My goals were fairly simple: to learn some new techy stuff, meet some new people, get an idea of how brands worked with bloggers, and see how one makes blogging into a career. I’ve done all of those things and more.
Flying across the country to meet 500 people you’ve never met. Spending $1200 in conference fees, hotel and airfare to do so. With no real idea of how it’s going to turn out. This is the thing that some people’s nightmares are made of. And even I found myself slightly uncertain at the idea of walking into a huge ballroom where I knew a grand total of NO ONE. (Those of you who know me are aware that I am prone to bringing people along in my wake…I have no fears of approaching strangers and work with the assumption that they’re going to be awesome and interesting. They generally are). My innate confidence is apparently not foolproof. Don’t declare it from the rooftops, though…you’ll ruin my rep!
Blissdom, for those of you not following along at home (or on Twitter, #Blissdomca), is Canada’s biggest social media conference. As a new blogger, it was my first time here, and the prospect of 500 people I’d never met was a little daunting, even for me. As they say, though (who is ‘they’? No idea!), if it’s scary (and not unsafe!), it probably means you should give it a shot.
So I landed in Toronto to go to Blissdom. The immediate steps were easy. Find shuttle (thank you Chevrolet!). Check in. Put luggage down and bask in having a hotel room all to myself, which NEVER happens. And then I wandered down to the lobby in search of the welcome event… found myself standing off to the side, wondering which ballroom it was in and fighting an unexpected urge to cry like an eighth grade girl. There was another woman standing off to the side, texting, and I weighed approaching the group laughing and talking in the hotel bar. So I took a deep breath, turned to the woman texting and said “What do you think? Should I have dinner by myself, or should I attempt to gatecrash someone’s dinner party?”
She laughed. And we spontaneously agreed to start a newcomer’s club. And so Lesley and I went off together to forge the frontier of bloggers.
Moments that stood out:
*lunch, both days. Day 1 was hosted by McDonald’s. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Turned out to be veggie wraps with tortilla chip strips and ranch sauce. All real food, and genuinely delicious. I was completely impressed (and I will acknowledge, very pleasantly surprised!). Day 2 was sponsored by the Lentils Canada. Did you know that you can make the most mouth watering spiced lentil pumpkin cake? I KNOW. I now have a slightly overwhelming craving for lentil soup. Please stay tuned while I go off and hunt down a recipe to make later.
*the immediate camaraderie that sprung up with several bloggers I hadn’t met. The talented doll-making Jessica, or the dancing queen Astra. I met Natalie, whose blog I’ve read for quite awhile. Turns out she works in the same industry and we got a chance to talk shop. I learned about baking from Liz, and met the adorable baby belonging to Jac. There were so many amazing people that I can’t even begin to list them all – it feels a bit like an Oscar speech. It was also an opportunity to see a small slice of someone else’s life that is so rare in these screen-filled times. I had never envisioned how isolating it must be to have a child with special needs until an intense conversation about it where someone told me she felt that leaving her daughter with a babysitter was unfair, not to the child, but to the babysitter, who wasn’t equipped to deal with those intense needs. A little window of someone else’s challenges can be enormously illuminating when looking at your own.
*goodies! I got to try products that I’d never tried before and some of them were amazing! I came home with literally a duffel bag of new things – exciting!
*one of the speakers was the head of Twitter Canada – and I *finally* understand Twitter and what it does and why! And that alone was worth the trek.
*the incredible sense of freedom that comes with knowing no one and being able to reinvent yourself. You see yourself through new eyes when you’re meeting people who have no idea of what you ‘usually’ do or your regular schedule. There’s a freedom in being able to wander up to your room and have a nap in the middle of the day or go to bed at 10 when you’re normally up until the wee hours. There are no preconceptions of what choices you’ll make or who you are as a person, and that’s really really cool. And to others, you recognize qualities in them that they had forgotten they had, and you can see their situation in a new light.
*seminars and roundtables, led by people in the industry. I learned about blogging and taxes from Shoebox Begone, which was immediately practical – need to get this blog baby making some money! The session on magazine writing was led by one of the editors of Today’s Parent. I learned a boggling amount of things, from how to write a story pitch for a magazine to how to self publish a book from start to finish.
*learning about brands from the perspective of the brand. I’ve never really asked myself how Tetley describes themselves (they just introduced a new Ceylon blend that I got to sample, btw – I must have drank half of their supply!). I just like their tea and that’s as far as it went. Learning about the enormous charitable work that Tim Hortons does makes me proud of them as a Canadian company. And Philosophy’s skin care consultations taught me about some of the science of skin. Hallmark wants to be part of keeping us connected to our friends in a tangible way. Useful – and interesting! I hadn’t really thought of how companies could reach out to consumers and how they genuinely want you to like them. Really really like them. (I had a Sally Fields flashback there. If you understood it, you were born early than 1982).
*glamping. Marquee tent, chandelier, barbeque, and floor length glamour. Simultaneously wearing a gold sequined party party party dress while eating turkey wings with my hands was a new experience.
*the final event, a pyjama party, was something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. And the ones I’d been too were with a few close friends, lacking the formal dance floor, bar, and popcorn cart that this one featured. It was sponsored by the wonderful folks at Cottonelle, who had brought in a mobile spa to do manicures and massages. After three days of putting our best face forward and having our hair and makeup done and being dazzling, it was wonderful to wander down to the lobby in teal flannel pyjamas and fuzzy socks and just sit cross legged on a leather couch and hang out with new friends. It was nice to just ‘be’.
But mostly, what struck me were some of the speakers.The session on social media and bullying was hard hitting and topical. If you want to see what it’s like to be famous, do a Google search for Jimmy Kimmel’s series on celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves. No one is immune to meanness, and there’s no excuse for spewing vitriol because ‘it’s a company’ or ‘they’re a celebrity, that’s what they do’. There’s a person behind that keyboard, regardless of how big or small they seem. If you aren’t kind on the Internet, you aren’t kind.
Drew Dudley’s powerful message that you are who you make yourself. Aim high, and know that you’re the only one out there who gets to be you. So run with that…you’re the only one who can!
So I learned a lot. About brands, about blogging, about friendships and bonding, and about me. I learned that if you want to be a writer, then write. Step outside your comfort zone and find out the story guidelines for your favourite magazine and pitch the story you’ve been thinking about. The worst they’ll say is no.
So Blissdom, you were my summer camp and more. There were new friends, pyjama parties, sponsor treats, six times in a row down the four story waterslide, and an enormous amount of insight. Blissdom, you blew my mind. And next year, I’ll know to have a bigger suitcase!