First off, I want to say that my title is not meant as an insult to #BlogHer13. No matter how it looks, this is NOT an anti-BlogHer post. This my experience, seen through my eyes, felt with my heart and held in my soul. I’m not sharing this to rip on the conference or even really complain. I am chronicling what happened and my thoughts on it. To reiterate, I am not blaming BlogHer for my time at the convention being less than stellar. I accept the responsibility for the lion’s share of why I was disappointed in some aspects of it and some people. From the comfort of my own home, I can now look back and say I’m glad that I went. Even though conditions (of my own making) were less than ideal, it is an experience I am glad to have under my belt.
Overall, I was awed and impressed with the sheer size and volume of the conference. You can hear that there’ll be 5,000 people there but seeing it is a whole other thing. That’s a small city. For someone who doesn’t come to the big city often, it was overwhelming. As I told someone I met and talked with at length, I’m like a 10 year old kid with my mouth hanging open staring up at the skyscrapers when I come to Chicago. Actually, I’m pretty sure 10 year old kids would be less fazed by the urban surroundings than I was.
The BlogHer network of women did an amazing job of organizing such a big event. Just finding a location to hold that many has to be daunting. McCormick Place is so huge, it dwarfs a lot of small towns in Wisconsin (the state I grew up in). The fact that they could provide food, beverage, entertainment/amusement and classes for that many is incredible. Overall, they did a phenomenal job of meeting the needs of so many people. The food was really good, better than average for being produced on a large scale. The service was good. The sponsors and Expo Hall was a huge hit with everyone. I really didn’t find fault with the conference as a whole.
I read some of the advice posts prior to going to #BlogHer13, hoping to get a feel for the conference. I followed some of the advice which turned out to be erroneous. I have a couple of suggestions for improvements like adding a coat check where you can have your bag of swag held so you don’t have to carry it all day and all night. I should’ve weighed mine but I bet it was 30 lbs. This isn’t even what I picked up in the Expo Hall, this is the bag I was given at the booth right next to the registration. Either that or I wish someone had told me NOT to pick it up until the end of the day. I schlepped that puppy with me into the bathroom (I never sat it on the floor), to the sessions, through the lunch line, to the shuttle bus (getting lost on the way there), to the keynote and to the parties. I didn’t open it until after lunch and saw it had 3 HUGE bottles of juice and flavored water inside. (Next time, a sample size should be 4 ounces!) I should have left them somewhere but I left my common sense at home that day. After carrying them for hours, I felt like I should get something for it. Like a medal or a sling for my arm. I tried switching positions, holding it in one hand or the other, putting it on my shoulder, carrying in in my arms. It totally sucked and made my day very unpleasant.
I also carried this swag bag to the Expo Hall. The first day I didn’t even pick up any goodies because I seriously couldn’t carry another thing! I went through and took pictures and it totally drained my iPhone 4 battery down. I ended up spending a half hour 2-3 times the first day standing alone against a wall (all the benches near outlets were taken) waiting for my phone to charge. The 2nd day I only did it once and then was in a session that had outlets on the table and I was able to charge mine. The first night my phone got so low it wouldn’t turn on. I was waiting in the lobby of the Sheraton for hubby to pick me up so I whipped out my charger and plugged in behind the chair I was sitting on.
The BlogHer13 smartphone app was helpful to a point. I wish they’d had a service AT the conference where you could be matched up with another person who came alone and wanted a buddy to do stuff with.
No one was overtly mean to me at BlogHer13. But I did find a large number of people unfriendly or uninterested in interacting. I did reach out to several, usually the people sitting alone. I hate to see someone alone because I know how I feel. The few I tried to talk to made me realize they were alone by choice, not by circumstance. The people who were there because they ran a company (not vendors) or ran the website for an organization were the ones least willing to chat. They were obviously there for work and unless you also blogged professionally (in the business world), they had no use for you.
The transportation issue was such a big deal that hubby offered to drive me down to McCormick Place. You’d think the hard part would be over. It did ease my mind until I was being dropped off on the first day. We got lost driving the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive and couldn’t get off to turn around. Then when we got to McCormick Place, I jumped out of the car to ask if this is where the blogging convention was. I was told it was. So I said goodbye, grabbed my purse and went in. Only to find out I was in the WRONG BUILDING. I started heading towards the area they directed me and saw a woman hustling and I started talking to her. I asked her if she was going there. She said she was and I asked if I could tag along since she was looking for the newbie breakfast. She was walking so fast I could hardly keep up with her. She was probably flustered but didn’t offer her card either. I asked her if she had gotten those. She said she had. She was local as well and had driven herself. Apparently she had people she was meeting and when I mentioned I was alone, she didn’t say I should join her or anything.
I understand how much fun it must be to be looking forward to meeting up with people. I understand how people are with their friends and don’t want an outsider trying to squeeze in. I don’t understand why it’s ok to exclude people. It doesn’t matter how young or old someone is or how fat, I can talk to them. Usually. I need a little help though. I can’t do it all by myself. Then it would be a monologue, not a conversation. We’ve all been there where we try to talk to someone and they are less than receptive. You don’t keep trying, you give up. I sat by one woman who I felt sorry for and found out I should’ve kept my pity to myself. We talked but it just felt like it was a huge intrusion on my part to bother her. She actually closed her eyes every time she looked at me! I saw her in the bathroom the next day (a few feet apart) and she didn’t say hi. Neither did I.
I went in to the event with an open mind and found the whole thing quite cliquish. It was like being back in jr. high on the first day of school and you don’t know where to sit in the lunch room. Unless you already had friends from the year before, you have to sit with someone. They either talk to you and you become friends for the entire duration at the school or they ignore you and make you feel like a freak.
I met less than 20 people the first day. I have 13 business cards from that day. There are some I met that I didn’t exchange cards with. At the newbie breakfast, I hadn’t yet picked up my Moo cards. No one offered theirs and I didn’t feel right asking when I didn’t have mine yet. I later came up with the eloquent phrase, “Wanna swap cards?” The saving grace for me walking in late to the Newbie breakfast was seeing Deb Rox. I follow her on Twitter and Instagram and instantly recognized her. She gave me a warm welcoming hug which has elevated her to rock star status in my book. I already liked her and just seeing in person what a caring individual she is gave me hope. When she was doing introductions for a section at the Voices Of The Year, she just radiated. As she described the women who would be reading their blog posts, she was so genuine. It moved me as much or more than some of the readings. I hope she won’t be offended if I tell everyone that Deb and I are both big girls. In her case it’s because she has the biggest heart! Her heart takes up 90% of her body. 😉
The people that I met that were nice to me, I will never forget. I just wish I’d met more people like the good ones. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. My blog isn’t for everybody’s tastes and neither am I. I got the impression that a lot of people felt that if you didn’t have something in common (besides blogging in general), it wasn’t worth talking to some people. To put it more bluntly, if they felt they had nothing to gain by talking to you, they didn’t. I don’t look at it that way at all. Everyone has a mouth and a blog, they can spread the word of your good deeds or bad. I choose not to call out anyone that was less than nice but I’m going to do a later post and highlight the gems that I found from the conference.
On Friday at 3 pm, I sent out a tweet: “Is there anyone who’s here alone that wants to go through the Expo Hall at #BlogHer13 with me at 4 pm & catch the shuttle to the Sheraton?” I sent it out twice and got no reply. This doesn’t just go to my followers but everyone who searches for #BlogHer13. Not one reply. <crickets> I didn’t let that deter me. I took the Expo Hall by storm and went around even though it was crowded. I wasn’t shy and talked to the folks at the sponsors’ booths. I had my picture taken ALONE with a chicken hat and pink feather boa for the Food With Love contest. My motto is “the more ridiculous the better!” It’s so much fun doing this stuff alone. NOT. After awhile, I had to go charge my phone and then start finding the shuttle. I knew it was on the first floor so I took the escalator down and ended up on the wrong side of the building. Gah! By then the whole day was getting to me. I was worn out from lugging my bag of tricks around, hurt from being shunned like an Amish woman with a neck tattoo and on the verge of tears. You’ll be happy to know I didn’t cry! I regrouped and formed a plan. I knew I could call my hubby to come get me at any time. I didn’t want to miss the Voices Of The Year so I decided I would get to the Sheraton and keep trying. The rest of the night wasn’t bad. I met a lovely gal at the VOTY so wasn’t technically alone. I went to the VOTY reception, ate standing up (not a fan) and met someone else standing alone. She was actually with someone from her hometown and took pity on me. They both included me and we went together to the White Cloud Lounge and then the Come As You Are Party. (More on the parties in another post.) I lost them there and I continued on awhile after that. I made a decent showing on Friday.
Sat. I was feeling shell shocked and full of trepidation. I got dropped off at the right building but the wrong end of the building. I even walked up a non-moving escalator (2 flights) to an elevator that didn’t work and back down again. I did find a cool hanging art waterfall that I would have missed if I hadn’t gotten lost. I got my food and went and sat at a table by myself. I had a hard time even trying on the 2nd day. It is such a hard thing to put yourself out there and hope you don’t get rejected. The first day I listened to all the speeches at the meals but the 2nd day, I spent some of the meal times in the Expo Hall. That place is huge and I bet I didn’t make it to half the sponsors, even though I went there repeatedly.
I didn’t really meet anyone new the 2nd day. I saw people I’d met the day before and the ones that were originally nice were nice again. I got the guts up to be bold and go introduce myself to Tanis Miller after her session on Storytelling. I gave her a card and it was like I felt in my groupie days with local bands. I rush up and say hi and a few words, my mind goes blank and I rush away. I am proud of myself for pushing my way into the Midlife Bloggers session 5 minutes before it started to go up to the front panel. I have been tweeting with Jen Baier (who works at AARP) for a couple of years and she insisted I meet Jen Lee Reeves, her coworker, who was working the event. I saw on the schedule that Jen was a speaker at the Midlife Bloggers session and even though I wasn’t going, I knew this might be our only chance to connect. I wanted to go to her session but another session I was interested in was at the exact same time! I didn’t want to let Jen Baier down and not try so I mustered all my courage and pushed to the front and introduced myself. We hugged and I asked her if she’d be at the AARP booth in the expo later. She said she would and so I told her I’d be down there and we’d take pictures then. As it turned out, she wasn’t there later but I met 2 of her coworkers and took their picture.
A lot of people plan to go to BlogHer13 a year in advance. They make arrangements to meet and hang out with specific people. Since I didn’t even decide to go to BlogHer13 until 9 days before the event, I was out of luck. Believe it or not, I DO know people online but they either had gone to the previous BlogHers and were skipping this one or had no intention of ever going. If I had just had ONE person to pal around with, I know my experience would’ve been different. I do fantastic one on one and even if I’d been with another newbie, I’d have been more outgoing. If I am trying to help someone else out, I’ll go to greater lengths than I will to help myself. Like asking directions, etc.
It takes a lot to make me cry. But when I do, it is the ugly cry that won’t stop. I can’t stand crying in front of people. If someone says, “Are you ok?”, it seems to make it worse. If I do breakdown and sob, it is almost impossible for me to recover. I know some people can be in tears one minute, wipe their eyes and go on but I’m just not built that way. If I get that upset, where my emotions are raw, my anguish manifests itself physically. On Sat. after going around the Expo Hall alone (again), it was like the stress and frustration from the entire 2 days had reached its peak. I got out my phone and tried to find the Serenity Suite and couldn’t. I knew it was on the first floor and should have looked for it when I wasn’t a basket case. BlogHer has the best of intentions by providing a place to go when you need a break. However, if you don’t try to locate it until you’re sobbing, I guarantee you won’t have your wits about you to be able to find it. I even tried searching #SerenitySuite on Twitter and the wifi wasn’t working (which happened for me a lot of the time). So I gave up on that idea and headed for the shuttle bus to the Sheraton. Even though maps are provided, I still ended up going to the wrong end of the building. This made me cry harder. By this time I had a phrase repeating on blast in my head where I just kept thinking “I can’t even buy a friend.” 😦
I felt like I’d failed. I had such high hopes that I’d be able to seamlessly find my way around, easily chat with everyone I crossed paths with, have my picture taken with a ton of bloggers, etc. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic. At that point, I was just DONE. I hated to miss the fashion show and the reception and the CheeseBurgHer party. I also felt like I was leaving in defeat. When I got on the shuttle, I had called my hubby to come get me. I tried to find the bathroom off the hotel lobby and couldn’t. I even looked at the map. I had even been to it the night before and was just too shook up to find it. I would’ve normally waited in the lobby in a comfortable chair. Instead, I went and sat out front of the hotel on a window ledge (at ground level! I wasn’t quite suicidal) and waited. The traffic was so bad that it took him over an hour to make it downtown. I got in the Jeep and burst into tears. I told my husband how my day went.
I don’t know why it had to be that way. I’m not that hard to get along with. I’m a fun person. I know this. I don’t need a lot of handholding. I’m not the kind of person who crowds others or is too needy. All I know is that I’m going to make a point to always include others or make the offer that they are welcome wherever I am at anytime. Maybe I should set up a Hug Booth right in the middle of the convention hallway (not the expo), where people walking by can come by for a hug. I would definitely be heckling people as they walk by, telling them to come and get their free hug. The people who were alone, I could tell them about other really nice people I met that need/want someone to hang out with. I like bringing people together!
If you’re familiar with Brazilian steakhouses, you know that they give you a gizmo (don’t know the technical term) that is red on one side, green on the other. It sits in front of you on the table and you turn it green side up when you want the waiters to bring you more meat. You flip it to red when you are done, taking a break or don’t want any at that time. I think this would be a neat thing to do at future BlogHer events. The people who WANT to sit alone or are not in a talkative mood, flip it to red. That way I won’t sit with you or try to talk to you. The ones with green, will be open to new people and new discussions. I will have several green side up on the table in front of me. The equivalent of a neon sign that flashes “TALK TO ME”.
I could have easily sugar coated my whole time at BlogHer13. Instead I am telling MY truth. I know each and every person had a different experience and perspective. The more time that passes from the end of BlogHer13, the more I’m apt to only remember the good things. That’s ok. I want to use this as a learning experience. I didn’t take away from it that I can’t handle this type of networking event. I KNOW the first time is the hardest and I’ll do better next time. Maybe I’ll even make it through without crying! 😉