Before I start the post, I do want to tell you that this is simply my own experience. One could attend Blissdom and have a completely different experience and I think that is the beauty about everything in life. Two people can be on the same path but feeling, hearing, seeing and experiencing things completely differently. Blissdom was the first conference, in eight years of doing online business/blogging, that I just went to as an attendee versus speaking/working. It was so different to be on that side of the conference. I hope my post helps you decide if Blissdom is the right conference for you!
When I first heard about Blissdom, it was through a few other blogger friends of mine who were based in Ottawa. They told me that it was a really great conference and it was a lot of fun. When we founded this website, Ottawa Valley Moms, I had asked the other co-founders if they’d be interested in attending. I thought it would be a perfect way to learn about blogging, gain some new skills and meet other bloggers who wrote about similar things. Only two of us were able to go this year so we registered our spot and started to get excited about the conference.
The one thing that was a bit confusing was understanding, early on, what was going on during the conference. I had been under the impression, before I registered, that it was two days of content but once we got closer to the event and excursions were announced, I quickly realized that the second day of content had evaporated. I love the idea of the excursions, as they are fun and allow you to experience things you may not otherwise, but I was also REALLY looking forward to learning more about blogging and how I could improve what I’m doing right now. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that there was only a half day of content (blogging/business/skill building) and a half day of, as one other blogger put it, TED style keynotes (meaning, more thought-provoking and storytelling heavy versus skill building). More on that later.
Day One (Friday): Conference Registration, Road Rally & Kick-Off Party
The conference started on Friday with early registration and a Road Rally sponsored by Chevrolet Canada. I didn’t sign up for the road rally as my husband, daughter and I were driving to Toronto and I knew we wouldn’t get there until after 6pm. Since registration ended at 6pm, I didn’t have a chance to register then so we just went up to our room and waited for Mel and her husband to arrive in the city. Once Mel got to the city, we made plans to meet outside of the venue for the Microsoft sponsored kick-off party.
The kick-off party was fun but you could definitely tell that a lot of people were a bit shy and it took a little while (and some wine!) to really warm up. Since Microsoft was sponsoring, they had a few little ‘stations’ set up to liven up the party. One station was a game that you played to see if you could beat the Windows mobile phone at loading a photo to Facebook and the other two were hooked up to the Kinect system. Mel and I ended up Tweeting and then talking to the Microsoft representatives, which ended up being a lot of fun. They gave us their hoodies and we got up and danced using the Kinect system. I wish I had some video of that because Mel and I trying to dance to 50 Cent was actually quite hilariously ridiculous. I think I got the lowest score of the night.
Day Two (Saturday): Conference & Costume/Karaoke Party
Day two kicked off really early (registration and newcomer’s meeting was at 7/7:30AM) and I ended up sleeping through my alarm by mistake so Mel and I were a bit late to the conference. We got upstairs around 8am and at that point, the newcomer’s meeting had already started. We peeked in the door and wanted to go in but it seemed like everyone was already mid-conversation, at different tables and it was really intimidating to think about walking in and knowing where to go. One little tip would be to have a conference organizer/team member be near that door and greet newcomers and let them know where to go and what to do. I think it would help set the tone for the rest of the day and make people really feel supported, especially if they are shy or nervous about meeting new people.
Instead of going into the meetup, we wandered around the brand booths. We got to sample Starbucks coffee, picked up a Starbucks swag bag, had an opportunity to sign up with a new Kraft service and get a loot bag from them as well, swiped some lentils and Pepperidge Farm swag and grabbed these cool water bottles from Chevrolet Canada. After that, we sorted of milled about outside in the hallway and waited for our next directive. Breakfast was served shortly after, which isn’t a breakfast-breakfast for anyone who eats a big breakfast in the morning, and we stood for a bit until the room was ready for us to go inside. We grabbed tables, ate breakfast and watched a Dove presentation on body wash.
After that, it was a race to the microsessions. Microsessions, Blissdom-style, were little sessions lasting 30 minutes each, spread throughout 40+ tables throughout the conference room. You had to pre-plan (something I didn’t know to do so I was literally reading the sheet and wandering around with ALL of my swag bags … I know, first world problems) and tables filled up fast. Some tables were really empty and others had people standing around them because all of the chairs were full. The conference room was also VERY full and VERY difficult to maneuver around in, especially if you were carrying a lot.
The first session I was in was about finding balance and was good, except we really only got through introductions and then our time was up. However, I really did enjoy hearing other people’s stories and having the group comment on my situation too. It was mostly validating to know that I wasn’t alone. The second microsession I went to was on small business marketing. It too was good except that the introductions took up a lot of time so we didn’t get into a lot of content. The third session was on photography for your blog and it was probably my most favourite as we were all able to ask a lot of questions and our session leader was really honest and candid and not rehearsed.
All in all, I really didn’t love the microsessions format. I didn’t get a chance to learn very much (which is what I want to do when attending events and why I paid to go) and it was super difficult to bounce around from table to table and choose which sessions you wanted to attend quickly. I would have much preferred tracks with breakout sessions and less options. It sort of felt like Blissdom was trying to cram in way too many topics and way too many community leaders. Less is sometimes more and I feel like I could have really dove in and learned things if there was more time devoted to a smaller number of sessions that lasted longer.
Lunch was on our own so Mel and I went to the hotel restaurant to eat. After lunch, we went back upstairs and settled in to watch the keynote speakers. The keynote speakers were really, really good except that the focus wasn’t really on blogging, social media, etc. except for Amber Mac’s talk, which (no real surprise here) was my favourite. The first speaker, Jian Ghomeshi, shared his coming of age story and shared some passages from his new book, Bonnie Stewart talked about being an individual online, Susan Cain talked about the differences between introverted people and extroverted people, Ami McKay shared her story of cancer and how a particular doctor helped her family and Amber Mac talked about social media. All were inspiring and uplifting in their own ways and each had a different unique quality about them.
Afterward, we went upstairs for a quick break and then got ready for the costume/karaoke party. Here, we all let loose, had some fun and sang our hearts out. We danced, we laughed and we got to connect further with the people we had connected with earlier. Most embarrassing moment though? Giving Annie of PhD in Parenting a giant hug without realizing it was her (damn wigs) or being able to thank her for things she had done for me recently. I vote that wigs should not be allowed at the conference. Ever.
Day Three (Sunday): Excursions
As I posted last week, Sunday was all about the excursions. Before going to the conference, you signed up for an excursion of choice (everything from a CN Tower tour to a photo walk to a behind-the-scenes look at a popular family magazine) and that is what you did on Sunday. Mel and I chose the wine tour, which we both recapped in separate posts, which was awesome. I really loved getting to tour a winery and have lunch in a magical little setting. That said, it is something I’d like to do outside of the conference and would have preferred day two be about content.
I remember telling Mel that Blissdom seemed to be more about connections than content and after having experienced it, I agree. If you are looking to connect with people and have a social experience, than it is the conference for you. If you’re looking to elevate your work/blog/writing, Blissdom isn’t really the place to do that as there just isn’t enough time for the how-to type of content. I was a bit disappointed overall, simply because everything I do needs to feel like it’s taking me to the next level, but at the same time I really enjoyed meeting new people and putting real bodies to the Twitter avatars I see so often. So, go for the connections but know that the content may be a bit lacking and you won’t come home with pages of notes to implement.
I find the price to be a bit high for what you are getting overall as we were told that the excursion we were on was fully sponsored (which means it wasn’t coming out of our ticket price) and lunch on Saturday was on our own, which adds to the overall cost. I think that keeping it a two-day conference would justify the price (two days of content) versus one day of content and then one day of excursions. Including lunch would also be a nice treat and would keep the conference attendees together and provide some time for socializing without anyone feeling like they had to go to their room because they didn’t have someone to eat with.
I enjoyed the conference overall and would consider going back another year but I think it would depend on how the content was structured. If I walked away with more ideas and inspiration for what I could do to my blog to take it to the next level, I think the ROI would have been high. Instead, I walk away with new friends and I do realize that in many cases, that ROI is much higher.