3 Surefire Tips for Your Best IFBC 2013

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International Food Blogger Conference 2013 Seattle

I’ve been to numerous conferences over the years, mostly technical or computer related and nothing, nothing prepared me for my first time at the International Food Bloggers Conference. This is a far different beast, this one is all about you. I want to share some of the lessons and tips I’ve learned so you get the most out of your conference experience this year. Just three little ideas.

Tip #1 — Outline your goals

Sounds simple, you want to go and have  fun, learn how to redesign your website for better SEO, improve your photography, get boatloads of cool swag and meet the agent or editor of your dreams and the brightest future will be on it’s way. Think again, you only have a few days and will be mingling and engaging with over 300 other food bloggers and related professionals. Time will get away from you. You will be overwhelmed if you don’t have a plan, blinking bewilderedly on Sunday evening wondering what just happened. You can’t attend all sessions, meet and network with everyone so you will need to pick and choose the options that meet your immediate goals.

Here are a couple of overall goals you might set for yourself.

Web Presence Improvement

Your blog needs a revamp or you want to improve your traffic and increase your audience so that someday, the advertisers, publicists, publishers and brands are beating down your door to tie into your work and wide audience.

There are a  couple of decisions you need to make on how you want to tackle this goal.

Going all technical — learn about the technical aspects of improving your blog. If you are a do it yourselfer then attending the sessions focused on this aspect becomes a priority. Even if you are technically challenged, these are important sessions. You learn key pieces of information that make you a better client and negotiator when hiring a developer to help you so that you get what you want in the end and at the right price. There is a lot to learn and the coverage in a single session will be fast and furious with references to many things you will need to followup on and research. There will be no one magic answer for meeting this goal, you need to think of it in stages and break down each piece in manageable bits. Kind of like cooking a complicated recipe with many parts.

It’s all about your content — this is where you live and breath as an author, recipe developer, photographer and philosopher. If you are looking to stretch yourself and become better at any of these aspects then check out the sessions on writing, storytelling and photography. These sessions will give invaluable lessons that will provide a roadmap for you to take on your improvement journey. Writing and photography are both art and craft, and you must accept it takes time, practice and insightful critique to hone your style and voice.

Conference Take-away: You can’t concentrate on everything at once, so pick which aspect you want to work on first and dedicate some time to that on your next month of blogging. Take two or three lessons learned and try applying them your way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback from your new friends from the conference as you go along. You want some fresh eyes and honest critique of your effort, not just routine comments — ask for it. That’s how we grow. Food bloggers are amazingly giving people!

Bonus survival tip: Go old school and bring a notebook just for this conference (I like bound cheap composition books), take notes in each session. Yes, the speakers will probably have online versions of their talk posted for later review (invaluable for reference) but with your notebook you can capture the inbetween jewels that come on the fly when the participants and the presenters do the QA portion of the talk. (QA – Questions and Answers.)  Yes you will have your smartphones, iPads and Evernote, but truly this little conference journal will be your memory stick when you go back to review.

Tip #2 — Networking is not just exchanging business cards.

You do have business cards already right? With your Name, Logo, URL, Twitter and Facebook sites, email and such? You will go through a hundred easy if not more in two days.

Honey, it’s not stalking, it’s research.

There is a reason all the attendees are listed on the IFBC 2013 site with their URLs, email and twitter accounts for all the world to see. Check out the sites, see who you want to meet and start connecting ahead of the conference on their blog or via email and twitter.

You might be shy, but you don’t want to be invisible. Be memorable! Everyone asks the name of your blog and what your focus is. Have your one minute response well thought out, make it interesting, titillating, funny — whatever reflects your style. And think about your research in the previous paragraph. How great will it be to meet someone and be able to say something pertinent and specific about their site, their business and what you have in common because you KNOW a little something something about them ahead of time. Now that is a great first impression!  Making new friends, creating relationships or renewing former ones lead to either new opportunities or just new friends. That is a simple win-win don’t you think?

Make dates with those you want to be sure to connect with but do so with a purpose. Conferences have a jam packed schedule and if you are taking up someone’s time for professional reasons you better have a game plan. Perfect opportunities will be at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But remember the key movers and shakers will be filling out their dance cards way in advance of the first day of the conference. Think outside the box and look for times in between events or even in the middle, “say, want to slip out for a cup of coffee?” Ability to time-slice is critical and a fifteen minute face-to-face may lead to your next best opportunity.

Conference Take-Away: Follow up! This is where that research, business card collecting and conference journal come in handy. When you get a contact’s business card and you have a specific idea, comment, or follow up – write it on the back of the card your soonest opportunity.  And, here’s a free for nothing additional tip — bring a extra fine point Permanent Sharpie with you to write on those beautiful glossy cards that regular pens will not work on. When you get back to your room at night place the cards in your journal (you did remember to bring some tape didn’t you..) and make a note of what you talked about with this person and what you need to follow up on whether you promised to send them something or just to say thank you for the chat at IFBC. With your notes you can include some of the specifics of the conversation you had about food, wine, kids, writing, recipes or whatever. That reminder of the context of your conversation and  connection will make them remember you all that much better. Time your follow up within a few days after your meeting.

Bonus survival tip: I learned a number of terrific etiquette tips at the annual IACP conference (International Association of Culinary Professionals) from the lovely Syndi Seid (www.AdvancedEtiquitte.com). And a couple are worth repeating.

  • Enter group conversations sensitively. Don’t rush into a group and interrupt the conversation with your desire to join in. Wait patiently a few seconds for either a break in the conversation, or friendly eye contact from one of the participants that signal that they are open to you joining in. They may be in a heavy conversation and not choosing to invite others to participate. If that is the case, just say excuse me and exit. You can try catching up later.

  • Exit conversations politely. While you may think you’ve found your best friend, don’t monopolize their time and keep your time from being monopolized by someone else. Remember you have hundreds of potential contacts at this conference and a graceful exit coupled with a smile, perhaps a time to catch up again allows for both of you to mix and mingle to the max.

  • Dress your part. While this is a fairly casual conference if you are looking to make a professional impression what people see makes a difference. Do not overdress (this is surely not a suit and tie affair) but business casual is quite appropriate.  And here is another freebie bonus – wear comfortable shoes and have a jacket or sweater to throw on in the cold air-conditioned meeting rooms.

Other  pre-conference networking opportunities:

Tip #3 – Have fun!

This year’s conference has some great options to let your hair down and have fun with your fellow foodies. Don’t forget to put aside some of the hard work of learning, goal setting and strategic networks and have a good time. You need these built in breathers so you mind can reset and take in more. Some of the best conversations are at the more informal events, relax and enjoy them!

Looking forward to seeing you in Seattle!

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2 Responses to 3 Surefire Tips for Your Best IFBC 2013

  1. What great tips! I’ve been to once other conference, but I know they are all a little different. Thanks for sharing and see you there!

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