How to Get the Most Out of a Blogging Conference

06 April 2015

Before attending the Women in Travel Summit last weekend in Boston, I had never been to a blogging conference. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I planned to just show up, make a few friends, and absorb as much as possible. Despite my lack of preparation, I was blown away by what I learned and was so thankful to have met some of the most talented female travel bloggers in the industry. Every single session that I attended left me feeling inspired, more focused or reinvigorated my love for travel. 

If you have the opportunity to attend WITS or any other travel blogging conference, I highly suggest you do. And, if it's your first, here are some things you can do to get the most out of your experience.

Source: Women in Travel Summit
Do your research
Most conferences publish a list of speakers in advance. If you're not familiar with them, do a bit of research, and start reading their blogs regularly. Make a list to take with you that includes their blogs' names and two-to-three things you learned about them. Connect with them on social platforms in advance. You'll begin to get familiar with their content and won't have to worry about searching for their profiles while you're there. 

Start engaging before you leave
While you're visiting the speakers' start commenting on content that resonates with you. This may increase the likelihood that they may be familiar with you when you meet them. On Twitter, create a list of speakers and attendees so you can engage with them leading up to the conference. If there is a Facebook group for attendees, join it. This is a great way to ask questions and make connections prior to the event. Find out if there is an event hashtag, and make note to use it and track it throughout the weekend. 

Get your blog and social platforms conference ready
At the conference, there may be opportunity to connect with tourism industry professionals and discuss potential partnerships. One of the first things they are likely to do after you meet is visit your blog. Make sure you're proud of its design and content. Before I left for WITS, I updated our About page and upgraded our Press page. I also optimized our blog for a mobile experience because I knew some of the people I would meet would experience our blogs for the first time from a mobile device.

Set at least three goals and commit to achieving them
This is incredibly important, and I think it's part of the reason why I had such a great experience at WITS. Before I arrived, I had set three goals that I sought to achieve before the weekend ended: to meet the founder of Wanderful and host of WITS, to make at least three long-lasting connections, and to hand out at least 100 business cards. They weren't, by any means, ground-breaking, but they helped me focus my intentions for the weekend and maximize my time during networking periods. 

Arrive a day early 
Thanks to a Facebook group organized by Wanderful, I met Lauren and Kelsey and spent the day wandering around the city. Going into the conference with two ready-made friends made me feel much more relaxed and comfortable and gave me the confidence to jump into networking more quickly!

Source: Ashley Hufford
Bring business cards and hand them out to everyone you meet
No doubt about it, you're going to meet a lot of people. There were at least 300 attendees at WITS. And as much as you might try to commit names to faces, it's quite a task. By being armed with business cards, you can easily make and retain connections. Be sure to keep a few of yours some place that's easily accessible. I had a handful tucked into my name tag that hung around my neck, so I could pull one out quickly. 

Business cards can be made inexpensively, too. I purchased 100 cards for around $35 thanks to a sale that Moo was having, and they turned out great!

Perfect your elevator pitch
When you network with tourism industry professionals, you'll need to be able to clearly communicate who you are and what your blog is about. This is also really helpful for introducing yourself to speakers or other attendees. I recommend keeping this to one or two simple sentences. Here's mine: 

"Hello, I'm Holly, and I'm a blogger at The Brave Little Cheesehead dot com with my sister Caileigh. We focus on budget travel experiences for a millennial audience that still works a steady nine-to-five job." 

Create a schedule 
There were three different tracks for WITS -- traveler, blogger and entrepreneur -- which meant that I had to choose between sessions scheduled over one another. About a week or two before I left, I selected sessions and marked those that I didn't want to miss. That way, if some of my newly made friends wanted to grab a long lunch or a cup of coffee, I could quickly check to see if my schedule would allow for it. 

One thing I did not do was schedule downtime for myself. As much as I loved meeting and making friends with everyone, being around people for almost 72 straight hours was a little bit overwhelming. I'm used to having a certain amount of space every day. For the next conference I attend, I will likely either opt for my own room or will schedule at least 15 minutes a day for time to decompress. 

Focus on growing your network
Blogging conferences are all about making relationships, so when you're with a group of people make sure you're actually with them. Practice good listening skills, and actively engage them with questions. Commit something to memory about them so that when you see them again, it's easier to remember their names. One trick I like to use is to jot down something on their business card. I also used the business cards I collected like flash cards throughout the weekend, making sure that I remembered every person I met.

Source: Ashley Hufford
Make it a point to mix it up
I had so much fun with the new group of friends that I made that they became my go-to clique for Saturday. By the time Sunday rolled around and I realized the conference was halfway through, I started to actively try to sit at new tables and meet new people. But by then, we were all so comfortable with one another that we'd always wind up together! Try to make it a point to mingle as much as you can. 

Lauren and I actually had a good strategy going for the evening party on Saturday. We spent it about an arm's length away from one another but socializing with separate groups. That way, if her group's conversation fell flat, she could quickly join mine, and vice versa. It was great to have a wing-woman!

Sit at the font of the room
Looking back, this was a big miss for me. Had I planned better, I would have arrived earlier to each of my sessions to grab a front seat. This gives you a couple of advantages: you'll likely get the best pictures, you'll have the first shot at asking a question when the speaker allows it, and it's really easy to quickly approach the speaker and introduce yourself following the session. This is definitely something I'll practice at the next conference I attend. 

Keep in touch
So, you've had so much fun and made a lot of awesome connections. Now what? When you get home, make sure you've connected with every person that gave you her business card. Make it a point to follow up with them and tell them how nice it was to meet. Support their blogs by sharing and engaging with their content, and they might return the favor! At the very least, you'll have made a few new traveling buddies. 

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