This week I'll be joining 3,000 other bloggers in San Diego for the BlogHer 2011 conference. It's going to be my 4th straight year attending BlogHer, and I'm just as excited about going as I was in my first year. Since I've done this all before, I want to share some of the things I've learned over the years. There are already lots of other veteran BlogHer attendees who are posting advice about what to bring and what to do, but every little bit helps. Here's my two cents:
* Every BlogHer veteran says Don't Obsess about Clothes, Wear what's Comfy, and they're right -- to a degree. There are lots of parties going on, and bloggers do dress up for them! No one is going to turn you away if you show up in the t-shirt and shorts you wore all day, but all the same you'll probably want to pack something to change into for each evening. Having said that, you don't need to show up wearing cocktail dresses and bling if you don't want to -- jeans and a nice blouse are perfectly fine.
* Leave the high heels. The San Diego Conference Center is a big place, and you'll be doing a lot of walking (to and from sessions, meals and parties, both on and off-site) and standing (at standing-room-only sessions, and in line!). If you must have heels to get your groove on, stash a pair of flip-flops in your purse so you can switch from heels to flops when you need to.
* If you want to save money on luggage fees, try to pack everything into an expandable carry-on bag -- and throw in an extra duffle bag. You'll need the extra bag for all the swag you'll receive. For your flight home, check in the (expanded) carry-on bag, and use the duffle bag as a carry-on bag (or check in the duffle bag if it's bigger). That way, you only need to pay luggage fees one way.
* Have business cards handy so you can pass them out to the bloggers and company reps you meet. Some companies also hold raffles and giveaways where you leave your business card in a jar.
* Many people take their laptops, netbooks or iPads around with them to conference sessions, but I prefer to conference light. I leave my laptop in my hotel room, I take notes at sessions with an old-fashioned pen and paper, I tweet from my phone -- and I never have to deal with recharging or extra weight. I'm not saying it's the only way to go, just that it can be done!
* Plan out your conference schedule in advance. Check out the speakers and agenda and figure out which ones you want to attend. Make sure they don't conflict with other events you've been invited to or other things you've signed up for. Leave some time to roam the expo floor, to rest, to change clothes, and to get from place to place.
* Don't feel like you have to attend each and every session to make the most of the conference or to "get your money's worth". It will take quite a while to work your way through all the booths at the expo center, and many companies will be hosting information sessions you won't want to miss. Besides, networking with companies and other bloggers is a big part of making the most out of BlogHer. And with so much going on, you will definitely want to take a break! Make some time to relax and recharge: take a 30-minute nap in your room, work out at the gym, or just hang out in the lobby and have tea.
* If there's a session that you really want to attend, make sure you show up at least 5 minutes early. Many sessions, fill their rooms to capacity and beyond; I've been to sessions where bloggers are standing in the back and sitting in the aisles!
* Take a reusable shopping bag with you as you roam the expo hall (some booths may give you one) so you can carry around the freebies they hand out.
* Don't wait till the last minute of the last day of the conference to pass by the swag exchange and shipping center -- it will be super crowded! Last year they ran out of ground shipping labels and some very frustrated bloggers had to pay overnight shipping rates to send their extra stuff home. Hopefully they will solve that issue this year, but still, you don't want to stand in a long line. Grab a box and a shipping label early -- on the first day, even -- so you have plenty of time to pack. Then waltz over to the shipping center on the last minute of the last day and simply drop off your package.
* Read the BlogHer Conference Page thoroughly, and visit it often. The good folks at BlogHer update it regularly with useful tidbits of information -- not only with the agenda and the speakers, but with new conference events, promotions and opportunities. Many of these are time-sensitive (i.e. sign up before a particular date), or first-come-first-served, so the early bird (or the regular bird) gets the worm. This piece of advice probably comes too late to do this year's attendees any good, but it's important to keep in mind for next year.
* I can't tell you not to feel nervous if this is your first conference and you don't have an army of BFF's attending with you. I won't tell you that you'll leave the conference with an army of newfound BFF's, either. You might -- but the reality is that you'll probably see lots of people chatting, laughing and moving together as a group. Having said that, there are 3,000 people attending, many of them for the first time, many of them by themselves. You'll probably have to make a bit of an effort to reach out at cocktail parties, but I think bloggers are a friendly bunch, and no one is going to rebuff your friendly overtures! There will always be friendly people willing to chat and talk at the breakfast and lunch tables and before conference sessions -- yes, even bloggers with lots of friends. And you won't feel awkward roaming the expo hall on your own.
I hope I didn't miss anything. If something comes to mind, I'll go back and update this list. Enjoy the conference!
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