I_Blog: The Value of a Small Conference

This weekend I was so fortunate to be able to attend the I_Blog Conference, organized and hosted by Jody at Have Kid Will Travel and Iowa Geek. I am so proud of Jody for pulling off an AMAZING event. You could just feel the love the entire time.

I think there are many reasons it was a success, but one of the main being that it was a small conference—”intimate,” as Jody liked to describe it. Although I realize that some bloggers would not want to miss their BlogHer, SXSW, or Blog World Expo, I contend that there is real value in the small conferences. Here’s why.

1. Lowering the Intimidation Factor.
Now, I’m not saying I wasn’t in awe of some of the bloggers who attended and spoke, namely Melanie Nelson of Blogging Basics 101. Please, she’s writing the new Typepad for Dummies book for goodness’ sake! She IS the definition of “blogging.” But the thing was that with less than 50 people in attendance, I_Blog was the perfect venue for me to walk up to Melanie, introduce myself, and have a real conversation. And I did!

2. Meeting Every Single Attendee.
Although at Blissdom and Type-A Mom I met a LOT of bloggers, there is no way I met them all. However, I can say that I spoke with every single attendee at I_Blog. And it was wonderful to just have a real conversation in a laid-back environment. I met bloggers I had been following but had not yet met in real life, such as My 3 Boybarians, Debworks, Sincerely Jenni, and Minnemom, as well as bloggers I cannot wait to start following, like I Heart Mimi and Claire Celsi at The Public Relations Princess.

3. Slowing the Pace, Easing the Conversations.
As I’ve said, at a smaller conference you have the advantage a slower pace. There aren’t as many people running around or sessions to choose from, so you can just relax, learn, and visit. Oh, and drink an I_Blogini (which was incredibly strong but yummy) and bowl. Bonus!

4. Tailoring Sessions to the Group.
The speakers were spectacular, and one thing that they all did was tailor their presentation to the group. It’s easier to do that when you have a smaller group. For example, Darcy from Graphically Designing and His and Hers Photography spoke about design and taking photos for your blog. She had an outline of what she was planning to talk about, but she also allowed herself to play off the audience’s questions and interest. It was professional and organized, yet conversational. Each speaker brought something unique to the conference, yet all shaped their presentations according to the group’s needs and interests. This allowed us to really get what we needed from each presentation, information that was relevant to our individual blog and life stages.

5. Getting Every Question Answered.
It’s rare to get every single question in an audience answered, especially if you’re sticking to a schedule, but at a smaller conference, it’s entirely possible. The speakers made time to really answer our questions, and if we didn’t want to ask a question in front of the group, all we had to do was walk up to them during a break or at the social. The “experts” were completely accessible and genuinely interested in helping all of us learn. While I waited for my head shot (The verdict is still out on whether I’ll look like Sarah Jessica Parker or Kathy Geiss), I asked Darcy for camera-setting advice, and she was more than happy to share tips and tricks with me. It was refreshing to be surrounded by such giving individuals.

6. Fostering a Sense of Community.
Smaller groups naturally bond more quickly and more strongly than large groups. By the end of the very first presentation, I think we all felt a sense of community, and by the end of the weekend, that bond was practically cemented. Deb Brown spoke on Sunday morning about building community, and it was fascinating to hear her talk about making friends with Chris Brogan on Twitter, not realizing he was “THE” Chris Brogan, starting her own hometown newspaper, and writing a grant to restore a historical stone house in her county. New bloggers, and those who had been blogging since Al Gore discovered the Internet—I think we all felt a real connection and a commitment to share our knowledge and experiences to make the blogosphere, as well as our local communities, a better place.

7. Getting One-on-One Time with Sponsors.
Although this was a smaller conference, Jody had lined up some great sponsors who took a chance on this inaugural event. Since there were fewer attendees, we really got the chance to visit with the sponsors, ask questions, and even get individual tutorials! Two of the sponsors that really stood out to me for assimilating with the attendees were BJ Weber from Ankeny Tax & Accounting and Creative Memories. BJ spoke on Saturday about the new rules for bloggers who declare blogging as a business versus a hobby. He really broke it down for us about what our responsibilities are and how we can best protect ourselves from IRS scrutiny. BJ attended other sessions and made himself accessible as a resource throughout the conference. When minnemom had a question after BJ had left, he promptly answered her on Twitter. Creative Memories sponsored a digi-scrap event on Saturday evening and generously donated software for all of us to play with and keep. Throughout the evening, the Social Media Director (Rockstar Jenny to us) sat with people and helped them download software as well as answered any question. Amber Gustafson, a local consultant, also gave demonstrations and helped people as well. It was such an awesome opportunity to have conversations with these sponsors and really get to know them as companies and as individuals.

I’m not saying not to attend the big conferences. I’m excited for Blissdom10 in February (although this isn’t really a “big” conference compared to, say, BlogHer), and I think there is a lot to be gained from conferences that allow a few hundred attendees. However, do not dismiss your smaller local conferences. For one, they are likely much more inexpensive than their larger counterparts. And perhaps most importantly, the type of connections you make at an intimate conference you just won’t be able to duplicate.


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