Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Looking for the best blog conference to attend? Check out EVO

If I don't put it down now, I never will, and I don't want to forget how great the EVO Conference was. I apologize in advance for whoever I may leave out of this recap, or for missing key events. These are just main highlights at the top of my mind. I also didn't want to split this up into a week-long EVO recap because I don't want to make anyone who couldn't make it this year feel bad.

If you have a blog, and are debating what conference to go to, you should definitely put this on your list of "must attends." I've been to BlogHer twice, and had a blast. Once before I was pregnant then once when Lil' J was a month old. Last week I went to my best blog conference to date.

I loved BlogHer, but there was a different feel to this smaller, more intimate conference. There wasn't a hustling for swag, and I felt like the sponsors had a real grasp on what bloggers and companies can do together for good. Don't get me wrong, the LuninessAir makeup machine I scored last year was off the chain, but I felt like I gained more in networking, connections, and relationships at EVO.

Lil' J and I squeezed into one of the rooms during the progressive dessert. She enjoyed stuffing blackberries in her mouth while I chatted with some company representatives about blogger partnerships.

"We want to work with bloggers who aren't just wanting free stuff," one told me. Commendable. I'm just as tired as being asked to write a commercial post in exchange for swag as the next person reading it. Which is one reason I've all but cut them out.
An example of some of the things the sponsors were up to... Huggies had a tree for people to write and hang their wishes on. The wishes were about babies around the world in need. Lil' J uses cloth diapers but not everyone can afford a nice diaper stash, or diapers at all. I wished for every baby in the world to have the diapers they need. We hung our wish up on the tree, and for every bag of diapers bought, another will be donated to a family in need. Lil' J used disposable diapers while we were on vacation (cause we aren't dedicated enough to bring our entire diaper stash along and wash them on the road) and seeing their efforts makes me like Huggies even more. You can read more about their Every Little Bottom Campaign here. Have tissues nearby.

See, one of the good things about having a baby with you is it's a great conversation starter. No one is going to be all smug to you when you're carrying a cute bubbly accessory. We met the one and only Bloggess, who was so much nicer than I imagined. I dunno, something about her snarky comments and choice of language made me thing she may be intimidating and snobby but she was totally the opposite. She has a book coming out next year and I plan to buy it!
Lil' J, The Bloggess, and me; Lil' J's Romer is from Sassy Stitches Boutique
Speaking of that, I went to a session on publishing since I'd like to write a book or two someday. It was great to hear from women who have done what I dream to do.

My Piggies and Paws team was absolutely amazing. A highlight was playing Kinect in our suite after the babies were sleeping. I want an XBOX 360 now, and Kinect, and this game Dance Central. I've seen the commercials but playing it was much more fun. No one could beat me. I was unbeatable. Well, ok, Sam beat me once. I told her I'd play on hard and she could play on easy and that I'd still beat her and I didn't. I got a little too confidant.

The funny thing is while you're dancing you *think* you look really cool when actually you just look like an idiot. Here's proof:

Funny right? And I was the best! Imagine how everyone else looked! ... I promised not to disclose those videos. And for anyone who hasn't played this game, I'll save you some embarrassment I faced because I didn't know there was an instant replay of your "freestyle" moves. Yea, that little thing tracking your movement is actually a camera. Now I'm just imagining the creators of Kinect spying on us busting a move through their Xbox nanny cams.

Anyway, on to the more flattering images... I signed up for the photography workshop and had a 3-hour hands-on training session with some amazing photographers who essentially told me it's about taking in the scene, and capturing what's around you, not just about your equipment. It was so inspiring.

I didn't know it but Me Rah Koh was leading this workshop. When I walked in she came up to me and started talking to me about Lil' J. I feel dumb not knowing at the time who she was, I thought she was another attendee for the class. Little did I know she was the main keynote speaker the next night. I loved her off the bat because her daughter is also who got her into photography, and she's also married to a white dude named Brian.

Her story is amazing. She hadn't picked up a camera until her little girl was 2, but she became a self-taught world famous photographer featured on Oprah, and working with Sony. She works with them for a photography scholarship program I may or may not apply for someday in life. Her passion is to let moms know they can capture their child's beautiful moments, and teaching tips to do that.

Lil' J goofing off in our workshop. Her dress is from Adelaide's Boutique

Her publisher's for her book Your Baby in Pictures gave away 200 copies to the first 200 people who arrived for her keynote speech. I was lucky to get one. I didn't have it with me when I saw her later so she didn't sign it, but Lil' J and I did get a picture with her. If you get a chance, read her blog, watch her keynote, get her book, you won't regret it.

In our workshop we split up into smaller groups and Lil' J was our photo subject. She got a little nervous with five cameras pointed at her versus just mine, but some of the ladies got some real cute photos of her.

So Me Ra Koh was awesome for me to meet but I think Elmo was Lil' J's favorite celebrity encounter. The first time they met she was asleep, so we had to go back later. He didn't talk so I'm not sure she knew who he was but she was still laughing it up with him. They had all sorts of Sesame Street treats in their suit, including some organic fruit yogurt smoothie things that don't need to be refrigerated. Seriously, these things are good. I just bought more this week.
Happy to see Elmo. Her outfit is from Sumos
They also passed out coupons for a Sesame Street iPhone and iPad storyboard apps. I don't have an iPad (yet) but I put these on mine and Lil' J's (yes, she has my old 3G iPhone for her own baby apps) and they're pretty cute. Man, kids these days. I played with cardboard puzzles. My daughter gets to play with iPhone apps.

Lil' J eating Earth's Best Organic Fruit Smoothies. These are DA BOMB! Btw her dress is from here

Another session I went to was on Food Blogging. Which is kind of hilarious because obviously I don't blog about food. We learned how to do food presentation and take pretty pictures of food and I kept thinking how I'd be able to replicate this with hot dogs, fast food, and DiGiorno pizza.
I couldn't even cut my chicken into pretty slices, much less organize it in a nice fashion for the web, but that's ok because how often do I post recipes on my blog? Right... Almost never. Our instructors, Todd and Diane from White on Rice though were awesome. Diane was my break-off group's photography instructor in the photo workshop and taught me about camera metering which I had never known how to use before.
My carrier c/o Lille Baby
A big thanks to Alison for sharing these photos with me! Lil' J had crashed on my back again. She pretty much lived in this carrier the entire conference. She'd beg to go in it when she was tired and pass out on my back while I cruised around. It didn't look very comfortable at times but hey.

Probably the biggest highlight for many of the people in my group, especially my sponsor was the first night's dinner and the final surprise speaker. She didn't know it but her then-boyfriend planned a presentation about how a man can support his woman blogger/business woman. The final slide was to marry her, and he proposed! Wow right? I need to give the presentation cliff notes to my hubs too.

Going as a united team made spreading the message about Piggies and Paws so fun and memorable. Countless people asked me "so what is Piggies and Paws?" (which if you still don't know what it is watch this-- This was done at my last news station) because they had seen our shirts, or shorts, or cards, and we weren't even an official sponsor.

So, the conference was amazing. My favorite yet and one I definitely want to go to next year. My passion for why I started blogging in the first place has reignited. The women were positive, encouraging, helpful, sincere, and full of love. It didn't feel like a competition, people weren't snooty, pimping exclusive parties, or fighting for swag. It was just my type of gathering.

I know BlogHer is in a couple of weeks and while I had a blast the past couple years I had to choose my getaways wisely this year. With limited vacation time from work I have to save some time to spend with my family during the holidays and whatnot, and of course they come first so I'm passing this year. Hopefully next year it won't be so far away so I can swing by both.

While I was able to meet so many women in different areas of social media at EVO, it's really made me realize there are so many opportunities out there. Enough for everyone. I can't help but feel like there are good things ahead. I don't know what they are right now but I can feel it in my bones.--And I'm not talking about my dancing.

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