TL;DR: I made it through my terrifying speech as a VOTY featured honoree just fine, met inspiring people, and learned a lot at #BlogHer15, and although I’m a timid introvert, I even socialized.
#BlogHer15 Recap: The Long Version
A shortened version of my video “101 Things in 1001 Days” was featured during the ceremony. Here’s the full version (3 minutes), showing all of the 101 things I tackled:
(You can see the list of my 101 things with links to essays about completing the challenges here: 101 Things in 1001 Days or The Grid.)
I attended my first blogging conference in New York City this weekend. My 101 Things in 1001 Days video received a Voices of the Year (VOTY) award, and I was invited to be featured on stage during the Community Keynote.
I’ve written in the past about my crippling stage fright, and I had months of fear about agreeing to speak on stage at the conference. I felt excitement and gratitude, too, but had many sleepless nights of anxiety. As I’ve learned about so many things in life, though, the fear of taking on a challenge was worse than actually doing the challenge. That idea is so key to what my quest was about that the speech was the perfect culmination of my journey and is now my official 102nd thing.
The first event was a keynote featuring #BlackLivesMatter founders and a #WomensLives report. This set the tone for the conference perfectly with an emphasis on diversity, empowerment, and the fight for social justice.
I then went to Evening at the Expo. There was enough food and drink offered to make a dinner out of it and a lot of free swag given away by sponsors.
I tried out a virtual reality car ride that was designed to raise awareness about the danger of distracted driving. During the simulation, I glanced at messages that popped up on an on-screen smartphone, timed to happen when an obstacle appeared in the road, and eventually I crashed in the video. It was a cool way to get across how even a quick glance at a screen can cause an accident, but I had been hoping I would get to “drive” the car, rather than just watching a video of it. Next generation of the campaign, maybe?
I then attended the Multi-Culti/Queerosphere parties. I settled into a corner and had some nice chats with whomever ended up next to me on a couch. That’s my kind of socializing in a nutshell.
When my husband and I arrived at the Hilton earlier that day, we grabbed a cup of coffee in the lobby at about 4 p.m. This turned out to be a grave error in judgment on my part.
I settled into bed by about 10 p.m., excited for the big day ahead. With the speech weighing on my mind, though, as well as the late afternoon caffeine still coursing through my veins, I spent the next five hours — that’s five hours — completely wide awake and worrying about being on stage. I get insomnia from time to time and can usually read or meditate for a bit and get to sleep, but this beast would not be silenced. As each hour slipped by, my anxiety increased because I added the worry of how bedraggled my sleepless night would make me during my moment on stage. I remember hitting 3 a.m. and then managed to drop off for a few hours of sleep until 6:30 a.m.
Friday: The Big Day
I joined an enormous crowd of women for a lovely breakfast spread and enjoyed talking at my table with bloggers from a wide variety of niches. When two men sat down at the table, I embarrassed myself by blurting out, “Men!” as if I had just sighted two lions on the Serengeti. They laughed it off, though, and were used to standing out in this estrogen-filled crowd.
During the morning keynote, I was impressed the most by Soledad O’Brien. I had always liked her as a journalist, and as the founder of the Starfish Foundation, she is helping to put young scholars who face adversity through college. Aside from the financial help, her mentorship is changing their lives. She conducted herself with such sincere and down-to-earth warmth, love, and intelligence that I was inspired to support her cause. Not only that, but her message of philanthropy was, basically, don’t wait. You don’t have to be a millionaire or an established CEO to start making differences in people’s lives, one person at a time.
I attended a speed dating session that was a lot of fun. A group of women sat around a table, took turns telling about their work, and exchanged business cards. Like I experienced throughout the conference, there was friendliness and support from all.
Next up, I attended a writing lab, “Finding Your Voice,” led by Robyn Moreno. She gave practical advice about getting writing done as well as tips for breaking through writer’s block and helpful writing resources.
“The thing about finding your voice is you have to get quiet,” she said.
Gwyneth and the Lost Sweater
I next rushed to lunch and a keynote with Gwyneth Paltrow. I ducked out early on her talk. I’m a fan, but the pressure of needing some alone time before getting changed for the dress rehearsal of the Voices of the Year ceremony increased as each minute ticked by. I tiptoed out of the Grand Ballroom in a state of totally unneeded embarrassment, but then realized I had forgotten my sweater.
I managed to get lost in the darkened room as I zigzagged back through the wrong row of closely arranged tables, bumping chairs and apologizing as I passed woman after woman. Each woman smiled politely, but I imagined the whole room’s mounting annoyance toward me. I couldn’t find my table. This is the type of mortifying situation I find myself in much more often than I’d like, and I pictured Gwyneth stopping her remarks to call me out for my rudeness. I squatted down onto a random empty chair, and a woman smiled at me before I blurted out, “I’m lost!” to which she returned an utterly baffled expression. I fled. As I rued returning to the ballroom instead of just abandoning the damn sweater, I spotted it three tables away, snatched it up, and made it to safety.
I had about 20 minutes of precious downtime before I got changed for the dress rehearsal, and I rested in my room with a cold washcloth across my tired eyes.
The featured honorees gathered in the Grand Ballroom for a quick rehearsal of getting to the balcony, where we would watch the ceremony and go backstage a few at a time to wait for our turn to speak. This was the moment I noticed that a huge plastic anti-theft device was still attached to my brand new dress, but I managed to get it off. Someone helped me; I don’t remember who, but thank you.
I was nervous, but much less nervous than expected, and the more time I spent hanging out with the other honorees, the more relaxed I became.
We had a champagne toast and received our awards. This was the first year they gave out physical awards for Voices of the Year. They are lovely.
I have posted in the yeah write writers community for several years and was thrilled to meet its large contingent of VOTY winners in real life. They are talented writers and fantastic people. We hung out backstage and sipped champagne together, and these interactions helped me to feel calm and confident about the ceremony ahead.
See below for links to the work of the people in this photo.
We had the opportunity to get our hair and makeup done. Even this small thing caused me stress because I don’t wear makeup and was worried I wouldn’t look natural, but the hair and makeup artists were sweet and professional, and, yeah, I had some pretty dark circles under my eyes from my 3 a.m. date with dread. (Getting a makeover had been on my 101 things list, and I finally got a makeover that wasn’t a zombie makeover.)
Voices of the Year Community Keynote
The ceremony started, and I watched from the balcony with the others. Here’s a snippet of video showing the size of the room:
I was #17 on the list of 21 presenters (including the Femvertising awards), which had unsettled me as I imagined a long evening of terrified waiting, but like I said, I was much more calm than I had anticipated. While I watched the talented writers and filmmakers, hilarious storytellers, and activists with heart-wrenching calls for social justice, I became so engrossed in the work of these inspiring people that I stopped thinking about myself. (See: Introducing the Work of the 2015 Voices of the Year Featured Honorees.)
With only two speakers left before my turn, I got the signal to go down the stairs backstage. I listened to the final few speakers while seeing their image from the reverse side of a large screen.
My turn came, and I heard myself introduced, maneuvered a couple of steps, and walked onstage, all while not tripping or falling down. Some people gave me a rousing cheer, and I made my way to a podium to watch my video on some monitors that faced the stage. I located my husband in the audience as he was watching my video on one of the large screens.
I took a deep breath. Before I knew it, it was time to speak.
I had been asked to say a “few words” and hadn’t been sure whether to just say “thank you” or something more, but most of the video winners said at least a few sentences, and I did too. I later mildly scolded my husband for not taking a few more photos while I was on stage, but he defended himself by asking just how long I thought I had spoken. I guessed about a minute, but he said it was more like 15 seconds, so, yes, I was pretty nervous after all and had entered into some sort of alternate reality, slow-motion world.
I tried to briefly explain why I made my 101 things list, what I got out of it, and how this experience of speaking on stage was a perfect culmination of my journey. I am not sure how coherent I was in getting that message across in those 15 seconds, but I so appreciated the many comments and congratulations I received from people during the rest of the conference, and I’m very pleased with the whole experience. I also am totally counting it as having given a speech, no matter how short.
(By the way if any of you happened to snap a picture of me on stage, please share it.)
Waiting backstage for our group bow during the VOTY ceremony at BlogHer15
Once all the presentations were done, the featured honorees gathered on stage for a photo, and then all the rest of the VOTY winners joined us.
Relief, relief, and sweet relief: That’s about all I remember from this portion of the evening.
Voices of the Year Reception
I celebrated with my husband and talked with many people during the reception. I was glad to bask in the relief of the scary part being over, and I was so happy to meet several more blogging friends in real life, as well as meet a lot of new people.
My husband and I left, changed into comfortable clothes, and had a fun evening going out to get dim sum in Chinatown at Oriental Garden Restaurant. It was a gorgeous, cool, and breezy night in New York, and we walked several miles through the city. It felt great to get outside and move after being in the hotel for so long.
Saturday, and the chilling is easy
I slept the sleep of an angel and woke up completely relaxed and refreshed, but as the long day wore on I realized how exhausted I was. As much as I love doing exciting things and taking on challenges, I am even more happy when they are over, and the experiences always drain me.
Saturday for me was a more relaxing day, though, and I also skipped out on a few events I had planned to attend. I felt filled to the limit and needed some downtime.
I loved the morning event “The Pitch” in which six female entrepreneurs pitched their business plans to the audience and a panel of experts. We then voted via Twitter for the woman we wanted to win. I was impressed by every single woman, but for what it’s worth, I voted for Majora for StartUp Box.
There was a recurring theme during the panel discussion of reminding women not to minimize or apologize for their achievements or efforts, such as saying things like, “I know this is ridiculous, but…” or “I’m sorry this is so trite, but…” The message resonated with me and much of the audience, and it became a running joke to call out each woman who did it from then on.
I attended a workshop on “Crafting a Commercial, ‘Publishable’ Memoir.” I’ve toyed with the idea of taking my book Timid No More and reworking it into a narrative memoir. On the one hand, though, I think I’ve gotten all the bang for my buck out of my 101 things list that I possibly can (with this VOTY award being the culmination); on the other hand, people respond with such curiosity and enthusiasm to hearing about it and how it changed me.
I attended some of the keynote on maternal health and a good workshop on editing, “Kill All Your Darlings,” but I had really reached my limit by that point and skipped the closing keynote to rest up before my evening plans. (I heard Ava DuVernay‘s keynote was fantastic, though, and hope to be able to watch it eventually.)
Evening in New York
My husband and I headed down to Greenwich Village where we had reservations to see a comedy show at the Village Underground, a sister site to the original Comedy Cellar, where I had been picked on by a NYC comedian (good-naturedly) for my bright yellow sweater years before. This time I knew enough to wear black and made it through the evening without incident.
We stumbled upon an excellent Cuban restaurant, Havana Alma de Cuba, that was nearby, and we had a fantastic dinner. This night was sweltering, though!
We ended up near the Love sculpture where we took photos for a rambunctious bachelorette party, and they took some of us.
Conclusion and Shout-outs
The #BlogHer15 conference was an excellent experience. If any of you are hesitant to attend one alone, don’t worry about it. I was consistently impressed with how friendly everyone was, and I never once encountered a clique or someone who excluded me from joining in.
I was also proud to be a part of the VOTY ceremony, and I know if I get the opportunity to attend another BlogHer conference, I could immerse myself even more into the learning and the connecting with other bloggers, without having a harrowing speech draining so much of my energy!
Finally, I want to give a brief shout-out to some of the people I met who were so supportive. I’m sure I’m missing some, and I’m sorry, but these are the connections I am able to hobble together from business cards, scurried notes, and jumbled memories. Thanks, and I hope to see you all again, IRL or on the Internet:
Linda of Laughing Though Life, Theresa of A Coonhound’s Tale, and Rhonda of Evolutions Life Coaching, who were the first people I chatted with at the Multi-Culti party; Dave of Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad and his friend from Life of Dad (I don’t recall his name), who were the rare men I spotted at a breakfast; Lauren of The Evolving Cook and Karen of Dance Around the World, who are both in the process of developing their blogs; August of Girl Boner, who had been a featured VOTY honoree last year and gave me advice on dealing with stage fright; the charismatic Liv of Unbelievably Human, a VOTY honoree, whom I first heard of through her mom during speed dating with my same name of Marcy (not sure how she spells it); Robyn Moreno, who led a helpful writing workshop; the whole yeah write VOTY-winning contingent–I’ve been reading their work for years and was so happy to meet them: (pictured left to right above in Christine’s tweet) Kir of The Kir Corner, I am then in the photo, Jan of Red’s Wrap, Bill of The Authentic Life, Christine of Trudging Through Fog, Cindy of Reedster Speaks, and Stacie of Stacie’s Snapshots and Tidbits; Deva of My Life Suckers, who makes hilarious parody videos that get millions of views–I felt a little sheepish being backstage with her for my video that got about 350 views, but she was gracious and fun to be around; Linda of Elleroy Was Here, Jen Kehl, and Diane of Thoughts, Tips and Tales, three women I already “knew” from interacting with them on their blogs and who were great to meet IRL; Sandy of Milk and Eggs and Anjum of Masala Mommas, two women who “rescued” me when a waiter wouldn’t let anyone sit with me at my “dirty table” (lol); Erica, who works with Nomadic Matt and was a blast to hang out with at the reception; D.J. of Thoughts From Paris, who shared some great ideas on where I should take my blog from here and is funny to boot; Mary or Artemis Consulting, who doesn’t have a blog yet but was interesting to talk to about her experience as an expert witness in medical cases; and, finally, three women who led the editing workshop whom I know I could learn so much more from: Susan of Beyond Your Blog, Estelle of Musings on Motherhood & Midlife, and Julie of She Knows. Phew. I know I must have missed some of you; if you stumble upon this and we had made a connection, please reach out. I would love to keep in touch. If anyone I didn’t get a chance to meet would like to connect, I would like that too.
Did anyone make it to the end of this extremely long post? I’d love to hear your thoughts about BlogHer15 or blogging conferences in general, and if you wrote a recap of the conference, please feel free to share a link. (BlogHer is also collecting recaps on Facebook.)
About my post’s subtitle: In a previous post I had explained how I felt “beyond excited” when I received the news that I’d won a VOTY. Treating “Excited” as a location, I explained the place beyond it was “Terrified,” and I bought a $5 Fiverr illustration of the idea. This update shows what’s beyond Terrified: Exuberant!
If this is your first time here…
The list of challenges: 101 Things in 1001 Days or The Grid
Some of my favorite posts about completing items on the list:
My book about completing the challenges: Timid No More.
Bloggers: Have you gone out of your comfort zone? What happened? Send me a postcard, and you could be featured on this site.
#BlogHer15 | #VOTY (Voices of the Year)