Update: A few hours after I posted this, BlogHer announced that President Obama will address the conference via live video–making it even more a big deal than I thought.
As Katie Couric explains, “It would take a pretty fantastic group of people to convince me to spend a Saturday afternoon during the dog days of summer in a hotel conference room. “
Probably Martha Stewart and Christy Turlington would agree, just as I do, about leaving the cool beach breezes of Carmel for steamy Manhattan. Yet we’re all there, on the long list of speakers at BlogHer ’12, joining 4500 bloggers coming to New York this week.
Created in 2005 by three women as a gathering for women who blogged, BlogHer has multiplied in size—and importance– every year since. Now a successful website, advertising network, TV channel, plus four smaller conferences, the annual BlogHer conference is the jewel in the crown—where bloggers, marketers and sponsors come to connect. (Personally the sponsor connections I prefer making are those involving something chocolate. )
So what’s such a big deal about BlogHer?
I can’t tell you.
Seriously. There’s something for everyone; so BlogHer means different things to different people.
With several tracks on the official program, some people stick to the amazing amount of information offered in the sessions and never leave the conference site. Others never set foot in the conference itself, too busy with all the sponsored events going on outside. Some bloggers come just to be wined and dined. The swag is legendary; people bring empty suitcases to cart it all home. Then there are the parties. One year my son stopped by my hotel room in Chicago and ran into drunk women roaming the halls; I’m sure it felt like his college dorm. So there’s that too.
This is my fourth BlogHer—technically four and a half if you count the year I had just started blogging, showed up without a ticket and couldn’t get in the door. By the next year I was clued in enough to make plans ahead of time. Only beforehand, most of the clues were about what shoes everyone was bringing to wear.
When I got there, no one was looking at shoes; they were looking at name tags, trying to figure out if you looked like your Twitter avatar. Because after all, that’s how many attendees first get to know each other—online, not IRL ( In Real Life–if you don’t know already— OMG). If you think online connections are superficial or meaningless, you’d be missing the whole point; missing the heart and soul of what the event is and what brought it into existence—the blog.
A blog is where you can develop and express your voice and your thoughts; where it’s ok, even important to be transparent; where being your authentic self is probably the best thing you can do. And it’s the same at Blogher—whether on the panels, the audience , the parties, the hallways. I can’t think of anywhere else such a diverse group of people with different opinions come together in one place with a common interest.
So my best advice at BlogHer is to do what people do on their blogs: to be open. If you come with an open mind and open heart, BlogHer will fill you up.
Jammed with thousands of people, somehow BlogHer has managed to preserve the feeling of intimacy and freedom that exists on the internet. Some people might disagree but based on my experience, what’s special is that feeling of openness, of acceptance, of knowing that this group gives voice to such a range of thoughts, feelings and opinions—and even more importantly, that people LISTEN.
The voices that make the most impact aren’t necessarily the ones that shout the loudest; or promote themselves the best. BlogHer honors some of those voices every year—selecting a few bloggers who read posts at what many consider the best part of BlogHer, a session called Voices of the Year. While you’re sobbing or laughing till you pee in your pants, those voices make you aware –and sometimes in awe– of the talent and the truths that are shared.
In a world where the Kardashians are the gold standard of success, for me BlogHer represents a kernel of reality, a source of inspiration, an island of sanity, where people are appreciated not for what they look like or what they have, but for who they are. Sometimes that feels like a rare thing.
And for me that’s a big deal. Maybe Martha and Katie understand the power of that, too.