My very first blogging conference was the Mom 2.0 Summit in 2009. It was their inaugural year, and having it in Houston – where I was living at the time – meant I had to go. Blogging in a professional sense was still very new to me; I had been blogging since 2005, but had only months before the conference written my first (product provided) product review. I – and blogging, it seemed – was still on the cusp of understanding all that could really be achieved by digital influencers.
Most of that first Mom 2.0 was a blur. There were parties, giveaways (I won a Nintendo DS, which was a big deal at the time!), lots of conversations, and tons of people to meet. It was fabulous. It was a whirlwind of camaraderie, excitement, new people, and new ideas.
Also in 2009, I attended my first Type A Mom conference (now Type A Parent). What followed were two more years of attending BlogHer, Type A, Mom 2.0, and Bloggy Bootcamp.
At some point, I just got burned out. Each conference seemed to have its own flavor, its own cast of characters, its own dearly-held beliefs on what made a great 1-3 days of programming. At the same time, my family situation changed, and I was simply not able to attend conferences anymore.
Fast forward three years, to the announcement that BlogHer14 would be held in San Jose. So close! With more time, more resources, and a blooming curiosity as to what conferences are like these days, I settled on attending and was excited at what I might find.
Let me start by saying that BlogHer14, in my opinion, was very well organized. The Convention Center was a great location, close to the airport and with several good options for lodging and dining nearby. The attendee group on Facebook was moderated by-the-minute and was a huge help, as was the smartphone app. The meals were great (except Saturday’s lunch – what was that??) and although some people had trouble finding water, I somehow managed to fill my bottle whenever I needed to. The layout in the convention center for classes and activities was good, and the Expo Hall – although small compared to past years – had a decent flow. Swag was kept to a minimum, though a little more pizzazz would have been welcome. In terms of structure, I felt BlogHer14 hummed along with nary a hitch. That in itself is pretty impressive. Oh, and the closing party was FANTASTIC, and I say that as a non-party-er. I had a great time that night!
But where I felt underwhelmed was in the programming. I own that this is an entirely subjective preference, too – but there was just so. much. talking. The keynotes, the 10×10 presenters, the interviews and conversations, even the Saturday afternoon mini-cons. So. much. talking. There were some bright spots for me, to be sure; I laughed and nodded and enjoyed. I met some wonderful people who are now friends. The Bridgestone drive event was a real Life Moment for me (more on that later!). And I am hopeful for future relationships with at least two of the sponsors. But overall, I felt the programming was heavy on thought and reflection and talking. Again, the talking.
Now, many (MANY!) of the people attending were moved and inspired by these monologues, and that’s great. If you are motivated by someone else’s perspectives and experiences, then I believe the BlogHer programming is for you. I, personally, am not motivated by that. I am motivated by tools, by information. I am empowered by the receipt of new skills or new ways to do the old things I’ve been doing for so long.
There was some of that at BlogHer. I thought the video blogging panel was fantastic, and each presenter had a perfect way of framing their own experiences in a way that then said “And here’s how YOU can do it.” But I found the opportunities for learning at BlogHer were just too few and far between. Opportunities to be inspired? Check. Opportunities to be validated? Check. Opportunities to enter this nebulous space of thought and reflection and wonder? Check. But opportunities to go home and put some concrete plans into action? Not nearly as much as I had hoped for.
I think the Twitter stream tells the story pretty well. Combing through the #BlogHer14 tag, you’ll see lots and lots of conversation based on how people felt at the conference. But, you’ll see barely anything about what people learned – and I don’t mean learned about themselves (because, to me, that falls into the “feeling” category), I mean what they learned about the hows of taking their new-found inspiration and putting into use.
This does not mean I think BlogHer as a conference has no merit. Clearly, it does for many bloggers. But when you are investing time, money, and energy into attending a conference – especially one you hope will benefit you professionally – I think it’s important to know what you’re looking for, what motivates you. My best advice for bloggers thinking of attending a conference is to ask around, see who has been to which conference, and how they would compare if they’ve been to more than one. Do a little research, have your goals in mind, choose as wisely as you can and hope for the best.
I mentioned to one friend that it feels like BlogHer is the Stuart Smalley of blogging conferences, bent on making sure everyone knows how great they are. Again, I’m not motivated by those sentiments, so I think it’s ok to say that BlogHer is just not the conference for me.