I spent the weekend in Atlanta for the BlogHer Food 2011 conference. I decided that, rather than sum up the exact details of the sessions I attended, I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned about attending food blog conferences. I have been to four of them over the past year (crazy, right?) and I’m pretty confident that I can be considered an expert by now.
So here it is – the good and the bad of attending food blog conferences, in no particular order:
1. You will learn something from the sessions you attend. It may be a nugget of information that you can tuck away to make your writing better (such as using active verbs instead of passive ones, a morsel I gleaned from David Leite’s and Nancy Baggett’s session) or your photography more beautiful or your recipe writing more accurate and informative. Or, you may learn that some speakers, no matter how great their blog or book is, are not good public speakers. You will learn that the secret to removing a temporary pig tattoo is nail polish remover. Also, a good way to freak out your husband is to get a temporary tattoo and leave out the “temporary” part. The key with conferences is finding just one little bit of knowledge that you didn’t have before showing up. You won’t be disappointed if you keep your expectations relatively low. I have embraced this valuable lesson.
2. You will walk out with swag or prizes from sponsors that you can’t wait to use when you get home. You might even have to leave your over-sized winnings, items too large to carry onto your flight, with a friend to babysit for you until you can reunite in five months at the next conference.
3. You will be disappointed by – and amused at the ridiculousness of – other products tucked away in the conference swag bag. A donation to the trash can will be in order, or perhaps to the hotel housekeeping staff to do with as they will.
4. You may get to learn how to grind your own sausages, thanks to the fabulous Queens of Charcuterie and Charcutepalooza founders, Kim and Cathy. You might even start chatting with Hank Shaw as he is frying up those sausages and embarrass yourself by not immediately recognizing him.
5. You will not get much sleep. What sleep you do get will probably be interrupted by thoughts racing through your head of people you’ve met, people you would still like to meet, or of your husband/wife/partner/kids/cats/goldfish back home. Or, you may sleep like a rock because you’re finally getting time away from work and other stresses.
6. You will eat too much, especially if you eat dinner out, away from the conference hotel. The food will be wonderful and the drinks will be plenty. If you follow a gluten-free or vegan diet, you may not eat as much as others do. Occasionally, and frighteningly, hotel staff may get confused and put southern biscuits and cornbread on the gluten-free table.
7. You will pack your gym clothes and running shoes, and they will be forgotten in a corner of the room, getting buried under dirty clothes and discarded swag.
8. If you have your photo on Twitter or on your blog, you will be pleasantly surprised and flattered when other bloggers walk up to you to say hello because they’ve recognized your face. That feeling that wells up inside will be warm and fuzzy, like a comforting hug from a best friend. You should put a photo of yourself on Twitter or your blog. It helps. Really, it does.
9. You will introduce yourself to someone and find that you have nothing else to say beyond hello. Awkward silence will ensue and you will excuse yourself politely. You will introduce yourself to another person and find that you have just made a new confidante. You will feel that you have known each other forever.
10. You will find that cliques have formed among different circles of bloggers and writers and photographers. Some of these groups will be open and welcoming as you introduce yourself, and they will invite you to have a seat and chat. Others will not be so kind. You will feel like you are in high school again, and the cool kids just publicly snubbed you. It may hurt. You should ignore this and remember that this is NOT high school. You are a wonderful person and not getting to know you better is their loss.
11. You will not take as many photos as you would like, and the ones you do take will not be as great as you remembered them feeling in the moment. This can be blamed on many things, including the bad lighting in the conference hotel. The number one reason you will not take as many photos, though, is that you are engaged. You are wrapped up in conversations and activities, and you just don’t remember to pull out the camera. This is forgivable.
12. You will feel inspired. A session on food styling may quicken your pulse when you understand that everyone has their own style (whether it’s Tami’s, Aran’s, or Stephanie’s) and that no single style is the right one. You may meet a chef from California whose talk of learning over time to become confident in her cooking skills motivates you to work harder to find assurance in your own skills. You will encounter young people whose passion for food is vast and their energy seemingly boundless. All of these things will motivate you, inspire you, and give you butterflies in your stomach. At the end of the day, you will find yourself smiling to yourself as you finally fall asleep, exhausted and content.