when only your heart gets to go: attending a conference long-distance

when only your heart gets to go: Attending a Conference Long-Distance via @GretLouiseThree years ago I soaked up all the Tweets and bade children be quiet as I fought slow internet to listen to the live stream of the speakers from a brand new Christian blogging conference I’d heard about. The next two years, each by a last-minute miracle, I got to go and be at Allume, soaking it all up in person. I’ve been on both sides.

This year, as I looked at InfluenceDeclare and the other amazing blogging conferences popping up–all at least halfway across the country–I knew it was my year to be at home. To focus on finding community with the bloggers “next door.” To invest in local conferences and writers groups. To not take so much expense and time away from my family.

But that doesn’t mean I’m planning to miss out on all the goodness of Allume and the other blogging conferences coming up.

Here are four ways you and I can get the best out of a conference from afar–for free!

1. Track the Tweets

If you can’t go to that blogging or writing conference this year, do the next best thing: follow the Twitter hashtag and keep track of the conference blog and link-ups. Watch for information about live feeds and recorded sessions. If the sessions are available for purchase later, it’s usually at a fraction of the price of a ticket, and well worth the price. And if you can watch the main sessions live, it will be almost as good as being there!

You won’t get anything out of the conference at all if you stay away from the Twitter stream in sheer jealousy. Tweet and RT your favorite conference quotes with abandon. Be so positive about the conference on Twitter that people can’t tell you’re not going to be there.

2. Plan a Party

Plan a party with other local writers to watch the live feeds together. You can get together for the day or evening, or have a slumber party/writing party for the weekend! Everyone choose a session hashtag to keep an eye on and watch for the best Tweets to share with your own #athome hashtag.

No blogging friends nearby? That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on fellowship! Order the (in)RL DVDs or the True Woman Conference DVDs and invite some friends or women from your church or homeschool group.

Busy weekend? Make more coffee and eat lots of chocolate. Listen to past conference recordings while you go about your work. Allow yourself more time than usual on Twitter late at night to catch up on the hashtags.

Got kids? Create a mini conference with them! My girls love to hear about my conferences, so this year I’m hoping to create our own mommy-daughter conference for just the three of us to write and draw and talk about art.

3. Choose Joy

Don’t let a pity party get the better of you. Be happy for your friends who are there at the conference. Praise God for the fact that they have this opportunity, and that you get to benefit from it second hand. Soak up all the goodness they are sharing.

If you’re like several of my friends who are staying home from a blogging conference this year to welcome a new little one, spend some extra time rocking that precious little blessing. You and I both know women at that conference who would gladly give up the conference to have a little one to hold.

If you’re saving money by staying home, use all that money you’ve saved as an excuse to do something special. Take the family out to dinner on your blog earnings (even if it’s just the dollar menu!) or make a special dessert.

Choose joy. Cultivate contentment. And eat lots of chocolate.

4. Pray

Our favorite Christian blogging conferences have a prayer room for a reason–there is power in prayer. For this conference, you and I are called to pray from the sidelines.

Take some time to pray for your friends who are attending the conference. Be specific with the needs and desires you know they have. Ask beforehand which speaker they want a chance to talk to, what time they are meeting with an agent. Check in with them during the conference to find out what their prayer needs are right then.

Pray for the conference staff. The weeks before a conference are busy ones in their households. Pray for them to have wisdom as they balance their family and conference responsibilities. Pray for good communication and team work during the conference itself. The staff is working hard behind the scenes, often on very little sleep. Pray that all the technological aspects of the conference would run smoothly, but that the staff would be able to focus on the big picture rather than stressing about how all the little details will work out.

Pray for the attendees, that their hearts would be open to whatever God has for them at the conference. Pray that everything they say and do would be honoring to the speakers and the sponsors, and glorifying to God. Pray for the health of everyone there, where lots of people are getting little sleep and potentially sharing lots of germs. Pray that each attendee can return home to their families not only refreshed in mind and spirit, but healthy in body as well. Pray for great weather, too, so that no one has to worry about their flights!

Pray for the families at home. Pray for their protection and their health. Nothing is worse than getting that call that someone’s sick at home and you can’t be there for them.

Pray for the speakers. Pray that they would have the courage and the boldness to say what God lays on their heart. Pray that they would not heed their nerves, but would truly be a vessel for Him. Pray for their health and stamina. Pray that they would not be put on a pedestal but would instead point everyone to Him.

Are you staying home from a conference that you really wanted to attend this year? Comment and tell me! Let’s plan an #athome hashtag party to RT all the goodness.

(Click here for more conference tips!)

for the conference goers who like to be prepared

for the Conference Goers who like to be Prepared via @GretLouiseThere’s nothing as exhilarating and overwhelming as attending your first writing or blogging conference. If you’re an extrovert, you’re probably like my Allume roommate Trina who thrived on the people and the crowds and pulled everyone into the photo booth with her. If you’re a bit more of an introvert like Crystal, you probably won’t survive a conference without scheduling some time for yourself and making a point to have those one on one conversations.

As I reflect on my experiences at the Allume blogging conference and the Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference, here are the tips I want to remember when I attend my next conference.

Break out of your comfort zone and meet new people.

If you come to the conference with friends, it’s easy to hang out together, sit together at every meal, go to the photo booth together, and never get to know anyone else. But if you stay in your own group, you might miss out on one of the biggest blessings of attending a conference: making new connections.

Yes, plan to sit together with your friends. Yes, have those late-night chats with your roomies and do coffee first thing with your besties. But once in a while, sit at a table where you don’t know anyone. Shake off the people you know (you can be elusive without being rude) and find the people God wants you to meet at this year’s conference.

Take the time for one-on-one chats.

I knew it was time to sit down and have a one-on-one chat with someone, anyone, when I found myself cruising the halls aimlessly looking for a familiar face. At a Christian blogging conference like Allume or Declare, you already have Jesus and blogging in common with everyone there, and that is more than enough to start a conversation about. You are more than your business card and so are they: take the time to get to know the person behind the blog.

Exchange business cards. Make it a habit to hand out your business card as you say your name when you introduce yourself.  And then, write down the details you learn about them on their business card–or better yet, stick the business card in a notebook where you can easily take notes. You probably won’t end up with a long-lasting connection to every person you collect a business card from. But if you don’t swap cards, it might take two years to discover via Twitter that you’re kindred spirits and probably met at a conference but you can’t remember their face let alone what you talked about. Take notes–you’ll be glad you did later on!

Make your plans well.

I made the list at the front of my Allume conference notebook last year: “People to Hug.” I Tweeted and emailed and got cell phone numbers beforehand of the people I wanted to meet and to see. After my first big conference experience, I knew better than to rely on anyone being on Twitter to get my direct messages: I didn’t want to miss the chance to hug my people.

Our mastermind group was determined to spend some quality time together at the conference, too. We knew if we waited it would never happen, so we planned to sit together at the first meal. Connecting immediately with people we were already familiar with was especially nice for those who were newbies that year, even if the large tables did make it hard to chat. Members of our groups met in twos and threes throughout the rest of the conference, and half of us got to sit together again at the closing meal, when some real memories were made.

Saving seats or tables, especially at meals, is rarely an option. Make your plans well and be prepared to sit down early if you want to sit together. Designate someone’s hotel room or a central location ahead of time where you’ll all meet if you have down time. Be available to support each other at the conference, in prayer and in fellowship, just like you do as a group online.

Hold your expectations loosely.

Despite my best laid plans, there were still people I didn’t manage to connect with at my second blogging conference. Still people who were always on the other side of the room, in another breakout session, or just plain didn’t look a thing like their avatar and so I never managed to spot them. But that was okay. I’d learned the year before to hold my expectations loosely.

My first year at Allume, I went with great expectations of meeting one of the speakers. But I hadn’t thought about the long lines and waiting that would entail–and I had a nursing baby who was not a happy camper the entire weekend. I looked forward to that meeting so much, and when I realized it was going to be virtually impossible, I was crushed.

I did get to meet that speaker–but only through a random set of events that involved the power going out and my roomie finding her in a stairwell. I went with fewer expectations the next year, and it made all the difference. (I even ended up in the same elevator with that same beloved speaker and got a hug from her that year, too!)

Take good notes.

It’s likely that you’ll find yourself on information overload before the weekend is over. Take good notes now so you can go back and digest them later.

If pen and paper is your style, keep it all in one organized notebook and always have an extra pen or piece of paper handy for the girl sitting next to you. Stick the business cards of people you meet in between your notes, for a timeline of the conference you’ll save and reference again and again.

If you have your tablet or your laptop, try Evernote or OneNote (affiliate links) to keep the notes from each session easy to search and easy to Tweet, later on or as you type. Snap a picture of the girl next to you–and one of her business card–to pop into your digital record of the weekend if that’s quicker for you.

Be generous in sharing with those who aren’t there.

Last year half our mastermind group made it to Allume. At the end of the conference, we pooled our extra swag to mail to the group members who couldn’t be there. We shared Evernote links to our session notes with each other. And we Tweeted our mastermind group hashtag with the extra special goodness we were gathering just for them.

Twitter is an awesome place to hang out when my friends are at a blogging conference somewhere. The Tweets are all absolute nuggets of goodness that I RT and RT some more. I know how much those 140-character summaries of the sessions mean to those at home on Twitter (that will be me this year) or those in the hotel room with a baby too fussy to be in the workshops (that was me my first year at Allume). Depending on your tools and multi-tasking abilities, you may be the type who Tweets the highlights later from the hotel room or writes a “top ten” blog post once you get home rather than Tweeting as you go.

Just remember to show the speakers the courtesy of mentioning their username in the Tweets. And if you blog it later, respect their intellectual property by sharing the quoteable highlights, not a point by point transcript of their entire session.

Are you attending a blogging or writing conference this year? What’s one way you’re preparing ahead of time? Or if you’re a veteran conference-goer, what’s your best tip for newbies?

(Click here for more conference tips.)

Photo Credit: Darcy at The 2011 Relevant Conference (now Allume)

you can’t write alone

Writing can be a lonely art.

Blogging brings you instant community with your readers.  Twitter gives you something to do when you have writer’s block.  Facebook is a great place to get feedback on what you should write next.

But the stringing together of words together, the editing and rewriting, it’s still a lonely task.

That’s why I don’t believe we should do it alone.

when writers gather, kindred spirits meet...When writers gather, kindred spirits meet.  We may not get much writing done when we’re together, but we return to our desks with the knowledge that we’re not alone.  We sit back down at our keyboards with more filled than just our well of words; the words themselves the glue that forms our bond across town, state, and internet.

We are hard-wired to write.  So it’s energizing to know there are others made up of ink such as we.

We will write even if no one else reads it.  But we need to know that others are writing alone and lonely, too.

Alone and yet not alone.

I’m guest posting over at Allume today
about “Finding the Blogger Next Door“.
Click here for ideas on networking with local writers.

stay

“Stay where you can hear His voice.”

It’s the lesson from Allume that keeps reverberating in my head.  When I want rules, when I want guidelines, Ann Voskamp’s words echo back.

She told the story in parable form, as she does so well.  Their daughter asked how far she could go away from the church yard before it was “too far.”  She was looking for landmarks, guidelines.  The fence?  The trees?

The Farmer answered: “When you can’t hear my voice calling your name any more, you’ve gone too far.”

So simple, yet so profound. 

It’s not that so many minutes doing one thing is okay and a minute more is too much.  It’s not that things must always be done in a certain order or with a certain priority to make them right.

I need only to stay where I can hear His voice.  And it’s both the easiest and the hardest spot to find and to stay.

{Five-Minute Friday: stay}