I’ll admit that I did not know what to expect from BlogJam2015. About two months ago I was asked to speak as BlogJam. I didn’t know much about it so I started doing some research. I had previously met (or chatted online) with a few of the organizers but I wasn’t sure if I would be available due to my duties as a stay at home father of two. I checked in with my wife and asked her if we had anything on the go for October 4th and she asked me if our 7-year wedding anniversary counted. Apparently I’m a horrible person. In any case, we talked it out, I bought her chocolate and I was on my way. It was only a few days before that I started to give some thought to who I wanted to see speak.
Now I’ll start by saying that I didn’t get to see everyone that I wanted to. My own personal schedule, my presenting time and some stiff competition meant that I had to miss some talks that I was really excited to see but that’s the sign of a great conference. When the choices are hard, it’s because the content is good. I’ve been to a couple of conference where you’re trying to figure out if there’s anything you want to see during the slot or if you rather just drink coffee. This was NOT the case at BlogJam.
I don’t read a lot of mommy blogs. In fact, aside from The Honest Toddler, you could put my mommy blog count at a big fat zero. But that’s because I don’t want to listen to how you can quilt your own diapers or turn your underwear into a baby carrier in a pinch. I honestly didn’t know that people like Vicki Murphy existed. My own personal daddy blogging experience has been trying to balance loving my children with wanting to hit them with a brick. But apparently, that’s ok. Listening to Vicki talk about her wizard’s sleeve, coat peg nipples and occasional loathing of her “beautiful snowflakes” is refreshing but hearing her talk about the process of blogging, building an audience and being yourself was refreshing.
I’ve heard a keynote speaker or two in my day and a good portion of them drive me crazy with their whole “I’m awesome, you could try to be awesome but you’ll never be as awesome as me” and “my business is the best business and if you try really hard you can be almost as awesome as me”. While Vicki is confident that her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard (a term whose definition I just discovered a couple months ago) she has the corresponding humility to let you know that much of what she does is about just doing what she wants when she wants. If there was a good foot to start BlogJam off on, this was it. Vicki conveyed to the crowd the importance of honesty and integrity. Blogging is, at its core, our own personal exploration of the world around us and you’re not yourself or your audience a favor by writing a theatre piece.
On a personal front, Vicki Murphy is one of the funniest people I’ve ever heard speak. She is honest and unapologetic, wise and witty, pervert and professional. I can’t imagine anyone more qualified to kick off a blogging conference than motherfumbler herself and my only regret was that her talk was so brief and that I didn’t get a lot of time to chat with her after her talk. But you can bet that I’m now counted among the followers or her blogging as she talks sex tapes and stomach flus.
Following that rousing keynote, I got a chance to meet someone I’ve followed (in a not creepy way) for some time. Ashley MacInnis is a solid twitter friend who I finally got the chance to meet in person. Her talk on developing and using your voice in your writing was fantastic. I do a lot of writing for a lot of different people and over time, I’ve realized that the hardest thing in the world is not to sound like me. I’ve written funny emails to my boss that were taken as threats/demands and every time I text my wife she thinks I’m mad at her. My voice is something that I’ve worked hard at “perfecting” over the years but sometimes our voice gets lost in translation.
Ashley has an incredibly vivid voice that shows through in everything that she does. She’s an incredibly talented writer but one of the things I really learned from her session was the importance of putting your name on things you’re proud of. For those of you that write for others for a living, you know how difficult it can be to juggle client demands with personal beliefs. Ashley’s session was really helpful at reinforcing a theme that became, for me, the theme of the weekend. While everyone offered great advice about content planning, pitching and promoting, almost every speaker I listened to boiled everything down to a very simple concept;
You’re you. Stop being other people. People like you, probably. Be you.
One of the things I loved about Ashley is that she had the intestinal fortitude to stand up for what she believes in. As someone who writes for a living, she makes clear to her clients that she will neither write, nor promote something that she truly believes in and will not put her name on something that isn’t her. Too often we find ourselves making those deals with the devil where we’re simply not willing or able to say, “no, I will not write about that because that’s not me”. Ashley makes sure that her voice is her voice. Everyone knows it, everyone respects it.
I started OneRedCat more or less on a whim. I was doing consulting work for a company that simply wasn’t getting back to them in a timely fashion, if at all. When I was asked to build my first website for a client I threw together a giant piece of garbage on a drag and drop platform. It was just awful. It was for a provincial politician who did not win, probably not due to my shoddy workmanship but who knows. After a couple years I got better and switched over to WordPress because it’s a fantastic platform that offers incredible flexibility. It’s also pretty damned complicated. Which is why I was so excited to listen to Alison Knot, Halifax’s premier WordPress wrangler give her talk. Alison is a talent among talents, multi-faceted in her facets.
Alison’s talk was not about blogging. Instead it was about the platform that most of us bloggers have come to know and love and loathe. Alison’s insights on how to make WordPress work for you were fantastic. She provided the audience with incredible advice, very specific, tangible action items and posted her entire presentation on her website. The thing I loved the most about Alison’s talk was how incredibly excited she was to talk about a subject that most bloggers would love to just run away from. Few bloggers LOVE their platform and LOVE experimenting with plugins and themes and widgets.
I mean, we love the front-end stuff. OHHHHHHHH….Share Buttons. But we don’t pay attention to things like….backing up our entire site so that when the internet breaks, we’re not left with a big blank page. Few, if any of us, are PSYCHED to talk about page load times. But Alison makes all of these things at least SEEM interesting with her overwhelming enthusiasm. It was, even for someone who works in WordPress everyday, an incredibly rewarding experience and having worked with Alison in the past in her role at the East Coast Creative Collective, I wasn’t surprised.
I knew absolutely nothing about the next session I was attending but I decided to give Virginia Fynes a try. I was not disappointed. To this point, I’ve mostly been writing for my own clients, strictly for monetary compensation but Virginia opened up, to me, the possibility of using blogs like your own personal wish book (my favorite book of all time). The concept of leveraging your abilities for compensation is not new to me but I just never thought about things as Virginia explained them. She provided some really fantastic information about how to put together a media kit and why it’s important and also was incredibly detailed about the exact way that you need to carry yourself in order to be taken seriously by brands.
Virginia has an incredible sense of style and this comes through both in physical appearance (the blog, not Virginia…not to say that Virginia herself is not also stylish…anyways) as well as her words and along with explaining the importance of careful planning in the pitch process, her outstanding work shined through in everything that she said and did. Much like my experience with Vicki Murphy, I had become a fan.
Stay tuned for the next post. But don’t do it on an empty stomach.
PS. I sort of wrote the book on blogging…and it’s free…so maybe download it.