A Guide for Liveblogging a Search Conference
Hey, kids! It’s almost time for me and Susan to say goodbye to the Bruce Clay headquarters and head to Las Vegas for 3 days of liveblogging. The liveblogging scene has gotten pretty competitive in the past year, as companies send out teams of bloggers in the hopes of providing readers with information session recaps and maybe getting some link love in the process.
One of the questions I get asked the most at conferences is, "how do you guys liveblog like that?" Well, I’ll tell you. Below are some tips and advice on how to liveblog a search conference.
Before the Show:
- Don’t Forget The Hardware!
I know, you probably think my reminding you not to forget the laptop and power cord is ridiculous, but believe me, people do it. All the time. Unless you want to be the Matt McGee of Pubcon/SES, I’d also recommend that you remember to bring a spare battery or two. There’s nothing worse than watching your screen turn black right in the middle of a speaker’s presentation or power down right as things are beginning to get juicy. Isn’t that right, Matt?
Perhaps just as important as the laptop and laptop juice, is the WiFi card. If you’re going to be doing some serious liveblogging, I highly recommend investing in one of these puppies. Conference WiFi is unpredictable at best, and making a quick stop in the Press Room between sessions isn’t always feasible. Liveblogging means publishing in the moment, and your ability to do that is 100 percent tied to your ability to access the Internet. Also, as fun as it is to hangout in the Press Room, it’s not really conducive to getting work done. Mostly because as you’re typing, you’ll have Tamar poking you asking you if you’re done yet. Or at least that’s what happens to me.
This isn’t something we typically do, but you may also want to come equipped with a videocamera and a regular camera, as well. And if you do, make sure you don’t forget that little uploady cord thing. Leaving it in your hotel room/suitcase/car/office is going to make you look like a liveblogging n00b.
- Plan ahead
Yes, you’re liveblogging, but doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re in session to take a look at the itinerary and who’s speaking. Arrive at the conference with a game plan. Know which sessions you’re going to cover, what rooms they’re in and who’s slated to speak.
Give yourself a head start and a guaranteed 30 seconds of downtime by pre-writing intros, researching speakers and hunting for relevant links before you arrive. I typically take care of all my pre-writing duties before I leave for the event. For example, I’ve already pre-written my 15 entries for Las Vegas. There’s not much there, but I have a title, a quick intro paragraph and the names of all the speakers listed. This helps me to jump right into the session when I finally get seated.
However, if you do pre-write parts of your entries make sure the speakers you said were there are actually the ones presenting. Sometimes speakers get sick or have last minute scheduling conflicts and have to be switched out. You don’t want to write about Bruce Clay’s presentation at SES Chicago when everyone just saw him in Las Vegas.
- Bring Snacks
Liveblogging a full day of sessions often means starting at 8am and staying well after 6pm. Sometimes livebloggers even have to sacrifice lunch in order to get necessary laptop charging time. If you don’t bring snacks, you’re going to be a grumpy, dragging blogger by the end of the day. Make sure you throw some granola bars, fruit and water into your laptop bag before heading out in the morning. You’ll thank me later.
- Expect Sudden Weather Changes
The inside of a conference room is like New England in the Spring. You never know what to expect. It will be warm and toasty one minute and then freezing and frostbite-inducing the next. Unless you can type with blue fingers, dress for both. And if you can, ladies, wear closed-toe shoes.
During the Show:
- Find Your Map
Once you pick up your conference badge, you’ll very often be handed a totally heavy, and ultimately worthless, conference tote. As Rebecca Kelley also advises, dump it. The only thing of value inside is the "At A Glance" agenda. And that puppy is worth its weight in gold.
The "At A Glance" agenda gives you a quick look at what sessions are being offered for the day and where they are. I typically go through my agenda and box each session I’m going to. I do this partly because it helps me to visualize how my day is going to be spent and when I’ll need to jump rooms. I also do it because I’m a geek and it makes me feel important.
- Claim Your Territory
Everyone has their personal favorite place in the room to settle down and blog. Some like to be in the front row, others like to sit in the back, some like to sit on the aisle and others make best friends with the wall outlet. Find what works best for you and get to sessions early so that you can claim your territory. There’s nothing worse than having to bunk elbows with the person sitting next to you because you spent your session break dillydallying in the hallway.
(Oh, and don’t dillydally in the hallway. If you’re a blogger, you’re in a hurry. Find the holes and navigate through them. If you’re not a blogger and are walking at a snails pace while you talk to your friends and eat your conference pretzel, get to the side. If you get in my way, you’re going to get an elbow to the ribs.)
Personally, I like a good front row aisle seat. This allows me to be close enough to the projector to actually read it, it gives me a solid view of the speakers’ name cards (to prevent misspellings) and gives me quick access to the door should I need to slip out to finish my entry and get to the next session ASAP.
Sitting in the front row also allows you to partake in some pre-session banter and networking with the speakers.
- Tune Everything Out and Type
Once the session starts, it’s time to settle in and type. Everyone liveblogs differently, but for me, I tend to tune out the rest of the room and just focus in on the person speaking. Because I type super fast and speakers are guaranteed to throw in a few "ums" and "ahs" and normal silences, this usually allows me to keep up with what the speaker is saying in real time.
Try and format the post as you’re going so that you’re able to quickly post as soon as the session ends. Many livebloggers use the Question and Answer portion of a session as a cue to stop listening and begin editing their entry. There are pros and cons to doing this. Typically, I only include the Q&A part of a session if someone asks a question that is particularly noteworthy. Otherwise, I skip it. I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just that I only have a certain amount of time to get my entry up. Did I mention that there are 0-5 minutes in between Pubcon sessions this year?
- Just Post It Already
Typically bloggers get something like 15-20 minutes in between sessions (unless you’re at Pubcon, apparently). Use this time to read over your post, clean up it up, and then post it. Don’t spend an hour trying to edit your post and get it up. As much as we all want to be perfectionists, liveblogging is very rarely perfect. If you let yourself become consumed with one post, you’re going to find that the rest of your entries suffer. Write it, edit it, publish it, and then get it out of your mind. You have work to do.
After the Show:
- Review the Days’ Posts
Don’t obsess, but give your posts a read through once you get back to your hotel room. If there’s anything horribly offending (a misspelled name, the result of a page copy and paste job, etc) fix it.
Once you’ve ended your long day of liveblogging it’s time to celebrate! Find out where the parties are and go get your network on. If you don’t know where the cool parties are, head down to the happening bar and wait for people to tell you. Either way, you’ve survived a hard day and you’re entitled to some down time. Take it.
Liveblogging a search conference can have a tremendous impact on your company’s brand and authority level, especially if your work is so revered that people actually start expecting you to be there. Use your recaps to have a little fun, provide your readers some detailed accounts of each session, acquire some delicious link juice and network with your peers.