In many ways, BlogHer ’13 was what I expected. I never thought (despite the frenzy on Twitter) that this international blogging conference focused on celebrating the power of voice would feature unicorns and a keynote from She-Ra. I hoped, just a bit, but my rational side rejoiced in calm, reserved expectations. But it seems as though not everyone shared by approach.
As with other conferences I’ve attended (in other fields), I expected a diverse group of people with varied goals attending panels and workshops of varying levels of professionalism and usefulness. I expected to meet a few amazing people, hear a few snippets of mind-blowing advice, roll my eyes several times, and experience my share of frustration. And exhaustion.
More than 5,000 humans with nuanced lives, experiences, and personalities attended BlogHer ’13 for different reasons and with varied goals, and I was able to get lost and to be found in that crowd.
All this I expected.
What I didn’t expect was the complaining.
“That celebrity writer is just an a–hole! Why did they choose him?”
“I can’t believe we have to listen to her! She’s so annoying.”
“This is a joke, right? Who considers vegetables and hummus a meal?”
“Who the hell planned to have these two sessions at the same time? I’m so mad because I want to attend both.”
Unreasonable expectations? Unfettered sense of entitlement? Undeveloped social skills?
[Note: The only complaints I heard were from women. I refuse to generalize to a gender-specific propensity toward complaining or to a statistical assumption about the odds of hearing complaints from a minority group at a large conference. Simple statement: the only people I heard complain about the programming, the food, the sessions, the structure, the convention center, the bathrooms, or the conference planning were women. And a *lot* of them were complaining.]
Ladies: I have a suggestion.
No, it’s not “get over yourselves.” I wish it were, because I lean toward that reaction. This was a very well-planned conference that attempted to meet the needs of a remarkably diverse group of bloggers. So I wish I could say, “get off your entitled high horse and appreciate what you have.”
But that’s not instructive. And it is fundamentally the same as the whining I heard. My demanding that someone share my perspective (in this case “I command you toward awe and gratitude and joy”) is similar in both tone and dismissive self-centrism as someone else’s whine that they didn’t like the heavy marketing presence at BlogHer.
My suggestion, actually, is that they write a letter.
BlogHer focused programming and seminars and workshops and presenters and conversations and awards and keynotes around using our voice. And most of the sessions focused on finding the right audience for that voice so that it’s heard by the right people.
Complaining to fellow conference attendees gets you nothing. It annoys your fellow writer and squanders your power.
If you don’t like something, speak up. If you felt dissatisfied with the proceedings in Chicago, tell the conference planners at BlogHer 1) what you didn’t like, 2) how a situation didn’t meet your expectations, 3) how you would fix it in the future, and 4) how you will help.
Complaining is rarely effective if you don’t show that you’ve analyzed the situation, your expectations, and the possible solutions. Note that in the above solution you have to do some serious work around honestly examining your reasoning, articulating how a situation fell short, and developing a workable solution.
You do this at work when you write a memo that explains why your old computer hampers productivity, how your computer fits into the company’s larger technology picture, what options you’ve identified for upgrading, which are your recommendations for a technological change, and where the money will come from.
You do this at home, too. When the family is bickering about the same things or getting stuck at the same time of day, you have a meeting to explain what you see, solicit ideas for change, aggregate recommendations for a new approach, create a plan, and garner approval for the new plan.
If you didn’t like something about a conference, you have to speak up. But complaining, especially to fellow attendees, does not change anything. Examining expectations, stating problems, and offering solutions changes everything.
Use your words, people. Because I want to help you but I can’t understand when you’re whining.
Wow. Tell it, woman.
Exactly. The complaints. Suggestions, I can understand. Proposed ideas, so fine with that. But the complaints. When you consider how much BlogHer has to pay for each attendee, for meals, speakers, location, materials. I say the conference is the best value around. If someone has shopped the cost of an average conference and usually the one idea agenda offered, they’d see the difference. Yes, I heard much that made me wonder: who are these people and have they never seen making your experience, vs. the slamming of what they think should be handed to them. BlogHer stuff is ready to listen to all voiced concerns, they are open to ideas and proposals: tell them what you’d like to see. For me, the conference is an annual highlight and I am thrilled with the speakers I get to hear (Gayle Heard, I mean WOW) and the food for 5,000 at a time and the chance to meet the ones that have become part of my community: all in one clean, safe, easy to reach place. I am pleased , every year, I come back enriched, soul nourished, and with a smile on my face.
Thank you for this post.
I understood the massive scale of the logistics and the reasoning behind almost everything they did. It’s a blogging conference. So events around someone whose blog has become a brand, someone who self published, someone who believes in women and traditional publishing, someone who is changing the world with blogging, someone harnessing technology with blogging, and empowering girls in the online space all make sense. Doesn’t mean I loved each of them. It means they have an important part of “why am I blogging and what comes next?” conversation. I didn’t expect to like everything. I expected a complete picture. And on that front they ROCKED it.
I’ve never been to a conference that took such good care of vegans. I’ve been to conferences with stronger panels, but they were usually peopled with PhDs in their field. I’ve been to conferences with less marketing and pervasive corporate brand messaging, but those conferences cost more to attend.
My concerns were minor and I think based in reasonable thought processes. And I have workable suggestions.
Once I write those up and submit them, all I expect is someone at BlogHer to read them. I don’t expect that every smart suggestion will be part of BlogHer ’14. Because articulate and logical suggestions don’t guarantee people will do what I say. If it did, I would rule the world. Or at least my household.
The last line was my fave. :)
Nice job. I do find that many people who complain (not just about the conference, but in general) don’t ever provide suggestions for a solution, when that’s exactly what may induce change.
Thanks for stopping by, Melisa.
It just seems as though we all talk a good game about raising problem-solving children…we should practice some problem-solving skills ourselves!
I love it when there are other unicorns present. And I am so glad they had food for unicorns! The herbivores are just as hungry as the carnivores. You look awesome standing next to your exhibit, what an honor. Happy for you.
I tell my people… you can’t make me listen to your problem unless you tell me a solution for it. HELP ME HELP YOU.
I know you are soul-diving for your posts about the conference… I can’t wait.
Roasted veggies, feta dip, hummus, seitan chorizo, fruit, tofu scramble, gluten-free cookies.
No glitter. They’re a bit too staid and buttoned up for that. ;-)
I once worked for a very wise boss whom I didn’t always like. Anytime you went to him with a complaint, he very carefully wrote down what he heard you say, repeated it back to you to be sure he had it right, then gave you an appointment to see him in a week with your list of ideas about what to do about the problem, including all the additional problems your solution was liable to cause and how to address those. Not too many people went to him with a complaint more than once!
I’m sure he had his flaws, but I love that particular tactic. Shows he was engaged. Shows he wanted to change what wasn’t working. And showed that he wanted people to learn there is no magical Fix It Fairy who can make the world a field of buttercups and puppies.
I think I’ll steal that idea, Sue!
But I want to live in a world where there are fields of buttercups and puppies.
Roald Dahl is all I have to offer you, kitten. ;-)
now I’m craving veggies and hummus.
I love that you went to this! Chicago? I’m close to Chicago. Sort of…
Mmmmmm. Veggies and spinach feta dip.
Well said. I think you nailed it when you said, “Complaining is rarely effective if you don’t show that you’ve analyzed the situation, your expectations, and the possible solutions.” And just for the record, I loved the veggies and hummus. -Val
You and me both, Val.
I have no problem with people who don’t like veggies. Or hummus. I just don’t want to hear people whine about them. Because I’m not complaining about the coffee…I’m just going to buy better coffee on the other side of the convention center.