How to Survive a Blog Conference as a Newbie

Bridging my current knowledge gap with those who know far more.

It seems that I can confide in my blog designer (let her know how great of a job she’s done!) about all of my blog-related qualms. When I told her my site needed some work done before attending Travel Bloggers Unite earlier this month, I also blurted out, OMGIHAVENOCLUEWHATIMDIONGTHEYREGOINGTOHATEME .

Staring down the list of all of the big names in the industry and all of the other delegates, I was immediately intimidated and glad I would be with my friends and fellow Spain bloggers Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Liz of Young Adventuress. We schmoozed, we had silent freak out moments (ok, mostly me) and we traded business cards with some big guns, all in the name of self-promotion.

Bring Business Cards

Not three days before leaving the US for the conference, I realized I hadn’t had business cards made. For many, seeing this little card will give them your first impression of your blog, so it’s important to have them on hand and ready to dole out. When meeting people, I often jotted down something that we’d connected on, like bikes or fundraising, and made sure to tweet them right after the conference.

Moo and Vistaprint can get you fast cards with a professional look for just a few dollars, plus shipping. Having made this mistake, I’d really take a look at your brand and what message you want to send to another blogger or PR rep. Black and white for a country as vibrant as Spain? Sure, it fits the picture I used, but it doesn’t really tell the story of just how colorful a place it is.

Research Who Will Be There and Reach Out to Them

Conferences of this calibre often have a list of delegates who will be attending, along with the keynote speakers, chat givers and organizers. I was shocked when Lauren checked in and the conference organizer said, “Right, you’re the American married to a Spaniard in Madrid!”

My designer told me to talk to a few people in particular, many whose blogs I’ve read, so I did a little research to find out something we had in common, or a particularly interesting anecdote to comment on. As Gary Arndt put it when we met last week in Seville for tapas, “Someone never makes themselves visible to me until they’ve got something to say.” My connection with Gary?

We’re both Green Bay Packers fans (and he even owns stock!).

Introduce Yourself By Way of an Interesting Anecdote

On a sunset cruise of the Duoro with Liz and Lauren

Speaking of which, use the “elevator pitch” technique when introducing yourself. Think about your blog as a product, and imagine you’re in an elevator with someone. You’ve got maybe 45 seconds to present yourself and your blog, the product, so how do you package it up?

Just like a speed dating event, blog conferences allow you to rub shoulders in buffet lines or cramped into a lecture hall. The first questions people tended to ask was, “So, what’s your blog?” and I had to think fast to tell them about me and Sunshine and Siestas. Nerve wracking, maybe, but I have sorority recruitment practice!

I had conversations ranging from how to swear in Spanish (with tutorials), to the bedbugs I caught at the hostal, to my missing laptop. I immediately hit it off with the duo from As We Saw It over my strange pareja de hecho marriage business, and we spent an hour talking about dozens of topics. Once I felt comfortable enough to do more than observe, I could let my voice shine through and connect with people – even if it was about bug infestations.

Have Any and All Gadgets on Hand (and their chargers!)

I had to laugh when we rolled up the magnificent Palacio do Freixo on the Duoro. I was ready for a glass of port, but the first thing handed out to us was a sheet of paper with Internet passwords. I realized I had left my iPod at the hotel charging, so the paper was no use to me. Many blog conferences have a special hashtag, so you’ll see people social media-ing away between chats, over coffee and when they’re up thinking at night (maybe that’s just me).

Roll out the ipods and smartphones!

I sent many tweets to people I was interested in meeting, and used instagram to show people what I was eating and seeing on the day of our city visits.

Be a Fly on the Wall Until you Have Your Bearings

My designer told me it was normal to feel overwhelmed and out of place. Thankfully, the first day’s pre-conference tour introduced me to a small group of people as we toured Porto’s artsy haunts. There were a mere six of us, but we all got on well enough to talk travel, products and marketing. Don’t feel the need to start doling out cards the second you arrive – ease into it, and speak out when you feel comfortable.

Ask All of your Questions

I went into TBU without a clear idea of what it was. Thanks to research and my training as a communicator, I soon found that the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed, and that most people were willing to help. Look at the conference site and map out what talks you’d like to attend. Note what you like on other blogs and write down questions on how to do it. Stay in contact afterwards.

I’m extremely happy that I made the decision to attend a conference, as I left feeling inspired and ready to tackle a new design and more ideas for content. With more preparation, I could have probably squeezed even more out of it, but we’re just taking baby steps for now!

should be applauding, but this crème burlee is so, so good!


Have you ever been to a conference of this nature? What was your experience?

If you are looking to rent an apartment in Porto which feels like home try MyFriendsRoom Vacation Rentals in Porto.


I like cemeteries.

I felt very unfestive this year at Halloween.

In years past, we’ve celebrated pumpkin decorating parties,

had enormous Halloween fetes,

and thrown big celebrations at school.

The Novio usually has a training course during this week, so I was excited to finally show him why my love of cemeteries and ghost stories is normal.

This was as festive as we got:

During my sophomore year of college, Lisa, Beth and I were studying for our Age of the Dinosaurs (if you don’t believe this is actually a class at the University of Iowa, you can find the course description here) on a blustery Halloween Eve night. Bored of cladograms and sauropods, we hatched a plan to visit the Iowa-famous Black Angel, a reputedly haunted statue in the Oakland Cemetery of Iowa City. equipped with flashlights and warm clothing, we took a water bottle full of liquid courage (Hawkeye Vodka, clearly) and set off.

Legend has it that the monstrously large statue was erected by a woman who had once lived in Iowa City to preside over the remains of her dead son and husband, but over a few years’ time, the statue turned black and the wing bent inward. Locals claim the statue has always been connected to the paranormal, and like Scout Finch and the Radley house, we dared one another to touch it to test its claim that virgins were safe. In the windy, damp night, the statue seemed twice as large and even more sinister. In the daylight, however, the whole place just seemed idyllic.

Cemeteries have always fascinated me, whether or not it’s the Halloween season. During my travels, I make it a point to see the way people are laid to rest, how their living relatives honor them. Maybe it’s just because of the Spanish celebration of Día de Todos los Santos, a more pious version of Day of the Dead, which was celebrated just yesterday.

Reputedly, 30% of flowers are sold in the days leading up to the one reserved for families to honor their deceased by offering flower ofrendas and cleaning up the gravesite. I was dying (whoa, wrote that without thinking and am going to leave it) to go and see if the Manchego All Saint’s Day from the movie Volver was spot-on.

In the end, that stupid DELE exam won out, so I’ll just leave you with some shots from hauntingly gorgeous cemeteries from around Europe.

Prayer candles in Bukovina, Romania

A forlorn cemetery in Maramures, Romania

The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, right on the border. I love the jovial depictions of life and death of over 800 people.

In Spain, the 75% who choose not to be cremated are usually given lockers at the local cemetery. This one is in Olvera, Cadiz

The creepy, even in broad daylight, cemetery in Comillas, Santander, is reputed to be haunted.

Like Iowa City, Comillas has its own Angel. Summer 2010.

Along the road to redemption in Cashel, Ireland.

A peaceful Christmas morning with unbelievable light in Limerick, Ireland. I may or may not have looked for Frank McCourt’s dead brothers.

Do you like cemeteries? Seville’s San Fernando Cemetery is home to celebrated bullfighters and flamenco dancers, and it’s a peaceful garden. Free to enter, though photos are not allowed.


Three days, one marriage proposal

I’ve been in Spain for three days just about, so here´s the rundown of what´s gone on, by the numbers.

Hostels: 2
Mahous: 2
Marriage proposal: 1
lost ATM cards: 1 (not mine)
bus rides (regional): 4
bus rides (municipal): 3
taxi rides: countless
rain storms: 1
stray dogs/cats/homeless people: too many.

My apartment deal worked out and my roommate from Germany is wonderful and speaks English. Helen and I have had quite the time trying to figure things out, but generally we’re happy here, and I am so glad I’m going to be in Sevilla. It´s wonderful! We’re going to a soccer game tonight, then Cordoba tomorrow once we get Helen’s ATM card that was swallowed by an evil Bancaja machine. I’ll upload pictures as soon as possible. Mil besos.

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