Introvert/Extrovert Guide to BlogHer

Many posts this week offer suggestions for managing social anxiety to make it through BlogHer’s premiere conference in San Jose next week. Breathe deeply, introverts are told,  and trust that you’ll find remarkable connections and moments even when surrounded by 5,000 people.

Those posts are useful, by the way, and contain solid advice for managing social anxiety in large crowds.

But I haven’t noticed many suggestions on how to best harness your extroversion at BlogHer’14. I noticed because I wander back and forth across the extrovert/introvert line, getting energy by being alone but with public-performance itches about as theatrical as you can get. It is from this ambivalent place that I bring you my Introvert/Extrovert Guide to BlogHer’14.

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Introverts: Though there are a lot of people at BlogHer, they don’t actually surround you at any point. You don’t have to face 5,000 people or touch 5,000 people. You will be in the same city as 5,000 people. That likely happens to you daily. There is space to be alone and close out the noises when you need to. And when it’s time to listen to the awesome content produced by the many lovely humans sharing their knowledge and passion at a BlogHer conference, you’ll be in a room with 20-100 people, all of whom are ignoring you to listen.

Extroverts: Sakes alive, there will be times for you to be near 5,000 people! This is only at eating occasions, of course, and nobody will pay any attention to you because they’re waiting for or eating food and trying to have conversations with the one or two people who’ve piqued their interest. But you can spend the lunch break walking past hundreds of tables, feeding off the buzz of engaged, excited bloggers. And if you sit down and make contact with the people at one table, you will have at least ten people with whom to talk, laugh, cry, and share. If that doesn’t work, get up and try another table. There are hundreds of opportunities for an audience.

Introverts: Rest assured, there are places to get away. Convention Centers are notoriously large, but that means there are hundreds of bathroom stalls into which you can be by yourself when necessary. Walk the opposite direction of any stream of lovely humans and sneak into the farthest bathroom you can find. At both the hotel and convention center last year I found bathrooms that were completely empty. And I mean take-your-pick-from-ten-stalls empty. Door closed, lock slid, deep breath taken, wall of voices dissipated, blood pressure calmed. [Side note: avoid the coffee lines at all costs if you’re introverted. Caffeinated people who want more caffeine but have to wait for quite some time often get both chatty and agitated. I have PCLSD (post coffee line stress disorder) from last year.]

Extroverts: Prepare and pace yourself, there are many choices for places to see, be seen, chat, and engage. There are thousands of excited bloggers around you. My caution to you is this: the generally celebrated habit of approaching strangers with a warm smile and firm handshake does not always go over well at BlogHer. At social parties I try to approach those who look out of place or uncomfortable because I seek to place at ease the world’s discomfited. But at BlogHer, there are more than a handful of introverts just trying to get by, and my approach with a willingness to converse is their kryptonite. Set your anxiety-scanner to high and proceed with care before approaching a blogger who looks as though she could use a friend. If she runs in the opposite direction, it’s probably because she needs to go to the loo. The farthest one.

Introverts: Choose your panels in advance so you can schedule where to be and when. That way you know when your breaks are, you know where to go, and you can look confident moving toward something. You will find amazing moments if you schedule a bit of social time, too, not just the deeply informational sessions. Try the VOTY party for reasonably low-key, high-quality socializing with bloggers you might read. It’s the end of Friday’s activities which means if you’ve had too much DAY in your day, you can pop in, grab some food, and leave. Just know you don’t have to go to anything. You choose. Default to just the sessions and you’ll have a wonderful conference. Try a few of the parties or mixer sessions and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Extroverts: Choose your panels in advance so you can schedule where to be and when. If you tend to default to going wherever the herd is going, you will miss the sessions that might change your life. Stick to a plan of what your personal or professional needs are at BlogHer, and save the socializing for the many opportunities the schedule gives you for interaction. In my humble opinion, the VOTY party is your best bet for full-on extrovert time because the food and the company ROCK.

Introverts: Take advantage of the scheduled breaks. There is time between sessions and after meals during which you can decompress. Please, for the sake of all that’s holy, get away and get some quiet. BlogHer offers 15+ hours per day of programming. You will die a hard, exhausted death on the way back to the hotel if you don’t take every free minute as a hide-in-the-loo break.

Extroverts: You, too. Take breaks. You will supernova if you don’t pace yourself. It’s 5,000 people 15+ hours a day for three days. You won’t miss too much if you put your feet up for 15 minutes.

Introverts: You are among your people. Many, many bloggers are drained by social interaction, and you will likely find a group of other creative, lovely, inspired, passionate introverts with whom to bond. Take a deep breath and know that the BlogHer attendees know about introversion. We know you’re going to need time away. We’re cool with that, mostly because a lot of us are like you.

Extroverts: You’re among your people. Many BlogHer attendees thrive on social interaction and want both planned sessions and party time. You will likely find a group of other creative, lovely, inspired, passionate, extroverts with whom to bond. Brace yourself and get everything from this process as you can. They built [a nearby] City on rock and roll. And extroverts like you!

Top Six Takeaways from BlogHer ’13

Tomorrow I’m posting a longer summary of all the sessions I attended at BlogHer ’13, intending to offer fellow writers some of the ideas I heard during my 68-hour foray into the world’s largest blogging conference.

Today, I offer you the six pieces of advice I heard reiterated most often at BlogHer ’13. In the keynote, in discussions, from panels, in workshops, and during highlighted sessions, I noted the following over and over:

1. Find your difference. Write about it well, laugh at it, own it. What you have to offer is your perspective, experience, and knowledge. Nobody wants to hear (or read or see) the same voice with the same message. To be a successful brand you have to offer something different, sustainable, credible, and relevant. The only way to do that consistently is to sing the core of who you are. [Note: this year nobody seems pushedthe idea that an author must be a brand. Apparently we’ve all finally accepted that and moved on. You are a brand. Stipulated.]

2. Publish. Blog numbers mean very little if your goal is publishing. To ask publishers, editors, and readers to pay for your work you have to prove that other professionals think you’re worth publishing. Publish great pieces in books, magazines, newspapers, online spaces by finding the right audience for your message and selling the heck out of your words.

3. Someone aches for what you’re selling. Get it to them. Find the people who really need, want, or pay for exactly what you write or produce. Figure out what you’re really offering and bring it to those who need it. That goes for selling what you make, publishing what you write, or being elected for what you believe. Find the right customer and get your wares right in front of them.

4. Build your platform before you write your book. A lot of people must hear the announcement “I have something to sell!” If they don’t hear you, nobody will buy. And for them to hear you, they have to already know your work. People who don’t know you don’t care about you; they care about a compelling story impeccably told. So build a following of people who know that you’re compelling and can tell stories impeccably before the world hears that you’re selling/publishing/running for something.

5. Get used to feeling uncomfortable. I gleaned this from every writing seminar, keynote, editing workshop, advocacy panel, celebrity panel, and niche panel at BlogHer ’13. Five thousand attendees heard this over and over: Creatively and personally, if you’re going to do something that matters, get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Lean in. Engage. Query. Take the leap. Incorporate the criticism. Face the music. Do the work. Take the heat. Feeling uneasy is your new normal. Embrace it. It means you’re doing something important.

6. Content is king. The quality of your ideas, writing, music, food, products, message simply must be outstanding, and must say something new about that which is important to your audience. Content. Is. King.

[Note: focusing on content is consistent with the editing phase in which I continually remind authors that the reader is king. Making your writing work for readers is producing good content. So perhaps the content is co-king with the reader? No… content is the crown for the royal reader? No… the reader is the palace in which the king lives. Or vice versa? Or monarchy is so last millennium and we need new metaphors. Maintain an unwavering focus on your reader’s need for great content. There. No more kings. Just robust writing, great content, and engaged readers.]

6. (revised) Maintain an unwavering focus on your audience’s need for great content. 

Did I miss any? Did you hear anything repeatedly at BlogHer ’13 that we must remember as we charge off into the world and create great content?


BlogHer ’13: Don’t whine. Find solutions.

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.



Blog paralysis

After attending three days of workshops and lectures and panels on writing at the BlogHer conference last week in Chicago, I have a case of blog paralysis.

Not writer’s block. I’m writing plenty and have gobs and gobs to say.

But I can’t let the posts fly like I once did. I used to dash off my thoughts and post them, unedited, whenever something occurred to me. Silly bits of my day, desperate situations that need heroic efforts around the world…everything.

Now I have several drafts ping ponging around my laptop, all crammed full of thoughts but falling flat. Not good enough, not insightful enough, not powerful enough or fast enough to make a mark in the world. Flaccid, flabby writing several days late and several thousand dollars short, quite unworthy of the brilliant writing I read and dissected and aspired to while surrounded by thousands of bloggers in a convention center turned, for a weekend, into a giant writing seminar.

So I’m dashing off a thought, unedited, as it comes to me while I wade through the notes of finding a niche and writing unvarnished truth and publishing and knowing my audience and finding the right place for my voice and reading as much as possible and…breathlessly unpacking the weighted baggage of my post-trip brain, I’m just going to post this.

It’s Saturday night. Nobody reads posts Saturday night anyway, right? So an imperfect, unedited, unpolished, rambling post that doesn’t further my brand or my craft or my voice or my platform is just fine.

It has to be.

Baby steps, y’all. Baby steps.


You Have to Know Who You Are

Each morning when I dress the part of the human I’m pretending to be, I think about the contexts in which people will see me. An all-kids day means I wear a geek T-shirt, skort, and pair of worn-out Chucks with red recycled-kimono laces. A meeting with clients means a suit (despite the fact that I’m still clinging to pre-kids suits that are way too tight and too short. Because children, apparently, made me grow several inches. Or made my rear-end absorb several inches of pant-length. Probably the taller thing. Because science.) I reject heels with those suits in favor of sturdy brown wingtips with yellow recycled-kimono laces.

When I’m headed to a conference I feign disinterest and fight my personal love of tweed trousers. I pair a crisp French-cuffed shirt with jeans. Sometimes a tweed jacket. Because I can’t help myself. Oh, my word, the draw of elbow patches. I would put elbow patches on T-shirts and jammies if I could. To fight the corporate-academic look I wear boots, especially my canvas and leather jump boots. Because nothing says badass-academic like jump boots and Scrabble-tile cufflinks.

But an upcoming conference poses a perplexing problem. I’m headed to Chicago for BlogHer, a massive conference for bloggers that I never really thought I’d attend. I’m not sure how I got caught up in the excitement and the joy of this conference. Except that I know exactly how it happened. I won a kind-of-a-big-deal blogging award.

A lovely human named Alexandra, who blogs her infectious love of life, family, and women in several places including at Good Day Regular People has been outrageously kind with me since she found my blog last year. She has connected me with sites she thinks I should blog for and has cheered my accomplishments. She’s my age, but I think of her as my abuela. She’s kind and supportive in the way everyone’s families should be.

And when the BlogHer Voices of the Year submission process opened, Alexandra tweeted to her Empire that everyone should submit because everyone is worthy.

Trying to learn from her example, I slammed the door on self doubts and submitted three pieces from last year.

And promptly forgot that I had entered. I was proud enough to have sneered at the internal, “why would *you* ever…” long enough to submit. I didn’t actually think about the process or the possibility that I might be selected.

But my post on autism is one of twenty-five blog posts being celebrated for inspiration at the upcoming conference.

And when I found out, I was incredulous. Then I cried. And then assumed that all further references to Voice of the Year would necessitate an asterisk.

“Tonight we celebrate 99 bloggers who inspired us, and one extra, whom we chose to fill out the extra seat next to them.”
“We have worked diligently to select some of the best writing online this year, and are throwing a bone to a post by a mediocre writer at whom we shrug a lukewarm nod. You know whom we mean.”
Seems a rather disrespectful view of the judges. [Not of myself or my writing, by the way. The judges did all the work. And the other writers. And the webmaster. And conference planners. And the snack vendors. They all deserve the credit.]

After a bit of this disrespectful drivel, I started to think, maybe, perhaps, there are a few other honorees who similarly think their mention is a mistake or footnoted pity vote. That when I’m clapping for the other bloggers whose posts just *wrecked* me with humor and heart and compassion and truth, perhaps one or two might be hanging their heads in embarrassment, too.

Probably not.

What did this to me? What makes me think what I make doesn’t matter? Or shouldn’t count? Or that when people say, “I read that and liked it” that they’re wrong/lying/trying to be nice? Why wouldn’t I say thank you the way I do when clients like my writing or academics like my writing? Why is creative writing, unpaid writing, heartfelt writing less worthy?

I did feel proud of my writing when I hit “post.” And I did feel satisfied enough in my writing that I entered a contest, something I never, ever do. So why would that pride die when I won? What kind of headcase freakiness is this?

All the other VOTY posts I’ve read, without exception, have floored me. They’ve made me want to write more.

And dozens of people commented that my post was important to them. I have a responsibility to those readers, including the judges, to smother the ridiculous nonsense in my head and to take a bow.

So I’m going to straighten up, allow the smile to settle in, and sit proudly with those wonderful writers at the Voices of the Year celebration later this month.

Because I need some applause in my life, yo. And all I have to do is stop knocking myself down to see the hands making that noise. They’re lovely, gentle, raucous, funny, smart, activist, human hands.

So now to the last, little problem.

What does one wear to act the part of someone who is learning to shut the door on self-doubt and to take full possession of her body, brain, and writing? Is there such thing as a tweed skort and french-cuff shirt with recycled-kimono elbow patches? Designers? Call me if you can hook me up with that kind of swag.

Shameless Self Promotion

BlogHer has announced their Voices of the Year submission process, for outstanding blog posts of the past year.

The Empress has suggested that we all submit our best work.

So I have. And so have many outstanding bloggers.

If you recall liking any of the following posts, do please go vote for them. Clicking the links below will get you to the BlogHer page where you can vote or click through to read (or reread) my post.

Time Out, in which I start locking myself in the bathroom when my kids hit me.
Selling Ourselves Short in which I ponder the cost of selling our blogs to low bidders
Nick in which a dog teaches Butterbean and me about end of life kindness
A Brush with Autism in which I redraw my boundaries for an autistic boy who needs to do things his way.

While you’re there voting for my posts, check out the other great writing on the Interblogs. Submit posts you’ve read and loved. Vote for your favorites. The other bloggers will appreciate your support just like I do!