For those who may not know, Blissdom Canada is an annual conference that focuses on social media, entrepreneurship, and change. I attended last year, and was pretty blown away by the whole thing, but this year's conference blew that one out of the water. It felt as though the organizers took into consideration every bit of feedback from that conference and applied it to this one.
More room for the conference events? Check.
Different content streams so attendees can focus on where their interests lie? Check.
Microsessions spread out in different rooms? Check.
More food options (including gluten free)? Check.
Places where introverts like me can have a few minutes in peace? Check.
Seriously. This conference hit all the right notes, from the venue and sponsors to the speakers and sessions.
There was a lot going on this year. Last year I signed up for Blissdom because I had just had a baby, and I was ready to focus more on my blog. It was my way of giving myself permission to admit that I actually took it seriously, rather than just waving it off as something frivolous. I wasn't ready to monetize yet, and the thought of contacting brands freaked me out, but I was ready to get serious.
How unprepared was I last year? I didn't even have business cards. Nope. I took everyone else's cards and then communicated with them later. I introduced myself and my blog almost apologetically, as though what I had to say on my blog was nowhere near as deserving of attention as everyone else's blogs. Still, last year's conference gave me connections. My Twitter following grew, my blog hits went up (doubled, actually), and brands started contacting me. Nothing major, but it seemed like the moment I began to take myself and my blog seriously, others started taking me seriously too. That's why I knew I had to attend this year's conference, with new goals in mind.
For those who don't know me, let me clear something up from the start. I am not a great networker. Last year I didn't attend any of the night events. I met people only because they approached me. This year a few of my goals were to attend the meet and greet Thursday night, to meet some of the people I interact with on Twitter in person, to communicate with the sponsors, and to talk to a few new people. I also wanted to get professional head shots taken. Mission accomplished.
I still wasn't the girl squealing and hugging and jumping up and down with the huge group of friends I had made the year before, but I met people. I had interesting conversations. I exchanged my business cards with others. To me, these are all successes. I lucked out with the head shots because when I went to sign up, there was a free spot available right then. No room to chicken out. Anna Epp was amazing. She put me at ease, made me laugh, and took great shots. I could have justified the price of the ticket the first night.
The keynote speakers were unbelievable. I knew I was in for something special when Eric Alper talked about embracing your voice. Be controversial if what makes you controversial is something you actually believe in and stand for. Let that authenticity be what separates you from the crowd. That message of owning your voice set the tone for the rest of the conference. The sessions were fantastic that day, and I learned about creating great content, building a better blog, and how to keep going even when times are tough.
Then the Social Etiquette panel happened. Neil Hedley moderated a panel of fantastic guests, including Glennon Doyle Melton and Glen Canning, an anti-bullying advocate, and father of Rehtaeh Parsons. If you're wondering if that session was intense, let's just say that most people were crying before the guests even took the stage. They talked about kindness online. About the importance of not engaging with those who are nasty, even when it's hard. Glenn Canning talked about Anonymous finding out the identities of the person running an awful Facebook page about his daughter, and how he declined their offer to make that person's identity public. Glennon talked about feeling afraid every day, and about moving forward anyway. Seriously powerful.
On the last day of the conference, I had a chance to work on the rest of my goals. I'm blogging and freelancing now, yet had no idea how to actually run my business life like a business. The session with Angèle LaFond from Shoe Box Be Gone taught me so much about record keeping, taxes, and essentially how to stop pretending that all I do is write a little blog and start recognizing that this is my career. The food blogger session with Dana Jackson from Hot Pink Apron taught me about food photography, the importance of storytelling, and helped me connect with others in my niche. Finally, the session with Tracy Chapell from Today's Parent gave me the tools and the confidence I need to start pitching magazines. The hands on session with the women from Mom Biz helped me get started on a business plan, and also helped me define who I am as a blogger and what my blog stands for.
Turns out I'm not a food blogger. Well, I'm not ONLY a food blogger. I'm not interested in being the best chef out there with the most gourmet dishes and the most drool-worthy photos. I want to be the go to place for gluten free newbies or parents with gluten free kids to find some simple, practical information and resources to make the transition to gluten free a little bit easier. I want to help them put fast dinners on the table, pack fun lunches and shop at the grocery store with confidence. I want them to have strategies for dealing with birthday parties and other social events. I want to help them dine out in public, find places to travel, choose the right cookbook. I had some inkling of what I wanted to achieve with my blog before this conference, but now it's much clearer and more focused.
The Power Hour was full of advice, stories, and lessons, from some of the coolest people around. Elan Morgan taught me that it's ok to be in the middle of my story, Shannon Fisher talked about pigs, Chris Read of Canadian Dad blog discussed his road back to depression, and there were so many more that I can't list them all. Erica Ehm's opening stayed with me. She asked "Do you get what you want? Because I do. I get what I want." She was strong, all business, and unapologetic about it. I loved it. The conference ended with Drew Dudley reminding us that leadership is something everyone can embody every day, by recognizing and celebrating the leadership of others, the small moments that have big impact, and the ways in which we are good to ourselves and each other.
This conference was full of strong women and a few strong men. I can't vouch for every conversation, but the ones I heard were positive, empowering, and focused on praising how good the presenters were. We learned from each other. The speakers didn't apologize for their success, or shy away from their accomplishments, or insist that there's only one way to do things. I made new friends, met Twitter friends like Lisa from Pocketfuls, in real life, and learned a lot. It was fun, and professional, and inspirational, and I can't wait to do it all over again next year.
Who knows what my goals will look like then?
P. S.: The organizing team did a fantastic job, and kudos to the sponsors, including big hitters like Tim's, Microsoft, and Canadian Lentils to name but a few, who understand that investing in women is a great business decision.