Photo courtesy of Sarka from Cook Your Dream.
“Hi, I’m Jackie,” I told a table full of strangers. “I know, I follow you on Twitter – I really like your blog design,” one girl told me. Somebody else wanted to know how long I’d been blogging for, yet another recognised me from my photo. A tray of canapes went round and on cue the twenty or so women around me pulled out their cameras and started snapping – finally I wasn’t the only one.
The food blogger culture has been one I have thrown myself into wholeheartedly. What started as a whim, a way to pass the time, has become something I can – and have – spent hours on. I’ve connected with people all around the world, tried their recipes and found inspiration from them, spent countless late nights trawling through their food photos and salivating into my pillow; to be a food blogger does not define me but it does make me inordinately happy.
At the beginning of the year I travelled to a small portion of the world, meeting and staying with food bloggers I’d befriended over my six months of food blogging. Now, just over six months later, I got to meet a few more of them in my hometown at Food Blogger Connect ’11 and honestly? I had a blast.
I could give you a full recap of the conference here but I doubt any of you would like to read that. Those of you who were there would be bored and those of you who weren’t there would also be bored! So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to tell you what I learned, I’m going to show you some pretty photos and I may even throw in a conference tip or two! So here we go…
Organisation Is Key
This is Bethany from Dirty Kitchen Secrets, the founder and tour de force behind Food Blogger Connect. She has poured time, energy and much of herself into making FBC a success every year and you know how she does it? Organisation.
If the conference leaders are not organised, do not have contingency plans, have not worked tirelessly behind the scenes both before and during (huge thanks also to Sarah, Sarka, Nando and Joslin, who were all running around behind the scenes), then I can guarantee you that you will not have a good time. However, it’s not just the staff who must be organised but also you, the attendee. Here are some of my tips for you:
1. Know who you want to connect with – it sounds all very calculated but the fact of the matter is that you won’t get to talk to everybody. Research & make this work for you as best as you can.
2. Business card etiquette – if somebody gives you their card, don’t give them your card: you have their card now, you don’t need to give them yours. I remember when I first got my business cards I was so excited at having them I started giving them out willy-nilly all over the shop. Don’t do this! Only give your card to somebody whom you really want to have your card and with all of the cards you do receive: follow up. Drop a note to say hi, thank them – you never know what’ll happen in the future.
3. On a similar note: Twitter etiquette. I’m going to be a little controversial here – if you meet somebody at a conference then they go home and start Following you on Twitter, you are not obliged to Follow back. Shock. Horror. Only Follow that person if you are genuinely interested in what they have to say! Similarly, don’t be offended if somebody you met doesn’t Follow back. Twitter is a funny thing, you can accumulate and lose Followers at the drop of a hat – every day I gain about five to ten Followers, some bots & some real people (more real than not these days, which is odd considering the amount I talk about boobies and thinly veiled euphemisms), but my Twitter stream moves so quickly that I simply cannot Follow everybody, especially if we’ve never even said two words to each other. I have to regularly go through and cull people because I’ve discovered over time that following more than 400 people is something my brain cannot handle. This doesn’t mean I’m not interested in you – a good friend once apologised to me for not Following me and explained, “I have a real life relationship with you, I don’t need to have an internet one, too. Plus, all the food makes me hungry.” Try a different form of communication – write emails or even letters! If half of my Twitter Followers suddenly started sending me snail mail I would reply to every single one of them! But don’t do it unannounced – that’s kind of creepy…
4. Socialise – most of the reason why we go to these conferences is to meet others, no? It’s certainly a large reason why I would go. Talk to people, find out about them, talk beyond the blog but, above all, be genuine. Every single person I chatted to at FBC was kind, enthusiastic, talented and genuine. These people are now not just my colleagues but my friends and that’s the greatest feeling in the world.
Take It All With A Pinch of Salt
From T-L to T-R: Richard Harden, co-editor Harden’s Guide; Alex Mead, editor Food & Travel. From B-L to B-R: Tim Hayward, journalist & broadcaster; Jaden Hair, US blogger, author & TV personality; Anjum Anand, food writer, celebrity chef & TV personality.
We had some superb speakers at FBC, from top-name bloggers to food journalists and editors. There was some absolutely priceless practical advice and some wonderfully interesting anecdotes, but take it all with a pinch of salt and carve your own way. Yes, some of it is carved in stone (eg. know the name of the person you’re pitching to & read their publications), but some of it is knowledge based on experience and just because it worked for once person doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everybody.
Didn’t agree with somebody’s point of view? That’s okay – everybody has an opinion. Take in everything and then discard the bits of information you don’t need.
Caroline MiLi Artiss demonstrating an easy olive tapenade with Olives from Spain.
You may notice in the above photos that I was behind Caroline as she was demonstrating her olive tapenade. You may also notice the many people taking photos in front of her. Guys – I was stuffing my face with a bacon bap and I’m fully aware that I’ve probably ruined most of your shots. Sorry about that! But hey, it’s also okay to eat when you’re hungry! Besides, you can have that memory of me…
Sign Up For Extras If They Help You Directly
We were extraordinarily lucky to have Beatrice from La Tartine Gourmand run a photography workshop for a limited group, but in order to have this privilege the cost of tickets were a little more dear.
You don’t have to sign up for everything – this goes back to my earlier point about making things work for you. If photography is something you’re interested in but the style of the photographer is not, then maybe that particular workshop isn’t for you. Talk to other people, email the bloggers whose photography you do like and ask questions – most of the time they’ll reply! When I was starting out I got together with a professional food photographer, a very good friend who is a professional general photographer and another good friend-turned-professional photographer and I grilled them, gleaned tips and practiced, practiced, practiced. My photography is still getting there, but I’ve discovered what I like and what interests me, all of which helps me to get my money shot(s)!
Bea was fantastic though and it was incredibly interesting to see how she works. My final shot during the workshop wasn’t quite how I wanted it – working in groups in a limited time frame is tricky, but it was a different style for me and a good learning experience. If I had a little more time I would’ve figured out how to make the cheese more the focus of the shot, but I’m taking what I learned and making it work for me!
Why do we food blog? I do it because I enjoy it, because I love the people I meet and friendships I cultivate – why should it be anything less? A conference is a great way to connect with people who are just as mad as you are!
During the photography workshop, the lovely Regula from Foodwise gave the most passionate and enthused response I have ever heard in regards to typography, in particular the font Helvetica. Now it’s not so unusual for Regula as she and her hubs (newly weds!) are both graphic designers – just take a look at her blog and you know she has an eye for design – but the thing is… I agreed with her. Helvetica is a pretty sexy font! Before you knew it, we were comparing fonts and making guttural sounds that should be reserved for the bedroom. It’s great to be a geek when the people around you make your geekery look normal. It’s okay! Embrace it!
So, that’s about it from me. These are all practical tips to make any conference your own so take as much on board as you like, or take the whole thing and chuck it out the window. It’s up to you.
Huge thanks to the team behind Food Blogger Connect ’11, all of the speakers and sponsors, and uber amounts of love to everybody I met this past weekend. I’ll be seeing you all very soon, I know it, whether it’s in sunny Florida, beautiful Belgium or frosty Montreal – I think another adventure is on the cards.
Peace and love,