This weekend I attended the MumsNet BlogFest at Millbank Tower. Having attended several events in London in the past 10 days, I must confess to being slightly weary of meeting new people and doing the whole chit chat network thingymajiggy. Plus, I've been to so many "conferences" in my past incarnation as an IT Professional that I just wasn't sure I was up for another event where we all jostle for the a quick cup of bad coffee which we try to drink balancing a dozen other things in our hands whilst trying to shake hands with people you pretend to be excited about but can't remember their names 2 minutes after you've walked away.
But as stated in previous posts, I am at a crossroads/fork/meltdown in my life and am exploring options in every corner of the capital and beyond.
What is MumsNet? And what is BlogFest? I had no idea which is why I attended. I signed up for MumsNet a few months back but to be honest, I have been a very passive user. I get emails and when I have the time and/or inclination, I read them but I would be lying if I gave the impression that I have invested the appropriate amount of time in exploring and extracting all the value I might be able to find. I was hoping that BlogFest would show me how to get more from MumsNet and how to get more from my blog.
The trouble is I'm not sure I want to get more from my current blog. My blog started as a training tool when I worked in the IT industry and quite inextricably found myself in charge of the corporate intranet with no skills beyond being able to spell intranet. It soon morphed into a way to keep friends and family involved and informed about our family adventures. Now I might, just might, want to earn some money from it. Or maybe not.
The morning started superbly with an Opening Keynote by Miriam Gonzalez Durantez who is an EU policy advisor, solicitor, mother, oh, and before I forget, the wife of the UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. She was stunning, not just to look at with her shiny black hair and beautiful white jacket. She was stunning to listen to. The wisest words of the day came from her when she said "Woman's rights are human rights." and "Helping the next generation have choices is our responsibility." I could have listened to her all day. She was intelligently inspiring.
The next session was all about the blogging and finding your voice. It featured some Blog Royalty including Zoe Q Williams ( journalist for The Guardian), Zoe Strimpel (author, journalist and blogger), the very funny Rachel Cusk (another Guardian journalist and author), and the pee your pants every time she speaks funny, Jenny Lawson (author and blogger extraordinaire). I found little information that I didn't already know, having written a blog for the last 6 years, but I did find affirmation in the general consensus that I was doing things right, even if hundreds of thousands of people weren't reading my blog. My big takeaway from this was keep doing what I am doing. It is authentic. It is real. It is me. It is my passion. It keeps me sane. OK, that last point is debatable.
I thought there would be a problem with queues for the loo. I mean there is always a queue for the ladies room, even at events that are predominately male in attendance. Just so you all can sleep at night, I want you to know I didn't have to queue once for the loo. Phew! Glad I got that out of my system. Literally!
After a quick loo and coffee break (with the best cupcakes ever provided by Beverley Hills Bakery), there were several breakout sessions to choose from and I attended the photography session, mostly because I am shit at remembering to include images with my posts, but also because I don't seem to have any images which seem appropriate. The session was presented by Carrie Barclay and Darren Baldwin. I picked up some super duper tips about using a 3x3 grid to frame my photos, changing point of view, and some useful apps to download. My biggest takeaway from this session was not to fear editing a photo to make it better. I usually avoid this as it feels unauthentic but I think I might be able to forgive myself if I just crop a bit here and there or wash away a power line and enhance the colours. I mean, it's not like I'm airbrushing 30 pounds of anyone or giving them a flawless complexion when they are well past 60.
Then we had lunch and a lovely lunch it was. Just for the record, the mushroom risotto was scrummy and I'd like to say thank you to the anonymous ones who prepared it. It was delish!
The afternoon started with more breakout sessions. I choose the Advanced SEO session after a bit of soul searching. Was I a beginner? Was I going to get lost in the mumbo jumbo of technology acronym soup if I went to the advanced session? Did I know as much as I think I know and be bored to tears, not to mention frustrated, in the beginner session? I opted to stretch myself and became frustrated in the advanced session. We seemed to go seriously off piste with some very individual specific questions and the presenter was unable to make it even halfway through his slide deck. Although as he whizzed through his slide deck, I'm not sure I would have felt like I had any better grasp of the subject matter than I did when we began. I think the big takeaway for me was if I'm writing about things people are looking for, they will find it. If I'm not then no one will. Duh!
I then stumbled and fell with my one wrong choice of attending the Blog Beautiful session. If I had read this properly I would have found that this was a session for bloggers writing about fashion and beauty products. Oops, nothing could be further from my blog. And here I was thinking it was going to be about blog layout and what makes a blog beautiful. Silly me. This session featured Sali Hughes (another Guardian journalist who also has her own web page although oddly the blog link on her website doesn't actually go anywhere. Her videos look informative.) The panel inlcuded Avril Keys who blog about what to wear at the school gate. Not my cup of tea as I'm just not that fussed about what people think of me at the school gate hence being caught out in my slippers from time to time. but if this is a priority for you, then this might be the place to go. Not sure how it fairs for plus size women though. Also included was Alyson Walsh who writes a blog of fashion for the over 50 demographic. A cursory of look at the blog though featured home interiors and quite a few young, skinny models so I'm confused but I will return to give it a better seeing to. Finally on the panel was Louise Woollam who has an extremely funny blog even though it is about beauty products. Seriously, I read it for pure entertainment value. Other than that, I confirmed that I wear clothes that are comfortable and just enough makeup to avoid scaring the shit out of people but not enough to have to remove it with more than a baby wipe.
Let's just say I did get TWO samples of Boob Goo (which might not be the correct name but it's what I'm calling it) from Mama Mio. Now this stuff promises to get rid of all the wrinkles from the chin down to my below my boobs. It does not promise to lift my knee sagging boobs which I must say is a vast disappointment but I am willing to continue to use the product simply because it smells divine. My take away from this session is that there are a lot of blog about beauty and fashion and this area is best left to the women who are passionate about this subject. I am not one of them. Oh, and whilst many deny there is any conflict between bloggers and print journalists in this area, many feel there is. I'm going to leave it at that.
There was then another coffee break and opportunity to spread delicious cupcakes all over my face again but I chose to retreat to a quiet area to do some thought catching and avoid that whole social awkwardness that causes my face to twitch when I constantly smile. Can you imagine the self control it took to walk away from the cupcakes. Let's not go there.
We were heading into the home stretch with the Keynote Panel which had all the promise of a duck egg blue box from Tiffany's. Regrettably, upon opening it there was a gigantic turd right in the centre of the box. Let me explain.
The panel included Zoe Margolis, whose blog about sex was at one time considered the 24th most powerful blog, although I notice she hasn't written a post there since September and only 2 blog posts for all of 2012 so maybe this has run its course or just isn't has titillating since she was outed by the Sunday Times. She stood out with her amazing long, dark, black curly hair, her amazing rack bubbling out of the top of her top (Zoe, if you read this, you've got great boobs), and her acerbic observations and witty advice. You can bear witness to her success from her web page which is far more up to date and professional, and far from being "just" a blog, although not nearly as entertaining and thought provoking as she was on the panel (or as her original blog was). My takeaway from Zoe was that massive success is possible using blogging as a springboard.
Also on the panel was Tim Dowling, the testosterone contributor of the day. There had been a few men lurking about but Tim took to stage with all the aplumb of a consummate professional. He is yet another Guardian journalist and writes about family life. I'm not sure how I feel about all these journalists pretending to be bloggers just because they write about family life. To me a journalist writes for a paper and gets paid by the paper (doesn't matter if it is print or online - that line is increasingly blurred with every passing day). A blogger is someone who doesn't get paid except by any tiny morsel of revenue generated by their blog. This morself is probably so small that they have another job or source of support (husband, partner, family inheritence, benefits). Regardless, a news outlet which is also a corporate machine does not support them. I fell in love with Tim when he identified his litmus test for a good post as making his wife laugh. A jolly good chap all round, then.
Eliza Gray is the pseudonym for a woman writing about being over 50. It's a pretty good pseudonym because without knowing the name of her blog, I coudln't find her on google. When I found her blog, I found she wasn't writing about anything much different to what I (almost 50) have been writing about for the last 50 years, our life with all its ups and downs including dog destruction woes.
The last member of the panel doesn't bear mentioning and due to her insults to everything www.mumsnet.com BlogFest and I are about, I refuse to increase her visibility by even printing her name here. Let's just suffice to say that she was a bitter, twisted, sad, mean wench of a woman. My takeaway from her was to make sure that I never ever become anything like her.
And as if to prove everything that I do want to be like the Closing Keynote speaker took to the stage to a rousing round of applause and hoots. I think I even heard a few whistles. Caitlin Moran took to the stage in a burst of cut off jeans with black tights and doc martens paired with a trusty lumberjack shirt and a mane of black hair with her signature blonde stripes. She has a husky, raspy, sexy face and from the start she made us laugh, at her, at ourselves, at blogging, at life. I have to confess that when my book group read her book, How To Be a Woman, last year, I refused. I mean, I've been a woman for the last 48ish years. I don't need someone 10 years younger than me telling me how to perfect what I've already perfected. I will be the first to admit that I might, just might, be wrong about this. I'm going to go read the book and get back to you on this. But my takeaway from her keynote was, and pay attention because this is the most important bit of the day, BE YOURSELF. Be free to be who you are. Express yourself. She left me energised and ready to take on the world of the blogosphere with renewed energy and focus. Which really is what the day was all about!
Favourite Bits: the sound of babies cooing during the sessions and the seriously stuffed swag bag (with some seriously awesome stuff!!!!!).
Improvements Needed: there was no feedback form either paper or online. I have tons of suggestions for making this even better for next year: QR codes on the name tags, additional sessions (eg getting started (ie blogging for beginners), monetizing your blog, blog usability), bags at the beginning for things like the newspaper you handed out in the morning.
Can hardly wait for next year!