How to Go to a Food Blogging Conference

A huge and humble thank you to my new and returning readers for voting me through to this fourth round of Project Food Blog, a multi-round blog competition to see who will earn the title of  food blogging star and $10,000.  Thousands of men and women entered the competition, and now there are just a hundred. I am honored to be one of the remaining blogs. Thanks for reading and for your continued support. If you enjoy this post, please vote for me to make it to the next round!

Finding community at food blogging conference--Kim (Cook IT Allergy Free) and Tia (Glugle Gluten-Free)

When you become a food blogger, it’s a solitary art form. In the beginning there’s just you and the Big Idea. Perhaps the spark to tell your story and share ideas is so strong it only takes a few short moments to publish that first post. Or maybe it takes a painful cluster of days, weeks, or months to thrash through the inspiration and recipes and just get your blog going. All the while, the process of creating The Next Great Blog makes you realize that there are many, many obstacles you must face in order to continue your blogging journey. You must find time. You must have a voice. You must have a certain style. You must become a student of What Bloggers Do. You need to get out of isolation.

This is how you come to the decision to pony up some hard earned cash and sign up for a food blogging conference.

And besides, there are words to learn like SEO, blogging platform, hosting, DSLR, blog network, point and shoot, categorizing, tagging of posts, photography, lighting, lenses, and even something called food styling. You’ve already spent hours on the subject, but can only get so far on your own. Maybe there’s a partner, a loved one, a friend, a kid, or a fish-in-a-fishbowl who witnesses your process. Perhaps these trusted folk (or fish) even offer help when you fall into a deep pond of uncertainty and technical difficulties. Perhaps there is no one. Regardless,  as you struggle to define what it is your blog is, you start to realize you can’t do this blogging thing alone. You need qualified help. You need inspiration. You need mentoring. You need some food blogging friends.

One of the fastest ways to find answers, shore up weak spots, and find community is to go to a food blogging conference. Granted, going to a conference isn’t cheap–between conference tickets, transportation (airfare, gas money), lodging, and other associated costs the entire event can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars–but if you know how to make the most of your time you can push the value of every dollar.

Choosing a food blogging conference that works for you and your budget might not be an easy thing–there are plenty of factors like cost, location, and schedules to consider. But once you decide to surround yourself with like-minded people who also have the same passions as you, the world of blogging  doesn’t feel so isolated and lonely. Thankfully with the explosive growth of the food industry as entertainment, there are plenty of opportunities to find a food blogging conference that fits your needs and budget. There are local events, luxury getaways, camps, festivals, and conferences (Foodbuzz, Food Blog Forum, and IACP) that bring together food bloggers for intensive training and networking.

Regardless of what form of food blogging gathering you pick–be it a one-day seminar or multi-day getaway–there are a few key things to keep in mind in order to make the most of your time there. For this week’s Project Food Blog Challenge, I offer you my step-by-step tutorial on how to getting the most out of a food blogging conference.

Mise-en-place: Everything in its Place

I had the pleasure to attend (and speak at) this week’s Blogher Food conference in San Francisco. After a handful of rewarding moments and enlightening sessions, I humbly offer you this list of things to keep in mind the next time you decide to attend a food blogging conference.

Choose an airline you trust

1. Figure out how you’re going to get there: If you have to fly, buy your tickets early. Planning ahead can save you lots of money and head aches. Flying on an airline that has wireless internet is also key, so you can blog and Tweet while you travel.

Find a hotel in your budget

2. Choose a hotel that is within your budget. Buy your hotel reservation well in advance and do your best to negotiate the best price possible. Maybe you can get a discount for being part of an automotive club, or because you’re an influential blogger. Who knows? Either way, early booking means you’ll pay less and have the best choices for your budget. If you can find a roommate, you’ll end up spending a whole lot less (and have a lot more fun–especially if they are a young and talented blogger you can learn from).

Twitter at Blogher Food

3. Communicate. Tweeting your experiences and sharing what you’ve learned is not only a great way to connect with other festival attendees and put you on their radar, but also helps to give back valuable information to bloggers who can not attend.

Shauna (Gluten Free Girl), Garrett (Vanilla Garlic) and Molly (Orangette)

4. Come up with a plan but be flexible. It’s good to have a pre-determined list of things you want to accomplish when you get to the conference, but flexibility is key to getting the most out of the conference. Maybe you thought you wanted to attend a tech class, but last minute you decide to focus on something a little more creative. Maybe you planned on having lunch at a restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to but suddenly have the opportunity to grab a cup of coffee with a new friend. These little impromptu, what-the-heck moments can be some of the most rewarding times of a conference. Listen to your instincts on this and go with the flow. Conferences may be all about the schedule, but a conference attendee should be all about the moment.

Todd and Diane's Food Photography Session at Blogher Food 2010

5. Go to a Class. Having a chance to meet fellow bloggers between conference sessions is incredibly valuable, but so are many of the scheduled sessions. Pick topics that will answer tough questions you have no one else to answer and choose classes that will get your brain working in a better, more successful way.

6. Be fearless. It’s scary to enter a room filled with people you don’t know and start up a conversation. Luckily, most bloggers read other bloggers for inspiration, so you probably already know a few people in the room. And thanks to the power of Twitter (and those tiny little avatars) you can follow Twitter chat to find out who else is attending the event and who you want to talk to. Buck up, take a deep breath, and introduce yourself.

7. Find Your Touchstones (AKA get a blogger crush). In the words of Penny De Los Santos, photojournalist, blogger, inspirational speaker (and person most likely to be named a blogger crush–though Michael Ruhlman and Aida Mollenkamp are all great contenders), in order to become better at your craft you should surround yourself with people that excite and challenge you. Touchstone people are passionate individuals and make you want to be a better person. Touchstone people make you giddy with happiness and make you feel like you got something important–just by being around them. Touchstones make you want to step up, be better, and link arms with them. They are the kind of people that make you want to do something you’ve never done before, build something you’ve never built, and prove something to the world. Oh, and they almost always have something so cool about them you almost feel like you have a crush on them.

8. Find a Mentor. Though this might not happen overnight, finding an established blogger to mentor you is an important step in growing. Yes there are a handful of food bloggers at the top of their game, but that doesn’t mean that’s who would be best to mentor you. Mentors are people who have been at their craft long enough to make a career out of it. Your mentor does work you admire and has perhaps taken a career path you would like to follow. When seeking out a mentor make sure the person is a willing participant in fostering your growing career. Mentoring isn’t about constant hand holding. A mentor simply guides and gives advice. A mentor doesn’t make your career. You do. Your mentor should be someone that is genuinely interested in you and want to help you succeed.

Take Notes and then Take Them to Heart

9. Be Open. Accept Feedback: At some point during your conference experience, you may hear information that pushes your buttons. Some of what you hear may be positive (You are on to something. You just need to do it better!) and some of it can be hard to hear (Your logo sucks). In order to be the best you can be, you have to stretch yourself and work hard. Be willing to get editing and take honest feedback to heart. Think about what it is you want to do with your blog and what it is you want to say.

Diane and Todd (White on Rice), Diana (Dianasaur Dishes) and Molly (Orangette) at Blogher's final night party

10. Party Like a Blog Star. Rock stars take chances because they can. Once you’ve figured out the lay of the land, push yourself even more to go outside your comfort zone to meet new people. Maybe that means going out to dinner with a group of people you’ve never met before. Perhaps it means chatting up someone you’ve always wanted to talk to. Regardless, think of yourself as someone that’s already successful and doing everything you want to do (like a rock star), and playing the part becomes a whole lot easier.

Gaby (What's Gaby Cooking), Michael (Michaelprocopio) and Me

If you found this post helpful, please swing by Foodbuzz.com to cast your vote for me. Thank you!

92 comments

  1. Casey

    What a great reminder that food blogging is always about the people and the connections we make. Granted, we’re doing it through a shared passion of food and writing about food, but we still need that connection to fuel our passions and to sustain the ever-growing food blogging community. And while I personally love Twitter and reading food blogs at my leisure (in my pajamas if the mood strikes), there is NO subsitute for real human interaction. It will refresh and energize your efforts at the keyboard just to spend some quality time with your fellow food scribes. (Can you tell, I’m with you on the topic?)

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Best,
    Casey

  2. Mac

    Thank you so much for the step-by-step! Next year, my year to conquer a big conference, thanks to you, I’ll know what to do! Now I’m off to build up my planning, being flexible, and live in the moment muscles! ;-)

  3. Liren

    How I wish I had planned sooner and attended, too! At least I got to live vicariously through your post – clever way to tackle this challenge!

  4. Lana

    Thanks so much for such a comprehensive tutorial! I really wanted to attend BLOGHER conference, but by that time it was already sold out. There is always San Diego:)
    You are so right on so many points when describing the new bloggers. It is pretty solitary in this little world, even though I am surrounded by family. I just have to get out there and find bloggers in SoCal:)

  5. Maris (In Good Taste)

    Couldn’t agree more with all of this! So great meeting you with Gaby on Thursday night at the chocolate party and good luck with PFB – whatever happens it’s amazing that you made it to the final 100!

  6. merry jennifer

    Fantastic post. My first food conference was the IFBC and a lot of this advice was helpful then (in hindsight). Loved the part about finding your touchstones. That was key for me. Looking forward to snagging tickets to next year’s BlogHer Food conference. *fingers crossed*

  7. Strawberry CAKE

    I’m with Donna you rock! Can’t believe you posted already. Great tips. I agree with them all. I was completely out of my comfort zone at the beginning of this weekend, but stepped out and had a great time, met amazing people who inspire me…..feel like I have a new pep in my step.

  8. Broderick

    Awesome post, adore that photo with Penny in focus, as primarily a photo blogger, she was my #1 blogger crush this weekend! It was a pleasure meeting you. Good luck in the challenge!

  9. Rossella

    Wonderful post.
    I’ve experience just with conference related to my work,not to my blog.
    Your points really captures some of my psichological limits when I go to a conference.
    I adore “Be fearless”, that’s the real key to have more.
    Thanks for such a propositive post.

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  11. Andrea (Off Her Cork)

    This was a really great article! Going to conferences is definitely a tricky thing because absolutely you have to find the ones that work best for you. I think most people don’t take that into consideration when attending because sometimes (and we all do it), we go to the ones where most of our “friends” will be. That’s great in terms of hanging out but might not be so great in terms of learning and being inspired.

  12. Karen

    How better to learn than from a post such as this! Makes me want to go hunt down a conference so I can follow your recipe. Thanks for such a good read. Now to vote….
    Karen

  13. SouffleBombay

    Saw this link on Twitter, what a great post. Thank You!
    Can’t wait to go to my first conference…now if I can just figure out when and where they are in enough time lol!
    I run 2 sites one because I want to, one because I need to and am trying to sort it all out :)

  14. jenjenk

    You are so flipping amazing. How the heck did you post AND be at the conference? You are my hero. Loved seeing you but wished I had more FoodWoolf time this weekend. :( I guess I was too busy stalking Penny De Los Santos, Michael Ruhlman, and Aida Mollenkamp.

  15. Kimberly @ Poor Girl Eats Well

    I SO wish I’d been able to attend BHF2010, especially after the awesome time I had at IFBC! Some of my FAVORITE people & bloggers are in your pictures and I’m getting all misty-eyed here. Great post!

    And yes, Penny De Los Santos is (or at least should be) every blogger’s crush! She converted most of us after we were all devout worshipers of another IFBC speaker… SUCH an amazing person! I <3 her…

  16. Maria

    Fantastic post. Great tips and recap of BlogHer food. I am so glad we were able to meet up in real life. You are just lovely and beyond talented.

    • Food Woolf

      @Rene Lynch, Gaby from What’s Gaby Cooking is for sure. She’s speaking! I didn’t know about it (*gasp*), so I missed out on that one. Next one for me will probably be Food Buzz.

  17. Nancy@acommunaltable

    Excellent tips – a very nicely focused piece (how do you do that so consistently?)

    Thank you for sharing your insights and good luck in PFB – I cannot wait to see what you do for the next challenge!

  18. Alisa

    The first photo is Kim from Cook IT Allergy Free and Tia from Glugle Gluten-Free! I noticed that was the only photo missing a title.

    Love the concept you did for this submission. Creative approach, I am voting for it!

  19. the urban baker

    Brooke, you are one of a kind! Authentic and true to yourself. I am humbled and privileged to know you and call you my friend (good friend)! This post is amazing. The fact that you missed lectures and parties to get this post up shows your determination and you commitment. I adore you!

  20. Winnie

    A unique post for PFB- sounds like you had a wonderful time and that the trip was well worth it. Great tips for navigating what can surely be an overwhelming experience…and I love your photos of everyone!

  21. Rachelino

    This is a great post! I am sure everyone else got the memo on this, but as a last-minute BlogherFood attendee I would add this: bring a LOT of cards to a conference! More than you think you will need! some folks ask for cards before (or instead of) saying hello, which I didn’t expect.
    Also, I met so many wonderful people, was inspired by the sessions and closing keynote, and had a great time on my own (I wasn’t attending with a buddy) BUT for the next time, I would really want to attend the entire conference (not just Saturday) and have more time to think about and plan the experience, and also offer to help out people I admire, host a dinner (if the conference is in my town, which this time it was) or otherwise get more involved.

  22. She's Cookin'

    Fantastic post and creative angle on the 4th challenge. This was my first food blogger conference and I met some great new friends @UrbanBaker @DeliciouslyOrganic @jenjenk and talked with a few others IRL. Now I’ll work on touchstones, mentors, and being a rock star :) I saw you, but didn’t have the opportunity to actually introduce myself – next time!

  23. alice

    Great write-up. I’m disappointed we did not meet but your suggestions will surely help anyone who has never attended one of these mega conferences feel more at ease when they do go.

    • Food Woolf

      @alice, We were close to meeting a bunch of times. Guess I’ll just have to be more aggressive next time! See you soon, I’m sure! Thanks for reading.

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  25. Lynda

    Thanks for your suggestions. Conferences are overwhelming – and so rewarding. Sorry I didn’t meet you at this one – perhaps the next!

  26. Lisa Orgler

    What a great post…and so informative. Thanks for taking a different approach with this challenge and educating us on something many of us have yet to experience.

  27. Jun Belen

    Thank you for the lovely note you wrote in my blog. I oftentimes get overwhelmed — finding the time, finding my voice — and lose sight of why I write and photograph.

    This is such a clever way to tackle the challenge. It really speaks a lot about your classy creativity. Love all the photos, Brooke. And I’m certain we’ll meet one of these days! :-)

  28. Fiona at Life on Nanchang Lu

    This is the first chance I’ve had to stop by your blog (thank you ‘high speed’ Chinese internet) although I’ve voted based on your interesting b&w entry photos alone (reasoning: cool entry photo, good chance blog also great). This was a great and original photo tutorial, it really resonated with me because I often feel very isolated from the blogging world by virtue of my location and the daily technical hurdles I face. A conference would be the perfect thing, so I’ll have to save up to attend one in the US!

    Cheers, Fiona

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    • Food Woolf

      @sarah henry, Great meeting you too! I loved Cheryl’s post. It was a perfect “companion” piece! She hit on some very important pieces that people should be aware of!

  31. Daily Spud

    This makes me a little sad that I had to sell my ticket for BlogHer – I just couldn’t manage the time and transatlantic flight involved when it came down to it. I have been to other food blogging conferences, though, both in the States and in the UK and couldn’t agree more that it is absolutely worth doing!

  32. Jenious

    My lil heart pangs to have been there with you all. You share such a generous recap here with lovely photos and insights. Next time, my friend, we need to rock this conference together! xo

    p.s. – I voted for you, well, everywhere – you have my total stalker vote, lol.

  33. the constant hunger

    This is by far the most creative post I read for this round of challenges. I’ve been wanting to attend a blogging conference and have been hesitant. Thanks for putting things in perspective. And you certainly have my vote. And for the next round too!!!

  34. Max

    Experience as a speaker at various conferences show that, if ever possible, stay on-site (if the conference is in a hotel, stay there), or in walking distance to the conference center. Very few conferences have a “speaker’s lounge” or a space where you can prepare for your presentation. Just taking the elevator to your room is worth a lot; you can retire whenever you need, and you can give the last polish to your presentation undisturbed.

  35. Erika - In Erika's Kitchen

    Brooke, what a beautiful recap of the quintessential food blogging experience: getting out from behind our computers and spending time with other people who love what we love. I’m so sad I couldn’t make it to BlogHer Food this year – I had a great time last year. But Foodbuzz is coming up, and the next Camp Blogaway too!

  36. Helene

    Bravo for posting your challenge post in the middle of this chaos!!
    It was awesome seeing you in the flesh and OMG! **you** are beautiful…!
    Lots of positives came out of this weekend and I am now a better person for attending in many many ways.
    Good luck for the other challenges!

  37. Alisa

    Okay, I’m not sure what happened here, but that top photo is NOT Kim and Tia. You had a photo up of Kim and Tia tweeting at their table, but it is gone now. I guess you took it down? They think I am insane now for telling you that top photo is them :)

  38. ~RnR~

    Hi~ I’m a new food blogger from Melbourne, Ausie. This really inspires me as a new food blogger. Really love your post. I hope one day I can be as great as you. :D
    Anyway, good luck for the Project Food Blog. Wish u all the best… ^^

  39. Lynne @ CookandBeMerry

    Thanks for the interesting post, Brooke. I have only attended one blogger event, Camp Blogaway, but it really changed my whole food blogging experience. Just the networking opportunities alone were awesome and I made some good friends. The classes about food styling, recipe writing, photography and PR companies helped me immensely during the last year. I’ll be thinking about your ten points when I attend the next Camp Blogaway in April 2011. Thanks and good luck on your next challenge.

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  42. Aimee

    Hi Brooke! It was so great to meet you at FBC 2011 in Mexico…my first Food Blogging Conference! Now that I have a list of future conferences I want to attend (and a limited budget to make the most of them), I did some googling and came across this post! It’s so well put…and it made me even more excited for my next conference. Hope our paths cross again – I am sure they will! :)

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