels and coffee to our room for us! How nice is that? Thank you Gaylord Hotels!

117 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned at BlissDom 2013

  1. Thanks for the shout out! It was great to meet you. And I loved the recap, totally relate to so much of it. Especially just letting go, letting your hair down and enjoying it–I have a tendancy to overanalyze. Great post! I’m excited to get to know you even more through your blog and follow your adventures.

    1. I read your post this year AND your post from last year. Wowzers! What a difference a year makes. I’m excited to have met you! I really feel like I found the most wonderful women. Now I need to track down Jaima. She was delicious, too!

  2. I saw you all over the conference but don’t think we ever actually met. (I was mostly in the Johnson & Johnson suite. In fact, I think I snapped you in one of the pics on the blog today http://www.jnjparents.com/content/bloggers-make-promise-good-blissdom13). I would never have known you were an inexperienced conference goer but I can tell you that they are addictive. Once you really get that sense of community, you want to keep going back for more!

    1. Hi Fadra: I was trying to work the conference! And, as I said, I’m not introverted. Plus, it’s hard to miss the girl in the sundress over the jeans. LOL. Seriously, once I figured out that BlissDom was really a fabulous party, I had an amazing time! I loved your post. And yes, that was me attempting to figure out how to post a tweet for @ConAgra. At the time, the Twitter feed was down. I ended up shooting one to my Facebook Fan Page. So nice to meet you. And guess what? I’m following you now! 🙂

  3. I’m in love with this post and want to kiss it right on the lips.
    I’ve been blogging for seven years and it wasn’t until last week I figured out what my blog is about.
    Feelings and emotions.
    Boom. Finally.
    (Also, I am very guilty of some of the flaws you pointed out, the superiority thing? Totally.)

    1. I think when we feel a little insecure or overwhelmed, well…we start to deconstruct things. It’s one way to process things. I’ve seen a few posts from women saying there were “mean girls” at BlissDom. Ironically, these chicks are the ones who seemed the most clique-y! I wonder if they are aware that their insecurity is showing? Maybe it is a realization that comes with age.

      I’m just glad I was able to catch my behavior before it wrecked my otherwise fabulous weekend! What a wonderful escape from all the drudgery and the routine! If nothing else, maybe BlissDom gave you clarity as to what your blog is about. Boom. Clarity. It’s no small thing! Thanks for visiting me at my place!

      1. I think that’s common. If the situation is uncomfortable, evaluate it, and find the faults in it. I’m not saying it’s the best solution. I’m not saying it’s a practical solution. It’s just one that most of us use, because our heritage has trained us to do that.

        So we do, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

        When I got into sales, the hardest thing was learning to avoid doing that, and just press on with my pre-existing plan, because the customer didn’t even know that I was perceiving a problem with my reception… Odds are that the other people in the room may have been reacting the same way you were, but for different reasons. Or maybe even the same reasons, applied to different people!

        Crowds are fun. Our reactions to them are even more fun.

        Wayne

  4. Awesome. I love how you distilled this. And that last pic? That is your author photo, Renzay. Yes, yes it is.

  5. I am going to my first conference this spring and feel totally unprepared (I see people posting photos of what their going to wear,too and apparently I have shopping to do – or sponsors to find!) Reading you advice about knowing how to answer the question “what do you blog about” was like striking gold for me. – so thank you.

    As I saw everyone tweeting about Blissdom, it made me want to go. For many reasons – but especially that V05 hair booth. My hair *may* be bigger than the hair you describe as yours!

    1. Do what I do. Blue jeans, cream dress shirt, cowboy books, Firefly Browncoat…

      Simple, easy, and straight out of the closest 🙂

      WAyne

  6. So glad you went Renee. It is so hard sometimes to go out of our own comfort zone. And it sounds like you got a lot out of it. We all need a shot in the arm to keep going. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  7. Thanks for the recap of Blissdom. I didn’t go, but I loved peeking in and seeing what people took away!

  8. Thanks for such an honest assessment. I felt the same way: overwhelmed by so many new people, and a little shocked by the heavy brand influence. But then, of course, it’s about the people, and meeting one new person at a time, and that part was great. Hope to meet you at another conference one day! (I’d love to have you submit a “moment” or essay to my website: http://GreatMomentsinParenting.com/)

  9. OK, I’m totally intrigued. I know about writing conferences, but didn’t even know blogging conferences were available. Wow.

    1. I know, right? I didn’t know either — but Blissdom was lovely. And I met a lot of great people. There are incredible opportunities out there. It’s really a matter of how far I want to go with pursuing things.

  10. If I had gone to Blissdom, I think I’d have been/felt/acted exactly like you.
    With less awesome hair.

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