Be The One To Make Others Smile- Blogher & Life Advice

From the moment I landed in NYC in August 2010, I was eternally grateful that I would “know” (in that we’d exchanged approximately 3,000 tweets and blog comments) 4 or 5 people at my first Blogher. When I was with at least one of them, I  felt safe. I had a wing lady.

Even if we just stood in the corner of a busy party and had a quiet conversation about “OMG, I don’t know anybody here… do you want to go get a drink… maybe we should move to a different corner of the room… is that who I think it is… nah, I’m not going to introduce myself… I feel ridiculous,”  we at least looked like we were being social and not awkwardly standing off to the side, eyeing people and desperately searching for familiar faces.

Roomies for life! Mae, BethAnne, Mandy

But, trust me when I say I did that. A lot. I mean, I couldn’t go everywhere with the handful of girls I knew. We wanted to attend different sessions and were invited to different parties.

There were several times I can remember standing in a sea of strangers and feeling so very alone.

I had no idea who anyone was. Nobody looked anything like their Twitter avatars. There were large groups of women, dancing in circles, hugging each other until they fell to the floor. They obviously had bonds that went way beyond anything I could have with them. What was I going to do? Interrupt their hug-fest to say, “Hey! You look like you might be someone I follow on Twitter, and I think I left a couple of comments on your blog. Let’s get a drink!”? That just seemed so… not appropriate.

The core of it was I was afraid I’d be shunned, which I will fully admit was 99% based on my own insecurities and not anything these other women did or said.

It was an odd experience for me. I’m normally a very social being. I really don’t have a hard time making new friends or introducing myself to people. So it was doubly unnerving when I started to feel this way at a conference full of women who I admired and who all seemed so friendly and happy. What was wrong with me?

Elevators were the worst. Forced to sit in silence with people, trying not to let them see you examining their name badge while simultaneously trying to make sure yours was noticeable, you know, just in case they were doing the same.

On one of my first (very long) rides up the elevator, I ran into Susan and Janice from 5 Minutes For Mom, but I didn’t recognize them… had no clue. They said hi first, as they stepped onto the elevator.

“Oooh! Friendly faces!” I thought.

“Hi! I’m Jill. Is this your first conference?” I naively asked.

“Oh, no! We’ve been to many,” they sweetly replied and then introduced themselves. I felt like a total tool, and NOT because of anything they did or said. Just because, well, how could I NOT know who they were… and to imply this was their first conference? I wanted to melt into the floor before my 45 minute elevator ride ended.

I’ve since had the joy of getting to know Janice and have done a couple Spreecasts with her. I even got to chill with her at Blissdom. She’s seriously super nice, and I can’t believe I let myself feel that way in NYC 2 years ago. 

Then there was that time in the elevators, the day after SocialLuxe (which I was over-the-moon happy to get an invite to as a blog awards finalist), when I ran into Allison (Petit Elefant) and Jane (This Week For Dinner), 2 of the SocialLuxe hosts. I was confident it was them because I’d seen them the night before, and they were toting a bunch of SocialLuxe stuff with them.

Just tell them you had a really good time. Just smile, and introduce yourself, and tell them the party was great. That’s it! You can do this…. OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! 

That was the conversation in my head for about 90% of the time I shared the quiet elevator with them. Finally, just as we were about to arrive at their floor, I squeaked out, “Hey! Y’all’s party last night…. um the social lounge… I mean, you know, Social Luxe, was great. You did a great job with it! I had a really good time.” They smiled and thanked me, were beyond kind, and then they stepped off the elevator. I kicked myself for not speaking up sooner, but was proud of myself for saying something before the opportunity passed.

There were a lot of instances like that- opportunities that passed because I was too afraid to seize the moment. It certainly didn’t help that I couldn’t rely on any social lubricant in the form of alcohol because I was 20 weeks pregnant with Leyna at the time.

(I’d really like to never go to another Blogher pregnant again if I can control that.)

I’m an optimist to the core. I believe life and situations are what you make of them. Believe me when I say I had to really WORK to make my first Blogher a positive experience. 

It wasn’t about working to overcome anyone else’s negativity or unfriendliness. It was about working to force myself out of my shell, away from my safe group of friends, into situations that made me feel like the last girl to be picked for kickball. I had to work to overcome me and my insecurities.

And, to a degree, I had to do that last year. I suspect I will have to this year, too, despite “knowing” so many more people now, and being able to recognize quite a few of them at Sparklecorn even though they don’t look anything like that cartoon character they use for their Twitter avatar.

I write this for 2 reasons.

Obviously, if you’re going to Blogher for the first time in August, I think it’s important to know that it will likely be incredibly overwhelming, but that doesn’t necessarily have to equate to a bad experience. Blogher is what you make of it. You’ll read that line on countless Blogher advice posts because it’s just that true.

Generally speaking though, to apply this to everyday life,  some of the best connections and experiences can come from when you work your way through awkward situations and force yourself out of your comfort zone. Think playgroups, parks, you spouse’s office party.  When you’re feeling left out or ignored, recognize how much of that is stemming from your own insecurities, and then think about how much of it is coming from another person’s insecurities.

Sometimes all that’s needed is for one person to just smile and say hi. Sometimes that’s all it takes to bring another person out of their shell when they need it the most.

Last year at Blogher, I made it my goal to smile and say hi to at least one person whenever I started to feel isolated. I did it everywhere I went- the halls, breakfast tables, the bathroom. Every. Single. Person. I smiled at smiled back. And I’d say at least half of them smiled a smile of relief. Their shoulders relaxed a bit, many times we’d have short conversations and even exchange cards. All because someone just said hi.

That’s not me saying I was doing it purely to make others feel better. It was certainly self-serving because I needed to see smiles and hear hi’s so that I wouldn’t let myself feel as alone as I had the year before. It just happened to have a wonderful side effect for all involved – friendliness and an open door.

Be the person who makes others smile. Even when you’re feeling insecure and ignored, be the one to step out of your shell, smile and say hi. At least, you’ll get eye-contact and a half-smile from 99% of people (because there is the one percent who may disappoint, no matter how kind you are). But possibly? You’ll score a great friendship out of it. You just never know.

  • Babe_Chilla - Heehee but you’re like, BABY RABIES! All those awkward shy stares are the rest of us looking at you thinking “ZOMG JILL FROM BABY RABIES…I should, I want to say….uh screw it she’s got no time to hear me gush over her”. 😉ReplyCancel

    • Jill - I really hope nobody feels like they can’t approach me! I’m not that special! 🙂ReplyCancel

      • Babe_Chilla - But you are. You might not necessarily feel that way, but look at what you’ve built here?

        And I was mostly being cheeky however, I’ll admit that even I, who have tweeted with you and emailed with you a ton, will panic and stand awkwardly close to you but be unable to just say “HI!”. Why? I DO NOT EVEN KNOW!

        So ya, that breathing behind you, it’s just me. Smack me so I come to and we can chat 😀ReplyCancel

  • Sarah @ Toddler Summer - Thanks for posting this! I’m going to BlogHer for the first time this year and suspect that I will feel exactly as you’ve described. I’m not the best at meeting people or jumping into a party. I will probably find myself rotating corners, looking at people I admire, working up the courage to talk to them.

    Hopefully I’ll see you there!ReplyCancel

  • Claire T - This really addressed my worries about attending an event like BlogHer. In theory it sounds wonderful but I am quite shy IRL and suspect it could be a very lonely experience.
    At what point in your blogging journey did you go to BlogHer first? I have been blogging for twelve months but my blog is small with only a few followers and about a thousand page views a month. Obviously I would like to grow it but I am not sure whether an event like BlogHer would be the best way.ReplyCancel

    • Jill - I really kicked myself for not going in ’09. I was pretty small back then, but I think I would have made some great connections. I see a growth in my blog every time I get back from a conference. Not because I introduced myself to so many new people who now follow me, but because I’m able to apply what I learned to make this place better AND because I’ve made some valuable professional connections that have brought me some exciting opportunities.

      I really don’t think it matters how many followers you have. Nobody is going to know or ask you. Everyone starts somewhere… we’ve all been at that place, as bloggers. If you’re shy, I’d suggest you work to set up some predetermined meet ups with other bloggers you’ve had a chance to get to know. Exchange phone numbers with them and plan to meet up with them as soon as you get there. Go to a few events together so you feel safe with them. Then work to branch out on your own 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Mandy - Dear people who meet Jill at BlogHer this year, She’s the best. Love, Mandy who will never go to BlogHer.ReplyCancel

  • Hilary@BabyMooHoo - this hit home for me so much! last year was my first blogher, and while it was ah-mazing in so many ways, it definitely pushed me way out of my comfort zone… and intimidated the heck out of me. you & mae were actually two of the sweetest people i met the whole time i was there–at the aiming low/come as you are party–and i remember feeling like you both put me at ease by saying hi & not making me feel like a total nerdy tool for coming over. i hope you have a great time this year! i can’t make it (sad face!) this time, but i hope to be there next year.ReplyCancel

    • Jill - Awww! Love to hear that. Sorry you can’t make it this year.ReplyCancel

    • mae - Aw man, you’re not coming? That bums me out because you were sop sweet and fun and not at all put off my my insane awkwardness!ReplyCancel

      • mae - sop sweet. really? I WRITE WORDS FUR THE INTERNETZ.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny B - AGREED! I am one of the smallest bloggers there, but I just try to remember that we are all bloggers, hence we are all more comfortable typing than talking 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Lisa - Brilliant.

      Now I know why I never got around to blogging, myself.ReplyCancel

  • Erin Lane - I am pretty sure that I was a little nervous about saying hi to you in line at Starbucks on morning at BlogHer 2010. 🙂 It’s always funny to hear the other persons perspective. Hope to see you in two weeks!ReplyCancel

    • Jill - Can’t wait, Erin! That’s so funny because I was pretty star struck by you 😉ReplyCancel

  • Karla @ www.madeinearlysville.com - Thanks for writing this! I’m totally weird sometimes in social situations b/c I never know what to say. You’re right though, saying “Hi” helps and I need to be better about that. I think I’m just so used to talking to people under the age of 4 that I forget how to talk to adults!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer @ Also Known As the Wife - This is my first year at BlogHer or any blogging conference. I go back and forth between feeling like this is going to be an epic experience to one that is going to permanently damage my self-esteem. I keep reminding myself that most of the attendees probably feel like this to some degree and I’m the one who is going to make it either a great time or a sucky time for me.ReplyCancel

    • Jill - I think you basically summed up the entire point of my post. EXACTLY.ReplyCancel

  • Tracy @ The UnCoordinated Mommy - Great Advice!! I used to do the same thing at conferences in my pre-mom job. Plan on doing the same thing when I finally make it to Blogher next year! Too pregnant this year…..and I need to grow my blog, but I’m using the pregnancy excuse, it sounds better 😉ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - Thanks for writing this. I was the girl in the corner last year who was afraid to say hello to you. This year, I plan to be more outgoing. Plan to anyway.ReplyCancel

  • Jean Parks - Jill, I’ve been a subscriber to your site for quite awhile, I loved your photography skills & quickly grew to like your humor! When I met you at blogher11 I was nervous, you are like famous!

    You were totally gracious & charming & I immediately felt comfortable in your presence! Oh and I have to say you are flat out gorgeous in person!ReplyCancel

  • Angela at OneSmileyMonkey - Fantastic post. First timer this year and a bit nervous as I can totally be shy with big crows of people, specially when everyone else seems to know each other and you are the outsider. But hey, there is a first time for everything! Hope to meet you there 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Arnebya - I really hope to be that person for someone else who is normally too shy. I’m not painfully shy, but I imagine I will be damn near catatonic unless I find tequila first. I’m hoping that the VOY reading will give me a bit of a bump to actually talk to people after. I do NOT want to go home regretting not having been myself or not having met/spoken to anyone I truly wanted to meet.ReplyCancel

  • Emily (CityBaby Living) - Thank you for this post! I’ll be going (22 weeks pregnant – eek!) knowing nobody really and I feel like such a newbie! Thanks also to the other comments above that make me remember that there will be people there in my same situation – new blog, low readership, un-sure of my place in this new world I’ve decided to visit/join. I do remind myself that everyone was a newbie at some point. I guess I just need a big smile and my big girl panties!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - Do you have any time for some of your fabulous printables? I’m thinking of a series of name-tag size labels that say things like:

    Please come say hi to me.

    I’m only pretending to have it together.

    Free hugs.

    Smile if you feel like the last person picked for kickball.

    Hi I have no idea what I’m doing either. Come talk to me.

    All the best bloggers have social anxiety.

    If I was good at talking to strangers in person I wouldn’t need a blog, now would I?

    But, you know, funnier. I’d bet they’d be a hit. You should bring some along too.ReplyCancel

    • Jill - LOL! I may just do that… depending on how much stuff I have to get done before then.ReplyCancel

  • tracy@sellabitmum - I’m looking forward to meeting you! I loved BlogHer last year but for some reason am feeling nervous this year.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - What Babe_Chilla said.

    Having read this, I’ll say hi if I see you, but prior to reading this I think I would have thought: “Oh my gosh that’s BABY RABIES!!! She’s too busy/big/awesome/BABYRABIES”!ReplyCancel

    • Jill - Not. at. all. Though, I do hope that everyone who comes to say hi to me understands when I very obviously look at your name tag to see who you are… and that has nothing to do with how “big” I am but that I am TERRIBLE with names. So come say hi! And shove your name tag in my face 🙂ReplyCancel

  • mae - Perfect. All of it.ReplyCancel

  • New to Mom - Great advice!! I have to say that I felt a bit odd tweeting you last year before BlogHer about going to the same party. Then you told me to come find you. I thought maybe you were just being nice over twitter. Then I did happen to find you and you were off the hook! Then we ran into each other somewhere else and you remembered me! It’s people like you that make newbies feel comfortable in situations like BlogHer.
    This year as a “veteran”, I’m hoping to do the same. There’s probably tons of people who don’t know who I am or ever heard of my blog but I’m not going to let it stop me from making friends and chatting it up everywhere. I want newbies to have similar experiences that I did and that made Blogher awesome!ReplyCancel

    • Jill - Awww! That makes my heart sing! I’m so happy you had a good time and REALLY glad we met. I think it’s awesome that you plan to reach out to newbies this year. That’s what makes Blogher so great. Hope to see you again.ReplyCancel

  • Holly Hillyer Fishman - Great post! This will be my first blogher and everything you write rings true. Thank you and I hope to meet you!ReplyCancel

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