Between my past work life and my current job as writer and blogger, I’ve been to countless conferences. Today I’m going to use that experience and share with you how to prepare and pack for blog conferences and writing conferences.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
You need to have business cards. Moo.com does beautiful work, and I’ve never been unhappy with VistaPrint, which often has great sales. I’ve seen thousands of cards over the years, and the ones that stick with me are clean, easy to read, and get to the point.
My business card design preferences are:
- Simple font that can easily be read
- Logo/image that coordinates with that person’s online presence
- On matte card stock, so I can write notes and cell#s on them
- Able to fit it into a typical biz card holder/wallet slot
I try to make mine reflect the visual presence I have online: similar font, color, message. A photo helps this, especially for someone like me who is more of a face person than a name person. My photo looks like me in person (no funky effects), and the most important information is my name—not my blog name. I put those nice and big, so they help make me more memorable to whomever I hand my card.
As for how many to order, I’d rather have too many than too few. Also, having a lot of them encourages you to hand them out more often—which only benefits you!
A media kit is essentially a resume for bloggers that persuades brands to work with them, usually done on an 8 ½ x 11” sheet of high-quality paper, or a specialty “business card” that folds open. Not to state the obvious, but it only makes sense to bring these to conferences that have brands attending that want to meet bloggers for this purpose. The nice thing is that you can easily make media kits at home. I did mine on PowerPoint, but PicMonkey makes it easy, too. There are lots of great tutorials online with more detail on how to make one, but the basic things to pop on your Media Kit are:
- Name & Blog Name
- Contact information
- Blog URL, Social Media handles, and number of subscribers/fans for each
- Average monthly pageviews
- Bio including what brings people to your blog, like your niche, what makes you unique, blurbs, testimonials, praise
- A photo of you and any identifying graphics (like a blog logo)
The main point is to sell yourself: Why should the brand you are handing this to pay you money to work with them? Answer that question with whatever you have that sells you: your stats, demographics, experience with other brands, niche, testimonials, etc. Whether you’ve been doing it for ages or are new to the game, you need to know what makes you worth their financial investment and prove it to them.
Stressing out over making your media kit? Don’t. I know people who use them to great success, and others who never bothered with media kits but still manage to get the brands to work with them. As long as you have a way to get this information to brands, you’ll do just fine. For some people, that’s a media kit they can hand over. For others, it’s something else. Do what works for you.
Your Elevator Pitch
You’ll be asked many times, “What do you do? What’s your blog?” Be ready! Thirty seconds, tops. Name, blog, give a feel about what you write. Give them enough information that they know who you are and what you do, but also keep them interested in looking you up once they get home. Practice in the mirror, with your family, to the dog. Say it until it sounds natural.
I find a good elevator pitch has me writing notes on that person’s business card. It gives more information than a card can show, and makes me understand better whether this is a person who I should make sure to follow up with.
Why Are You There?
You will be asked this question more than once. Know the answer! If someone asks you and your answer is something they can help you with, YOU WIN AT CONFERENCING.
Example: I was at a conference in 2012, making it clear that I wanted to get paid to write essays for anthologies and write novels. I met someone who I told this to, and she ended up being instrumental in getting me the opportunity to be included in my first anthology. It was the break I needed to get into the anthology world, and I’ve been able to get into three more anthologies since then, while finishing my first novel.
I have a stash of mini office supplies that travel with me:
- Laptop or tablet with charger, if you plan to use it to take notes or blog on while you’re there.
- Mini power strip with USB port, for when my laptop/tablet/phone needs a charge and there are others who could use it, too.
- Cell phone charger
- Cell phone battery backup/mini recharger. Mine cost $30 and is instrumental in getting me through 18-hour days during which I’m constantly typing, tweeting, or taking photos on my phone.
- Mini stapler: Stapling business cards together if it’s a team or a person who has more than 1, attaching business cards to other associated materials, etc.
- Fine-point Sharpies: If I want to write notes on a glossy business card, or someone wants me to autograph a copy of my book.
- Gallon Ziplock bag: Toss all the business cards you get in here, so they don’t get lost in your bag.
- Notebooks & folders: I’m a pen-and-paper gal who likes to organize her session notes with handouts that I receive during the sessions.
- Pens, highlighter
- Printouts of the basic info of the conference, my main contacts there (in case of bad cell service), hotel info, my session choices with questions I want answered during the sessions, etc.
- Books: Did you write a book? You might want a few on hand in case someone is there that would like a copy to review or pass on to someone in the business that might like to work with you.
- Don’t forget your business cards and media kit!
Tip: Ask your hotel how big the safe in your room is. If it won’t fit your laptop/tablet, are you ready to carry it with you the entire trip? Can you rent a larger safe? Are you comfortable leaving it in your hotel room, not in a safe? Ditto for any other equipment you plan to bring, but don’t want to take out with you at nighttime functions.
WHAT TO WEAR & CARRY
It’s a work conference, not a prom. Yes, it feels good to look good, but it also feels good to be comfortable. I prefer to dress business casual, because it feels right to me. I want to look presentable and professional, but be comfortable while doing so. When people meet me, I want them to see ME, not some cute new outfit I’ve been fussing with all day because of an itchy tag/pants that fall down/shirt that rides up.
I beg of you to not only bring comfortable shoes, but wear your shoes before the conference. Your feet will swell, so keep them happy. I had a new pair of shoes snap on me at a conference, and literally needed to Duck Tape it onto my foot. I was in the thick of my day, with no time to either run back to my room to change them or pop out to buy a new pair. Lesson learned!
Bring a layer, even in the warm months. Whether it gets cold in an over-air-conditioned conference hall or you end up on an impromptu walk outside for coffee, it helps to be prepared.
I’ve seen everything from sundresses and Crocs to dress pants and button-down tops at blogging/writing conferences. You really can’t go wrong, unless you aren’t being yourself.
As far as packing, create head-to-toe outfits for each day and pack them together. Know the shoes, underthings, and accessories you’ll wear with the clothes you chose for each day, and keep them together. Not having to think about what to put on in the morning or before an event is a nice relief—especially if there’s not much time to get dressed. I usually pack one extra daytime outfit and an alternate “going out” top, in case something comes up or I spill hotel room coffee all over myself (which absolutely can happen).
Pretty much everyone I’ve ever seen at more than one conference has a bag big enough to carry what they need to get through the day, with extra space inside for hand-outs, business cards, bottles of water/drinks, and some small swag. Sturdy, roomy tote bags are wonderfully functional. I happen to love this one, which fits everything you need, has lots of pockets, and weighs nothing. If you plan to bring your laptop/tablet to take notes with or do work while you’re there, it’s a good idea to make sure your bag is either padded enough to keep it safe, or you have a protective sleeve to keep it in in there.
Conference days tend to be long, so I like to have a little Ziplock bag of personal items such as gum, tissues, headache remedies, powder/blotting papers, lipgloss, Tums, and some singles in case I want something from a vending machine, tip a hotel shuttle service, or chip in for a taxi.
It also helps to pack a little snack, and water bottle that can be refilled. Conference halls are often dry, and it’s good to keep your blood sugar up. You’re “on” all day long, and will need the energy.
IN YOUR HEAD
I can say this because I am one: writers tend to be anxiety-addled Nervous Nellies who over-think everything. No matter who you are, what you do, whether you haven’t even started a blog/book/anything yet or have been doing it forever, you can benefit from attending a blogging/writing conference. There will be people there that want to meet you, or who will be very happy that they did. Connections will be made, friendships will begin or deepen, information will be absorbed, lessons will be learned, professional contacts will be made, there will be so much good that will come of you doing this for yourself.
ONCE YOU’RE THERE
Give your business card to everyone—everyone. Smile, introduce yourself, ask them about themselves, and remember to say, “It’s nice to meet you.” Nerves make people shy and forgetful. If you remember to do just this, you’ll do great.
Don’t worry about who you’re about to talk to, whether it’s someone famous or someone you’ve never heard of. They’re all people, and if they are there, then they are ripe for conversation. They’ll be lucky to meet you!
Conferences can feel overwhelming at times, so take breaks when you need to. Hide in a quiet, deserted conference room, take a walk, nap in your hotel room. Recharge, then get back out there.
Remember that it’s hard to be professional while drunk–and it’s easy to accidentally have too much to drink after a long day on the go. Yes, booze can be delicious and feel good, and is often free at conferences, but missing an important connection or doing something totally out of character in public will make your hangover all the more painful.
Focus on why you’re there, and make sure you do the things you want to do. Spontaneous opportunities might spring up that could be good for you, and it’s okay to change your plans. Just try not to get too swept up in doing what your friends are doing, if it isn’t the right business decision for you and your goals.
Have fun: the nice thing about being in this creative world of blogging and writing is that the cast of characters you get to work and play with is a hoot. Enjoy the experience!
Congratulations! It’s a big deal that you’re doing this for yourself, and you should be proud.