Well, it's finally here... on Friday hundreds of parent bloggers will be coming together in London for BritMums Live 2014. Can you believe it?
This will be my 3rd BritMums Live and it has become the highlight of my year. I just love the opportunity to meet other bloggers in person and enjoy the whole BritMums Live experience (if you've not been before, you're in for a real treat!)
But I know how nervous I was my first year, despite going with a friend, because I didn't know what to expect. And I also remember being a tad nervous last year too, because I was going alone. This year I am going with two friends and whilst I am sure there will be the odd butterfly creep up on me as I get my train to London, I am mostly just excited this year.
However I know many of you will be far more nervous that excited, and maybe even baffled about what to bring and what will happen. So I thought I would write my essential guide for getting the most out of your weekend.
What To Pack
This is a tough one, always. You want to pack light - it is only 2 days, after all! But you also want to make sure you have everything you need. And you'll also want to leave plenty of room for all the freebies - don't overload yourself before you get there, especially if you're travelling home alone via public transport! You will amass huge amounts of freebies, not least of which the massive bag full you'll be given as you leave The Brewery at the end of it all. So pack light...
Your phone - for tweeting, texting and instagramming during the event
Business cards - you'll swap these with bloggers and give them to brands
Tickets - for BritMums Live, for the train, hotel reservations etc
Painkillers - you never know if you'll need these come Saturday!
Clothes for 2 days & comfy shoes - you walk up and down stairs a lot between sessions
Plasters - in case your shoes rub
You may also want:
A camera - the lighting in The Brewery isn't ideal for phone cameras
Snacks - unless you are happy/able to eat cake all day long!
Spare cash - in case you want to buy a book from the bookstall
Sunglasses - if you're likely to be hungover Saturday morning
Notepad and pen - (optional because The Brewery provide paper and pens as well)
What you DON'T need:
Paper and pens - these are provided on each table
Drinks - ice cold water is provided on each table, teas and coffee available in The Hub
Cakes - again, provided in The Hub (and sweets on the tables)
Itinerary - you'll be given a copy when you register upon arrival
A note on packing:
I'm planning on packing my clothes and a backpack in a suitcase, so that on the Saturday I can pack my clothes in the backpack and fill the suitcase with all the freebies. This way I have a manageable way of transporting everything home on the train. Don't worry about having to take your bags to The Brewery when you check out of your hotel on the Saturday morning - they have plenty of space in their cloakroom for these.
What To Expect
If you're coming on both days, then everything starts at 2pm on the Friday. By that time there will be an excited mass of bloggers waiting to go in, register and just throw themselves into the BritMums Live experience. Some will be chatting away with old friends, others will be chatting away with new friends. And some will be quietly hovering, unsure of what to do or who to speak to.
The BritMums Butterflies
This is where the BritMums Butterflies come in! If you haven't heard of them, the BritMums Butterflies are there to help anyone feeling a little lost and overwhelmed to hook up with other bloggers and feel less intimidated by the prospect of being in a room full of hundreds of bloggers, all of whom seem so much more confident and at ease than they are.
But here's the secret - even those of us, like myself, who can quite happily talk to anyone and everyone about anything will still be feeling daunted by the idea of going up to someone and starting a conversation!! But you know what, I've never found anyone who wasn't happy to welcome you into the conversation once you struck up the courage to approach them.
However, we all know it can be totally overwhelming... and we also all know that you can go away feeling so down on yourself for not having been able to overcome that fear, and none of us want that! We want you to feel empowered by your time there. So if you're feeling a little lost, go seek out the BritMums Butterflies (they will have a table in The Hub) or tweet to some of your favourite bloggers and ask where they are. Take part in tweets during sessions - send things like, "I'm going to this session and looking for someone to sit with... anyone got a spare seat on their table?" Sometimes sending a tweet can be easier than simply approaching someone in person, but opens up the way to a conversation.
There are, as far as I know, two pre-event meet-ups happening on the Friday. One at All Bar One for those who are old-hands at this conference malarkey and one at Starbucks which is organised by the BritMums Butterflies for those who need a smaller, more intimate opportunity to get to know people. The latter is being hosted by myself and Aly from Bug Bird and Bee (although you will most likely know her fom Plus 2.4)
Aly and I will be at Starbucks from 12 noon on Friday, ready to welcome anyone who wants to join us. We currently have just over a dozen bloggers who have said they wish to come to the meet-up, so it will be nice and cosy for those of you who are a little shy, but still a big enough group to get to know several bloggers before you head to The Brewery. If you want more details of this or just want to chat to others before the event, check out the BritMums Butterflies Facebook Group.
The Actual Event
Once you get to The Brewery, you'll be greeted by some male hosts who tip their bowler hats at you and call you "madam"... it's really quite charming. Then you head on in and you'll see a long row of tables in front of you. This is where you register and pick up your name badge and itinerary for the day. To your right there is a place to hand over bags and coats, plus the toilets if needed!
To your left and up the stairs is The Hub - this is where you grab a drink and some cake, and meet the brands. There is the main central Hub and then off that there are several "lounges" where you can meet other brands. There are places to sit for a rest and a natter, and it's a good place to try and meet up with people between sessions.
You'll be given a map of The Brewery with your itinerary so you can find out where all your sessions are. Some are upstairs, some are downstairs (I told you there was a fair bit of going up and down stairs!!) You'll have until 3pm to wander around and get your bearings, and then it all gets going in the main room upstairs. The tables in each room are circular, so you have chance to sit down and meet everyone on the table. Have a natter and get to know who you're sitting with - exchange business cards and discuss why you're here, what you're most excited about and just begin to soak in the atmosphere. It won't be long before it all kicks off...
From this point onwards, you just go with the flow really! There will be a welcome from the BritMums Founders, a keynote speech, and then a panel discussion before everyone breaks away to the various sessions. If you want to see what they are before you get there, you can find the agenda here. Friday has quite a relaxed and party-like feel to it... everyone is just getting into the swing of things and whilst there are some great sessions on during the day, I always find Saturday is the day when we all knuckle down and really eat up all the sessions. Friday is very much about a gentle easing into everything.
I can't really talk much about Friday night and the BiBs as I've always scooted off early to go on a date night with TJ. But this year he isn't coming with me so I'll be there and as unfamiliar with it as the rest of you. I do know that a lot of bloggers hook up and go out for a meal together afterwards, so if you find yourself without any plans, do check twitter or ask people you meet to see if there are any groups you could join!
Saturday is pretty much the same, except it is a longer day, you get given lunch, and generally speaking most people feel a little less frantic and more at ease with everything.
My Top Tips
Whoa, that was a long post, so let's round this up nicely with a list of my 10 Top Tips!
1) Pack lightly - work out what is essential & leave the rest at home!
2) Make plans to meet some of your favourite bloggers before you go - arrange to meet them during one of the breaks or plan to go to a pre-event meet-up. It's easy to feel overwhelmed once you get there, so having a bit of a plan can help and means you aren't disappointed when you manage to miss bumping into them the entire weekend.
3) Wear clothes and shoes you are comfortable in - whether that means dressing up or wearing jeans and a tee, just be comfortable as they are long days
4) Have a "mini survival kit" in your bag - painkillers, plasters etc - better to have them and not need them than develop a headache/hangover or blisters and have to suffer silently all day
5) Remember to check twitter and use the BritMums Live hashtags - that way you can find people you know amid the crazy bustle.
6) Take lots of photos - I never take enough (I always forget) and then when I want to blog about what I loved about the weekend I feel sad I didn't document it better!
7) Be flexible - it's great to know which sessions you really don't want to miss, but sometimes you may have a plan in mind and then meet someone at the event and decide you'd rather skip a session to chat with them or go to the session they are going to because it suddenly sounds much more interesting! You might also find the session you want to go to is super busy and you'd rather go to a quieter one.
8) Remember that it's normal to feel nervous and that even those who look confident may still have some nerves. The BritMums Butterflies are there to help if you feel overwhelmed - don't spend the weekend feeling scared and alone, please make the most of the support at hand to help you feel more confident and enjoy the weekend.
9) Sleep as much as you can before you go to London because the weekend it full-on, with a late night on the Friday and an earlyish start on the Saturday. You'll come away exhausted, but it will be so worth it!
10) Enjoy... do whatever you need to make the most of it. If that means skipping a session for a breather, then do that. If it means throwing yourself into every opportunity, then do that. Whatever works for you - there is no right or wrong!
I hope that these tips help you enjoy your BritMums Live experience - let me know if you have any more tips. I can't wait to see you there!