My Top Ten Conference Tips!

This is the last post about the IFBC conference for this year. After reading countless posts on the IFBC, I wanted this one to be a bit different. Most of you (that were there especially) learned a lot and shared many of the best moments from the sessions with everyone so I thought I’d share a couple of things that were important to me and haven’t been covered (too much) yet.

1. Be Yourself! 

This photo I think really sums it up! From: Eat the Love (http://www.eatthelove.com/2013/06/food-blogging-conference/)

Nothing could be more important. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you have, how many people subscribe to your newsletters and emails, your personality is the most memorable thing!

The things I remember most about the people who I met were how they started their blogs and how much their personality ties straight back to their blogs. These are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet and honestly, each person feels touched by other “complete strangers” that tell them that they recognize and have read their blog. For me, I was shocked to see the face that went with the blog – it was like putting a face to an old pen pal. I fashioned what I thought they looked like in my mind and each blog has a certain voice, so it’s fun to see who has a southern accent and curly hair and how old they are from the way that I have imagined them from post to post. And it really makes each blog come to life!

2. Connect BEFORE you go!

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If you are unsure who you will talk to, or if you will talk to anyone that doesn’t approach you or sit at your table, then start perusing blogs as the attendees list gets updated. Often you find new recipes to try, you might take a break to fix a lunch or turn the oven on or Pin something for later. But slowly, you get to know some of the other bloggers that will be attending. I like to read the “ABOUT ME” sections so I have an idea of where they are coming from to see how I might connect with other bloggers.

3. Set Goals. 

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For me, there were only two big goals and things I wanted to get out of the conference – everything else would be a bonus:

A. Improve my Food Photography & Styling
B. Improve my Food Writing

What I realized at the end of the first day was that I became completely swept away with the rush of everyone talking about schmoozing sponsors and increasing your SEO rating (what the heck is that anyways??) and how stressed they were and desperate to increase their stats and suddenly I’m trying to figure out how I could pay someone not too much to help me with all this and making a kick-ass sophisticated website and increasing my blogroll so that it would be simply obnoxious but hopefully get the attention of the “bigger and more popular” bloggers so they could put me on their blogroll – and suddenly I felt like an even smaller fish in an enormous pond, lost, confused and completely frazzled. Then it hit me – I don’t even care about those things! Most of what I wanted to accomplish were things for myself – I want to polish my photography and improve my writing so that I could keep the readers I have engaged in my stories, memories and silly recollections of the chaos that went into making each recipe and sharing it with my family. I figure if I just love what I do and exude that through my posts and continue with my original goal of organizing and making accessible my favorite recipes with my friends and family, little by little, more and more people will pick up and read my blog too!

I’m just so thankful for the readers I do have that aren’t friends and family – I’m not sure how they found me, but I’m sure glad they stop by! As Dorie Greenspan said in the Keynote address at the IFBC a couple of months ago, “I would write and publish cookbooks and the only thing I knew for certain was that my mother was reading them.”

How true, Dorie, how true!

The main take away here is that you want to remember why you are at the conference in the first place, and not to get swept away with all the details that other people might be driven by. Each and every one of us have very different goals. Some of the attendees just wanted to connect with other bloggers and see what everyone else is doing, others want to grow their blog into a serious business or get a cookbook deal out of it, and some want to write for a food & drink magazine – if those aren’t your goals, don’t worry yourself with keeping up with those folks. Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the conference and make sure you get out of it what you wanted and let everything else be a bonus!

4. Eat Well & Rest

From: http://acookingmizer.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/08e64-feetup.jpg

This may sound silly to you, especially if you attended the conference – since you know just how much food and drink are circulating at all times at the conference. I’m still overwhelmed when I think about all the food I ate in a very short two-day span. Just when you thought you were hungry, there was another tasting and another door opening to a room full of sponsors with plates of food and cups full of cocktails, sodas, waters, etc. It is a little silly to think that you could attend a Food Blogging Conference and get hungry I suppose, since everyone is so desperate to try the “new and happenin’ foods” and the Chefs have worked so hard to prepare these plates for us. But many people found that they just needed to take a nap or sit in the quiet of their room during one of the sessions or between sessions and even sneak out to get a full meal rather than dining on several small plates.

For me, I certainly took downtime – I caught up with my fellow Doristas at the Starbucks across the street from the W Hotel just to chat and sit still for twenty minutes. Other times, I found a quiet (or relatively quiet place) to sort through business cards, write notes to myself and call my husband and kiddos to just check in and hear about something other than food. These little breaks were nice since I always bumped into another blogger that would be “resting” as well and we would have a light conversation about anything but the conference. How wonderful!

5. Business Cards!

Here’s what you need to worry about when it comes to business cards – design yours with care! It is a direct reflection of you and your blog and will help to make yours stand out from the rest and people will remember you by it.

The things I appreciated on the business cards I received was a blank back so I could write myself some notes (especially if I was going to email that person something or check a link on their blog for a recipe or something they mentioned), and at the very least, their email, name and blog address – it made finding them after the conference very simple.

The mistakes I made with mine came from the printing of them. From what I was promised to what arrived, the font was tiny and hard to read, the colors were darker than what I had chosen and it felt very silly to hand these out – but then I ordered 500 hundred, so now I’m determined to make the best of them. I had a friend proof them when they arrived, since I was travelling in the weeks leading up to the conference and I didn’t have a good chance to look them over and get them properly re-printed. Thankfully, most people overlooked the details that were making me feel ridiculous but I certainly know what I’m going to be doing next time I print business cards. I’ve decided these will be going out with giveaway items and tagged onto food gifts that I prepare so I can really print a better card.

The ones I really enjoyed the most were printed on both sides and had a neat photo of a seasonal recipe or some cool graphics but I had to write my notes about them on something else so it made it a bit more cumbersome but really its a personal preference. I kept all my business cards in a box, with a few in my name tag so I could access them quickly and re-stock as the day went on, and the ones I collected, I had a little envelope in my bag and I sorted them on breaks and at the end of the day, rubber banding them together by day so I could remember who is who in the weeks after the conference. Many other bloggers will suggest putting the cards in a business card sleeve – which was my preference but everyone that usually stocks them were sold out since the conference hit about the same time as back to school. Something to consider for the next conference I go to!

Here are some great websites to look into for creating your business cards, you can make them as fancy or simple as you like – I would suggest a slightly sturdier card so it holds up well, and a non-matte paper so that you don’t need a sharpie to write notes on it. Either way, I had a couple of ink pens and a fine-tip sharpie on hand for any writing needs that might come my way throughout the conference.

Here are some links for some other great bloggers with their tips on business cards!

Oh and my last note on business cards? I printed 500 and gave out roughly 150. But I wanted to be sure that I had at least 300 (one for each attendee) plus sponsors (just in case) and I have been handing out the extras in all sorts of circumstances and to friends & family since the conference.

6. Dress “business casual” …?

not so business casual, but you will turn heads for sure!

I took this to heart and really dressed business casual, and I really stuck out. Most people opted for jeans, comfy shoes and looked like they were just hanging out with friends while I looked more like a sponsor on a hunt for bloggers. I was comfortable with what I wore and the shoes I choose, but I also wish I had gone on the more casual side of “business casual” by the end of the weekend so I will know better for next time!

The biggest thing is just to be comfortable, and having pants with pockets is a major bonus! I also “lugged” a slightly oversized bag that would easily fit a notebook, my camera, makeup, phone and chargers, and a couple of re-useable bags with plenty of room to collect things as well.

7. Put Yourself Out There! 

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Many people are in the “I’m a beginner blogger with hardly any traffic and barely any followers,” boat so don’t be shy about introducing yourself to others – many of the other bloggers are struggling with the same things you are and when you get to know them and ask around, you can learn some new tips and tricks and get ideas for increasing your blog stats and followers (if that’s your goal) or making the improvements that you are interested in making.

Even the popular bloggers are looking to meet other bloggers and make connections, no matter how big or small your blog is, so get out there and say a big howdy do and hand over your business card and you’ll be soon on your way to making some great new friends!

8. Staying Up Late = Learning

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Think of this time at the conference as a fleeting opportunity – if you pass it up, you might not get the opportunity back. If you are the one that goes to bed early and is up early, this might work for you in reverse as well, so listen up! Stay up late and hang out with the other bloggers that are milling about, get a drink and get to know one another! It’s another chance to connect with other bloggers and often a blogger you have met will introduce you to another blogger that they have met earlier in the day (or weekend) and have invited to have drinks all together!

You can meet a lot more people if you put yourself out there and spend some time getting to know other bloggers in more informal settings – plus if you arrived at the conference alone, you will have met some people to sit with during sessions or to swap notes on different sessions with you if they are attending one you wanted to get to but didn’t because you were attending a session they wanted to attend but didn’t. See how nifty that is??

9. Bags & Suitcases!

SWAG!! Gotta get it home! From: http://montrealmom.com/blog/getting-it-together-for-blogher-12/

It’s been said in nearly every post about attending a blogging conference – bring a second, empty suitcase to the conference. Ultimately, you will gather all sorts of free items that you will want and need to transport home so don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase. At the IFBC conference this year, I managed to fill NINE re-usable cloth bags with all sorts of goodies. Many of us swapped the items we liked the most and swapped for items that could be more easily transported. There were many carbonated drinks that were given/swapped for other items with those that had driven to the conference and didn’t need to get them on a flight home.

For during the conference, bring at least one re-usable cloth bag to gather all the pamphlets and other items that are being passed out throughout the day. Some people even won bottles of wine or olive oil during sessions and it’s nice to have a bag to put it in and get it from session to session until you can stash it in your car or room.

In addition to the bags, don’t forget your chargers! You know, for your phone and camera and any other electronics you might be carrying (tablet, laptop) – there’s always a plug somewhere to give things a quick charge as you are taking a break or sitting around and having coffee with other bloggers. Nothing is more embarrassing than when you can’t use your technology because your battery charge didn’t hold. In the first day, I re-charged my camera twice, and the second day I had to re-charge it three times! Luckily, I had a small lipstick charger on hand that I could plug into any of my devices and charge while I was walking around or sitting through a session since most of the plugs had been spoken for by the time I got into a session.

10. The Game Plan

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There is a LOT of food and drink to consume over the course of the conference and the biggest mistake I felt that I made was not writing things down. There was one night where there were over twenty food and drink tables that we ate little plates, cocktails and wines at each and I didn’t go back and write down the dishes that stood out to me – nor did I have a photograph of the dishes, let alone who was responsible for making some of the kick ass dishes, so as much as I would like to tell you about them – I can’t.

Next time, I will keep a notebook with me to jot down who’s who and a bit of tape so I can just tape the business card in a notebook next to the notes on what I ate and drank so I could remember it from one table to the next and a few days later. There was some pressure to also be photographing and tweeting out everything we ate but I simply felt overwhelmed and lacked an extra appendage or two to hold all the things being thrust at me; so with a bit more planning, I feel like I could tackle another event like this one a bit better. Just to slow down, enjoy each plate, and chat with the chefs and sous’ that were preparing all the food so I could learn more about each dish and writing down the bits that I wanted to remember and grab a photo of the dishes that really stood out and the wines that I really enjoyed would help. There was a wine that I tried that I can’t stop thinking about but I just can’t figure out which wine within the brand it was (not an entirely terrible “problem”) but I also can’t find where the brand is sold near me. Next time for sure, I will be keeping track of these things!

Well folks, that’s the end of my Top Ten Conference Tips! Keep your eyes out for another post soon about all my favorite parts of the IFBC and have a lovely Friday!

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