Central Florida Blogger and Social Media Conference 2012 Recap

September 16, 2012 at 8:53 pm

This was my first experience attending a blogging conference. Over the past couple of years I have gotten to be friends with so many bloggers, both online and in real life, and to say I was excited about this regional conference would be an understatement. I was so excited for yesterday’s conference that I had a hard time falling asleep on Friday night. This wasn’t so great considering I had to get up at 5:30 on Saturday to get the ball rolling on what was going to be a long and exhausting day. But my excitement carried overnight and I woke up ready to get the day started.

I packed a breakfast for the road…

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and headed over the Howard Frankland bridge towards Orlando as the sun rose over Tampa.

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I made a pit stop in Plant City at Parkesdale Farm Market to meet up with some of my Tampa Bay Lady Blogger friends Jess, Xiomara, Kat, and Beka  so that we could caravan.

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Thanks for riding with me Jess so that I wouldn’t feel unloved.

When we arrived in Orlando the area surrounding The Science Center, the venue for the conference, was blocked off in all directions for a Heart Association walk. Luckily a police officer let our car through the barricade and we were actually able to find an awesome parking spot right across the street from the Center. It was a little hairy driving extremely slowly through crowds of people pushing baby carriages and in wheel chairs and just walking, but I tried to be extremely cautious and respectful because I know what it’s like participating in a road event with traffic. Sorry heart walkers! We had to! You can see the crowds walking in this picture as we approached the building:

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Parkesdale was providing refreshments for the blog conference break room, so I helped Xiomara unload some of the food from her car then I met back up with the other TBLB ladies and we hurried to the registration area to get our name tags and goodie bags.

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The swag bag was great! It had SunChips, a fancy Oxo water bottle, an audio guide to Walt Disney Park by Lou Mongello, the conference’s keynote speaker, and tons of coupons and other goodies. After getting all registered and swagged we headed to the Imax theater for the opening remarks and keynote address.

The Science Center is cylindrical, if you couldn’t tell from the photo, and it has a big winding central staircase with a tree in the middle.

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It was a bit challenging navigating the building at first, but thanks to the organizers in neon yellow shirts, eventually I got to know my way around.

We were cutting it close to the start due to all the traffic re-routing and what-not, so when I walked into the theater I shaded my eyes and looked up into the already mostly full room.

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Luckily a bunch of friends spotted me and waved me up. The first person I saw was Callie (The Wannabe Athlete).

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I was so happy to see her because she recently moved from St. Pete to Venice and I’ve been missing her!

The TBLB ladies and I got seated and pulled out our electronics.

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The conference was paperless, so everything was online. Of course in a big room full of bloggers, everyone wanted to be connected to their social media outlets at all times. The conference had free wi-fi, but the connection was a bit spotty in the thunderdome, so everyone was on their phones.

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Laptops were out for note-taking as well as for interwebbing.

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Katy Widrick was one of the organizers and also gave the opening remarks. I have been online friends with Katy for a while and she has the most informative blog ever. If you have a question about blogging or social media, subscribe to her blog. I was really happy to get to finally meet her in person and hang out a bit. I don’t know how she managed to help run the show, attend tons of sessions including yoga, be 38 weeks pregnant, and still hang out. But she did. I’m bummed that I now realize I didn’t get a picture of the two of us.

Anyway, Katy began the opening remarks…

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and then there was a flash mob by Yell Dance.

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Bess Auer, the founder of the Central Florida Blogger Conference, got on the mic after the dance and said she planned the flash mob as a total surprise for the other organizers. Katy seemed pretty surprised to be interrupted by loud music and a bunch of dancers. It was fun. She introduced Lou Mongello, who is the voice of Disney and has a popular site called Walt Disney World Radio. He spoke about following your passion and believing in yourself. He was very motivational. His takeaway:

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I have to say now that I don’t really have any other informational takeaways from the conference for this post. The whole day for me was about friends, fun, and food. The usual stuff that is on my blog. I didn’t take notes during the presentations and I honestly don’t remember much of what was said. I was totally overwhelmed in a good way, and the conference has provided us with downloadable PDFs of all the slides of all the presentations, so they now reside on my computer for me to digest at my leisure.

Katie, of Katie Looking Forward, commented on my blog the other day and asked for tips about attending your first blog conference which she is also about to do. I can give you some of those.

  1. Read the material provided by the conference ahead of time so you know what to bring and what to expect throughout the day. Follow the presenters for the sessions you will be attending on Twitter and check out their websites.
  2. Explore social media to connect with other people who will also be attending. Do they have a Twitter hashtag for the event? Follow it. When you see people using it, check out their web pages (usually on their twitter profile) and comment on their blogs. Try to make some connections with others ahead of time and then look for them at the event. Check out the event’s Facebook page or website for comments by others attending and connect with people that way.
  3. Don’t be shy at the event! If you see people you recognize from their blogs, speak to them. If they didn’t want to connect with readers and other bloggers they wouldn’t be at a conference. I met so many new people at the conference yesterday and they were all friendly and open.
  4. Relax and have fun. Be yourself. You won’t be any good at trying to be anybody else. I didn’t stress about the information because I knew it would be available afterwards. I tried to soak in the personalities of the presenters and the camaraderie amongst all the bloggers. It was fabulous.

Anyway, back to the actual conference recap. The first session I attended was presented by my friend Callie!

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It was about creating a media kit (which I need and still don’t have) and she spoke to a packed house.

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She really gave some great information and she said on her blog today that she will be recapping all of it there in the days to come…so follow her if you want to know about creating a media kit! I know that Katy Widrick also has a post about it on her blog, so you could search there for information as well.

Yay Callie! You were awesome!

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The next session I attended was also presented by a friend…Jackie a/k/a MomJovi. But she was just a virtual friend until yesterday. Actually, when I sat down in the Imax theater at the opening I heard her say, “Caroline!” from across the room and I looked over and almost squealed when I saw her. Silly, but true. I was so happy to meet her in person. This was kind of a theme throughout the day. I follow lots of Orlando bloggers but had not met many of them in person. Jackie presented with Michelle (Crazy Running Legs) and Christine (Cook the Story) about fitting blogging into your life.

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They are all busy working moms and had lots of great tips about how to make time for blogging.

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Go Jackie! You rock. It was great to meet Michelle and Christine also. We got to hang out throughout the day as well.

Next up was Copyrights, Trademarks, and Social Media.

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I thought as a (former) lawyer I might find this interesting, but the truth is I live with a lawyer who is very well versed on copyright and trademark law as part of his job, so I just wasn’t into it. I was sitting in the very back and ended up skipping out early to take a break in the recharge room.

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The highlight of the recharge room, other than having lots of outlets for your electronics, was the Parkesdale Farms refreshment table.

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The highlight of the table was these amazing strawberry cookies.

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I thought they tasted like cotton candy. I may have snuck half a dozen wrapped up in paper towels into my swag bag.

As I was having a huge strawberry cookie as a snack, Jackie and Michelle showed up in the recharge room, along with another online friend I’ve wanted to meet in person for so long…Theresa of Active Eggplant. She has inspired me so much through her blogging about triathlons and although she is a Tampa Bay Lady Blogger, she lives in Sarasota and we just hadn’t met until now.

Me and my new IN REAL LIFE friends Theresa and Jackie:

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I don’t know what’s up with the stupid elbow poses, except that my friend Kat says that “a flat arm is a fat arm”. My bent arm is also fat, so whatever. It’s just something to do with your hand.

Theresa, Jackie, Michelle, and I decided to see if we could find where they were having lunch. I also met their Central Florida Lady Blogger friend Paula of Eat: Watch: Run, and together we discovered the café all set up for lunch and nobody there yet. Score! First in line.

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The first food I saw was this:

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Yes please. Lunch was being provided by Bahama Breeze, and although I had never eaten there before, all the Orlando ladies assured me that it was amazing. They were right. The tables were already laden with plates of chips and hummus and salsa.

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We were literally the first ones through the line and we loaded up our plates with paella, yams, chips with spinach dip, and salad. A tiny bit of salad.

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What? The dude standing there TOLD me to take two desserts. I agreed…for the sake of the blog. One was Death by Chocolate and the other was Dulce de Leche. Both were awesome.

Theresa and my new friend Michelle:

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Me and Jackie and my new friend Paula:

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We were entertained by steel drums while we ate.

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Great lunch Central Florida Blog Con! The room was quickly filling up by the attendees who actually attended the previous sessions, so my little group left to give others our seats. We headed back to the recharge room where I put out tweets to all the other TBLB to meet up there so that we could take a group photo. We had planned to take one at lunch, but it was packed and crazy and HOT in there, plus I forgot. Anyway, we did mostly all manage to get together for a silly photo.

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(Nanci of This Crazy Life of Mine, Steph of 321delish, Beka in the crazy mask, Theresa, Adrianna of Military Money Chica, Me, Xiomara, Rachel of Runners Tales, Melissa of Twin Fabulous, and Jess)

I think the only TBLB who didn’t make that photo were Kat and Callie, so I scrounged together some other photos from the day to create a new banner for our Facebook page.

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Tampa Bay Lady Bloggers representing at Central Florida Blogger Conference!

After our group photo I managed to make it to the short post-lunch yoga session given by Takeyah Young of Core Connection Lifestyle, who I met later in the fit blogger break out session (more on that to come).

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I just pulled yoga shorts on under my comfy dress. I was real classy about it…doing it right there in the huge vaulted room in front of Katy Widrick.

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It was a nice little stretch break before the next session, which I attended attached at the hip to MomJovi. I felt like I didn’t want to let her go for the rest of the day.

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This session by Rachelle Lucas of The Travel Bite was packed with good info. I wish I could give you some of it, but I will have to look at the PDF to remember anything she said. But she was so funny and sweet. Jackie and I sat up front and got to chat with her a bit before she started.

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I wish that more than two of my IRL mommy friends (non-blogger friends) were on Twitter. It’s like I have this whole separate Twitter life apart from them. Sadness.

The next session that I tagged along with MomJovi to was about working with brands.

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It was presented by Julie Deily of The Little Kitchen, and she was awesome. Fabulous. Amazing. Wonderful. I don’t know what she said but I loved every word. Thank goodness for the PDF.

Next up was the highly entertaining Justice Mitchell.

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Not sure what he was selling, but I was buying it. Just a great speaker.

I was totally overloaded again by this point and I escaped to the recharge room to skip the last presentation session. I just needed to unwind for a minute. The last session for the day was a breakout by niche groups. I had a little anxiety over that and actually wrote my name on the lists for three niches. Am I a mommy blogger, a lifecaster, or a fit blogger? An everything and nothing blogger? They didn’t have that category. I ended up going to the fitness blogger niche breakout because that’s where most of my TBLB buddies were.

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It ended up being really fun and I was happy to meet all these other fitness bloggers from Florida. All the fitness niche CFLBlogCon bloggers:

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Why am I the only one flexing???

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That’s better. And don’t my arms look awesome? Just saying.

We also took a photo with all the Fitfluential Ambassadors in attendance, which was fun.

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Whew. What a long day. A long, fun, fantastic day. But it wasn’t over! Time for the after party…hosted by Yelp!

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The after party was in the dinosaur room, which was neat.

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Somehow we came in via the freight elevator and once again my little group of girls were the first ones there. I honestly don’t know how that happened. We were in before they even opened the doors to the rest of the conference attendees. Somebody in an organizer’s shirt told us to go that way, I swear!

Beka photo-bombed me getting giddy over the Yelp swag table.

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I was happy that I got to meet Colleen of YelpOrlando. She was very cool. Yelp love.

First order of business, as always…drinks.

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I may have been double-fisting. I didn’t want to have to stand in line again! That’s a Cape Cod and an Appletini. Both were wonderful. The cocktails were included, as was some of the food. Mini veggie bowls from Qdoba were gratis:

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The conference had a “Blogging for Good” component to support several charities. I’m lame and didn’t participate, but attendees could write blog posts in support of one of the charities and each charity would pick their favorite post to win a gift card. My friend Kat wrote a post in support of the United Arts because she is an artist and she won the gift card from them! Out of all the bloggers who participated in “Blogging for Good”, one would be chosen to win an iPad. Everyone at the after party gathered around to hear the winner announced.

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Kat won the iPad as well!

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Go Kat! I’m so happy that it went to one of the Tampa Bay Lady Bloggers! Kat was on cloud nine. Her laptop got the blue screen of death recently and she has been using an ailing desktop. She really needed this iPad.

After the awards I decided that I needed more food and a couple of club sodas because I would be driving home eventually. I went to the SuShi table where you could create your own bowl. If you got bacon bits they fired them up for you right at the table.

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I got a chicken bowl and some dumplings.

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It was yummy. After hanging out for another hour or so and hugging my Central Florida Lady Blogger friends an inappropriate amount of times, it was finally time to head back to the Gulf coast. Xiomara had to leave a little earlier, so I was the mom for the carpool home.

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It was a long day and this is a long post. I had the best time. It did make me realize that I don’t take this blogging thing very seriously as compared to many who are making blogging a career. For me it’s just a fun hobby that I love. The friendships and opportunities that I’ve discovered through blogging are the reward for the hours I spend writing and editing photos.

Now I’m even more excited to attend Fitbloggin’ in Baltimore next weekend! I got to meet so many of my virtual Florida blogger friends yesterday, and now I will get to meet many of my virtual blogger friends from all over the country. Like this girl:

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Maggie, from I’m Not a Very Clever Robot. I don’t even know how we met online, but we’ve been best virtual friends for a couple of years now. We text and tweet and IM all the time. We are going to have a hoot. And a half. We’re going to be roomies. It’s going to be epic.

Okay, weekend’s really over now. All I’ve done ALL DAY is write two blog posts. Well, that’s not true. I also ellipticalized and bodypumped and yoga’d. Had to sweat off some of that delicious CFLBlogCon food this morning. But the rest of the day…blogging and more blogging. Done.

Cya.