After eighteen months of blogging I finally got invited to my first blogging event. Ok, so I could have gone to TBEX Athens last year; I even bought my ticket and decided which hostel I was going to stay in. But then I chickened out because I was terrified and ridiculously unprepared.
Having now been to Athens (for my birthday just over a month ago), I’m kicking myself that I didn’t visit sooner. What’s more, after seeing some of the stunning Pyrenees trips that bloggers from TBEX Costa Brava were lucky enough to experience earlier this year, I’m also kicking myself for letting my fear stand in the way – yet again.
So what exactly was I scared of?
- I’m an introvert. I’m great in small groups of people who I feel comfortable with, but in large groups of people I retreat back into my shell, and the quick-witted, fun-loving, quirky person that I can be goes unnoticed behind those more confident, self-assured personalities.
- I’m not very good at talking about myself. Again, it’s probably as a result of my shyness; I just don’t think I’m as interesting, clever or funny as other people. This also means that I’m not very good at selling myself – to potential employers or sponsors.
- I haven’t yet found my ‘niche’ – or at least, I haven’t yet managed to identify it. I simply write about the kind of travel that I enjoy (budget, independent, adventure) and I visit the places that inspire me (more recently Peru and Bolivia, but that’s only because I spent five months over in South America last year; I have a lot of raw, unpublished material).
- My social media following is abysmal. Ok, so I know it’s all relative and 820 Twitter followers is a lot to someone who only has 500, but couple that with just 1800 monthly unique visitors to my site (when the ‘magic number’ for working with brands is meant to be at least 10,000) and you have some idea of how insignificant and embarrassed I feel talking about my stats.
Why am I mentioning these fears?
Because, after attending Ice Lolly’s Blog At The Beach event in Leeds last Saturday, I’m actually not scared anymore and I literally cannot wait to be invited to another. TBEX Stockholm here I come!
Ice Lolly are a small company based in Leeds who run a price comparison site for package holidays. So basically they take all the hard work out of finding that perfect summer vacation. Their massive online presence belies the fact that they only have between 40 and 50 employees. Along with a few of Ice Lolly’s employees (including their CEO and Brand Director no less) were approximately 34 bloggers – mostly travel bloggers and mostly female!
On the morning of the event I trawled the streets of Leeds in attempt to find an inviting little artisan cafe where I could enjoy some lovely fresh, locally-sourced produce for breakfast. However, having not done my research beforehand (embarrassing admission from a travel blogger!) I ended up in Cafe Nero, chain-drinking coffee in an attempt to both wake me up (I may have discovered Brew Dog the night before) and settle my nerves.
I arrived at the event early (I’ve never really done the whole fashionably late thing, it’s just not in my nature) and was quite pleased to be greeted by three other smiley faces waiting at the door – Amy from Hardy Traveller, Eileen from Follow That Bug, and Nigel from Uneven Toast. Three quickly became five as we were joined by Clare from The Wayfarer Diaries and Danielle from While I’m Young and Skinny (it’s a turn of phrase; she’s not skinny).
What was instantly refreshing was that – unlike the majority of social situations – there was no need for small talk to determine whether we had anything in common; we were all there because of a united passion for writing and an insatiable desire to explore the world. I like to think that people with a passion for travel are generally open-minded, non-judgmental, and curious by nature, and I certainly found that to be true of the people I met at Blog At The Beach. Everyone I spoke to seemed genuinely interested in my blog and my travels, and were all keen to share their blogging experience, knowledge, tips and advice with others.
What should I do to prepare?
- Get some business cards. I got mine designed for me, but if you’re more computer literate that I am (that wouldn’t really be difficult; the basics of Photoshop confuse me!) you can save some money by producing your own. I only managed to give out my cards to other bloggers, but exchanging business cards is a fantastic icebreaker, and it means that when when you get home after the event, you have the website addresses of some fantastic new travel blogs to read.
- Join in with some Twitter conversations using the hashtag for the event. You’ll get your name and face known to other people attending the event, and your tweet exchanges may even intitiate a pre-event meet up. Unfortunately I only noticed Lucy’s message after I’d actually met her some hours later, but you catch my drift!
- Wear something unique, like a cool necklace, crazy handbag or funky scarf. This is a tip I have stolen from Emma from Adventures of A London Kiwi, and one which – whilst I didn’t manage to put into practice due to not really having anything that fitted the bill – I do think is a fantastic idea, both as an icebreaker and to ensure that people remember you.
- Bring a notebook and pen. Even if you don’t end up writing anything, it makes you look organised and interested.
So what should I expect from the event on the day?
The five-hour day started with some complimentary non-alcoholic cocktails, followed by some time to chat and network with other travel bloggers and industry professionals, and an ice-breaker game which involved lots of running around trying to establish whether you were standing in the correct location in the room appropriate to your chosen country.
We then sat down and listened to an introduction by Ice Lolly’s Brand Director Suniel Makh, after which there were individual talks by Robb Frost from WMG, who spoke about digital marketing and SEO, Monica Stott from The Travel Hack, who spoke about working with brands and Greg Brand from Travizeo, who ran a travel video Q & A session.
These informative speeches were interspersed with breaks in which we could mingle, chat, eat, drink and take photographs.
There was a pop-up beach area with inflatable palm trees and flamingos, some crazy novelty sunglasses, straw hats, Hawaiian-style necklaces, and deck chairs, as well as cocktails laid on by The Alchemist and a delicious lunch buffet containing smoked salmon, olives and chocolate-coated strawberries.
After the event Ice Lolly invited us all to join them for cocktails at The Liquorist, one of Leeds’ newest bars.
What are the big dos and don’ts?
- Don’t expect to be able to talk to everyone! Whilst there were approximately 34 bloggers at this event, I primarily chatted to four or five of these. No matter how much of a social butterfly you are, it’s impossible to spread yourself around thinly enough to enable you to speak to everyone in the room. Besides I think it’s much better to form a good relationship with a select few (who will subsequently remember you, be inspired to read your blog, recommend your work to other people they meet or look you up at a future travel blogging conference) rather than simply be an instantly forgettable face to many.
- Do be yourself. This is easier said than done, especially when you have little confidence in yourself in large (read: daunting) social situations – as I do. But as Monica pointed out in her inspiring and informative talk entitled ‘How To Work With Brands Whilst Keeping Your Style’, brands look for personality first and foremost when deciding who they want to work with. This doesn’t mean you have to be brash and loud and over-confident, but it does mean you have to be you. Travel industry professionals (and fellow travel bloggers) will be able to see straight through a facade; they want someone who is relatable, and who their readers will warm to and trust.
- Do pay attention to the talks and do take notes. What you may remember on the day you’ll instantly forget when you get home that night – especially after one too many cocktails! At Blog At The Beach, all of the three speeches were equally informative and inspiring in their own unique ways, and packed with invaluable resources and tips. I could probably write an entire post on everything I learnt from these talks alone.
- Do take photos. I failed miserably at this one, as I always tend to do at social events. I always feel a little awkward and rather rude interrupting a conversation to take a photograph. However, we’re all travel bloggers and we all do it, and if we don’t we’ll be incredibly jealous of the person who managed to. Fortunately the lovely folk at Ice Lolly have made their photos available for bloggers at the event to reproduce in their posts (thanks Ice Lolly!).
- Do ask questions – of fellow travel bloggers, industry professionals and the event organisers/brand representatives. If you ask a question during or after one of the talks, people turn to look at you whilst you’re speaking, which means they will notice you, remember your face and acknowledge a keen interest in their topic and a willingness to learn. Event organisers (read: Ice Lolly) will appreciate the fact that you are showing an interest in the company they represent and the part they play within that company, and that you’re not just there for the free alcohol (although, that’s always a bonus – especially when you’re treated to Rumberry Mojitos in The Liquorist).
So what have I learnt from my first blogging event?
If you’ve never attended a blogging event before, because – like me – you felt terrified and unprepared, then Blog At The Beach is a perfect event for you. It’s small, intimate, friendly, relaxed and informal, and therefore provides a fantastic introduction to future networking events and travel conferences.
I’ve also learnt that travel bloggers are a lovely bunch of people who are there to help and support each other.
I think it’s all to easy to assume that other travel bloggers are all these super confident, uber amazing people who get everything right, and to put them on some kind of pedastool (I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt a little starstruck when talking to Sabina from Girl vs Globe), but when you met them you find that – whilst they’re no less amazing than you imagine them to be – they’re approachable, down-to-earth people who are incredibly easy to talk to.
There’s an enormous sense of camaraderie between travel bloggers within the travel blogging industry, and I really felt that first hand at Blog At The Beach. I truly felt part of one big, if slightly inebriated, family.
Massive thanks to Ice Lolly for hosting such a fantastic event, and for inviting little ol’ me! I hope this is the first of many to come 🙂
Have you attended a blogging event before? Do you remember your first one? Which one was it? and how did your experiences compare?