If you’ve been following me on twitter, instagram or facebook at all (and please do!), you have probably seen some of my photos from being at Food Wine Conference this last weekend. If you thought it looked like we were all having too much fun, then you may be right, we probably were, but there was a bit more to it than just eating and drinking (though they were pretty important – it was a food blogging conference after all). In case you wonder what happens when a bunch of food bloggers get together, and if you’re a blogger thinking about going to a conference, let me give you a little insight into my experience.
This was my first blogging conference and so I appreciate I didn’t have any basis for comparison, but I can honestly say I both really enjoyed the experience and felt I came away with a few action points I wanted to get stuck into with my blog, which for me is a sign of a successful couple of days. There were sessions that helped you learn about working with brands, others on practical skills like making videos, food styling, growing your following or grilling like a pro. On top of that, in some ways more importantly, I got to meet lots of people both that I’d previously only spoken to online as well as some who were entirely new to me from lots of different places and backgrounds.
I debated telling you a bit more detail about some of the sessions, but I think you really need to go yourself to appreciate them fully and the photos give you some sense as well. Instead I thought it might be better for me to give a few tips for anyone considering their first blogging conference. These are either things I did, will do or wish I had done if I were to do it all again – some may be obvious but I don’t think any less relevant to keep in mind.
- Be Prepared. OK, I was a Girl Guide/Girl Scout so this is a phrase ingrained in my mind, but it’s still true – in this context it means:
- get business cards to take (I didn’t – partly time and partly the Brit in me who doesn’t use as much – and kind of wish I had);
- look at who will be attending and see if there’s anyone (other bloggers, brand reps, speakers) you want to make sure you speak to, chances are you won’t manage to speak to everyone unless it’s a really small group so prioritize;
- do some background – know who the brands are that will be represented so you can have a more informed conversation, look up photos to have an idea who is who, know the agenda and think what you want to get from it.
- Be Open. This was backed up by a few of the speakers at Food Wine Conference – you don’t want to be known for the wrong reasons, so be polite, listen, engage. Even if you are fairly shy like me, make the effort to speak to people, that’s a large part of why you are there – the chances are the person you approach will be nervous too, you already have the fact you are there and a common interest so use that to help you overcome any anxiety. Plus it will help you have fun which is a big part of the experience as well.
- Take Notes. I expect pretty much every conference is going to pack a lot into a short space of time and even with an amazing memory, you are going to forget some things so take notes to help remind you afterwards; it will help you with the next two points as well. Some specific things to think before:
- do you work best with handwritten notes or do you want your laptop to type?
- do you want to organize by session or make separate informational, quote or action-type notes – it might help make things easier for you after;
- noting some inspirational quotes may be good to look back on when you’re not feeling it so write them down when you hear something that resonates;
- take photos of key slides to help speed things up and not miss important points.
- Make Actions. Again, this is part of why you are here, so don’t just go home and think ‘that was a fun couple days’, think what you learned that you want to put into action. Even if for whatever reason you don’t feel you learned anything, think about these:
- who do you want to follow up with to make sure they know who you are to possibly work with in the future?
- are there questions you didn’t manage to ask someone? If so what are they, you can contact them after (but do it while their memory will be pretty fresh);
- even thinking practically for blog posts, was there something you ate or drank you particularly liked that you want to re-create or make an adaptation of? Remember the conference is to inspire you in all ways, not just the background skills.
- Follow Up. It may seem obvious, but actions are nothing unless you do them, so make sure you follow through and contact the people you need to, follow people on social media, practice the skills you learned and try out techniques or tips you heard. Sure, they might not all work for you, but you’ll never know unless you try. Remember the conference is an investment, so you want to ensure you get a return and the best way to evaluate that is if you have specific things you do as a result.
I hope these tips help anyone thinking about going to a conference – they are hopefully at least easy things to keep in mind and can help you get the most out of it. But I think overall the main things I would say are just go, it will almost certainly be worth it (at least my experience at Food Wine Conference was), have fun and make the most of it. I certainly hope I will manage to go again to do just that.