Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to host a kick ass blogger meet 'n greet

Think back to your first months of blogging. What first drew you to this admittedly odd past time? A form of self-expression? The money? The friendships? Beyond a hobby, blogging has become a true passion of mine, and the community of amazing women is what has kept me around. You have encouraged and inspired me to be a better person, to share my heart along with my odd quirks.

If I could be IRL (in real life) friends with each one of you, I would in a heartbeat. Of course, that's not quite realistic considering we live on opposite ends of the country and even the globe. My Coast to Coast map revealed far more Ohio bloggers than I realized and I wanted to bring us together in one place.

3 months out

1. Check out Bloggers Coast to Coast 

Coast to coast is my solution to bridging the divide between internet and real life relationships. Currently 3,000 and growing, it is a great resource to find bloggers around your area to invite. E-mail me if you'd like temporary access to my spreadsheet. Do a quick Google search on local bloggers or networks for an additional list of blogs such as Girl About Columbus.

Compile your findings in a spreadsheet with each blogger's contact info (name, e-mail, blog name and URL) to make sending out invitations easy as pie.

2. Recruit a helping hand

At the start of planning this event, Holly was the one blogging friend I had kept in touch with in real life, so she was the easy choice. Brainstorm ideas on a GoogleDoc which is easily edited without having to e-mail back and forth nine million times. Holly was extremely helpful in making my vision a reality.

3. Decide on a vibe
Do you want to keep things casual, a fun chance for networking and bouncing ideas around or more structured with speakers and workshops? Would outdoor space be appropriate or do you want the event to feel more like a happy hour at a bar or a serious meeting in a hotel or conference space? Regardless, the event should center around building relationships-- about collaboration, sharing and developing thoughts, and strengthening your community.


4. Find a venue

Consider an accessible location. I chose Columbus, which was perfect. My hometown is smack dab in the middle of Ohio and many bloggers were willing to travel two hours from Cinci or Cleveland. Make sure the establishment will accommodate the number you plan to invite and will not be a distraction, and vice versa.
What amenities are required? Is there adequate parking? Do they allow outside food? Do they have an open bar or drink specials? If you are on a tighter budget, you can often get free event space if you go with a cash bar. This works well for weekday events where the bar would otherwise have low traffic. 

5. Set a budget

Decide if you will need to charge for the event. Do you have to pay for the venue? Are you providing food and drinks? If not, make it a free for all, as Holly and I did, then encourage everyone to bring their favorite hors-d-oeuvre or dessert. This adds a personal flare while avoiding turning off people for asking for money to attend. May I recommend my berry cobbler or mini-7 layer dips or Katie's bagel dip?

6. Send out an e-mail to gauge interest and availability

It can be difficult to coordinate everyone's schedule since many bloggers have time full time jobs, family obligations, etc. Weekends are the obvious choice, and the afternoon worked well for us.
Send out a When is Good with 2-3 potential dates in mind with a message such as:
We are looking to gauge interest on this event before we get too far into planning. We want to get the ball rolling on this ASAP so everyone can get it on their calendars! Feel free to pass this info along to any bloggers we may have missed. We are open to any and all suggestions you may have so please throw them our way! We look forward to meeting you!

**Use Bcc: rather than Cc: so people are not bombarded with a million "reply-all's" when you are the only one who needs the responses. Consider CC'ing your co-host each message so she's kept in the loop.

2 months out

1. Set a date

Determine the most popular choice from WhenIsGood results. Set the event date at least six weeks in advance to allow time for the word to spread and to give attendees time to make arrangements with sitters, etc.
Find out what is going on around town. Steer clear of dates when a huge sporting event or fair is occurring because: turnout may be lower and traffic could be worse. But certain events can work to your advantage as a transition out of the meetup. Many of the gals at my meetup headed right down the road to Digfest, a street festival showcasing local beers, wines, and food.

2. Send out formal invitations

Not a graphic designer by trade, made this bad boy on PicMonkey. #amateurhour

Include the name and date of the event in the subject of the e-mail so people don't miss out. Give bloggers an idea of the "feel" of the event in the invitation. Include links to nearby hotels, parking details, and fun places around the city for those unfamiliar with the location.

EventBrite is a simple tool I discovered after the fact, which would have saved me a lot of sanity, due to a plethora of useful features:
  • Create a branded event page to manage the RSVP and provide your event details. 
  • Keep track of the number of attendees and contact info in real time. 
  • Resend to guests that have not responded to the original invite. That way, you don’t need to re-enter email addresses or send too many emails to guests who are already attending.
  • Add to my Calendar button. 
  • Share buttons. Email to friends, tweet it, share it on LinkedIn, and like it on Facebook
  • Automatically schedule a brief reminder email to send to your attendees 48 hours before an event
  • Collect Custom Information: ie. guests meal choice or t-shirt size, then exportable to a spreadsheet.
  • Generate customized name badge templates for all registered attendees.
If you go my slightly more complicated route, use a Whosin to get a final headcount.

3. Create a button

Create a button in PicMonkey that bloggers can display on their sidebar so more eyeballs are on the event.

4. Generate a buzz

You need to build and keep the excitement level before, during and after the event for bloggers and influencers to stay excited. Blog and tweet it like crazy! Create a hashtag and encourage bloggers to use it in all their shares. This makes it easy to engage with others pre, during, and post-event. (Ours was #OHBloggers) People will retweet to get the buzz going. I found many more people to invite this way!

1 month out

1. Create a tentative agenda

You want the event to have structure but be willing to be flexible and alter it as the event progresses.
  • Ice Breaker to get people loosened up.
  • Keep presentations concise, visual, and interesting.
  • Time to fill out Blating Profiles.
  • Raffle prizes.
  • Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for unique pictures and content.

2. Craft Blating Profiles

I wanted a fun way to get everyone familiar with each other up while also keeping us in touch after the event. My solution? Blog dating profiles! Feel free to use my template as a guide and personalize the questions to your crowd! Consider calling it: The Blating Game, Blate me, maybe? Blaters Gonna Blate, BlaterAid. You're welcome.

I put together a few special swag bags and drew random profiles to win them. If you play a game with winners, these work well as prizes.

3. Buy supplies

  • Nametags
  • Pens
  • Swag bags. I included trial size beauty products, local items, chocolates, stationary. Ask around for sponsors or etsy owners to donate contents of swag bags. (ie. coupons, gift certificates, homemade goodies, samples) or check your Target dollar bins!
  • Paper products
Print signs with the official hashtag to display at the event.  

The big day

1. Greet guests
As a hostess, it can be difficult to feel like you need to greet incoming guests while keeping others entertained; especially if the event is Open House style and people are coming and going as they please. This is where your co-host can help take the load off! But don't feel guilty if you have to excuse yourself for a moment from a conversation, your guests will understand!

2. Make people feel comfortable

As much as we gripe and moan about ice breakers, they works wonder to get everyone relaxed and familiar with each other. Ease the social aspects of the event because not all social media enthusiasts are social by nature. If you notice anyone off at a table on their own, go talk to them one on one. They will thank you. Ps. Alcohol can also cure the social anxiety, but keep it to Patti's two drink maximum.

3. Network

Write both your real and blog name on nametag so people can match faces to blogs. When you get a good conversation going, slip a business card their way to ensure you keep in touch after the event. Who knows, you could have met your new BlogBFF!

1 week later


1. Send out a thank you


Let your guests know that you appreciate them attending and making your event a success (hopefully this is the case). A simple e-mail will do.

2. Ask for feedback
It is always helpful to get an outsiders perspective on what they liked/disliked about your event. Be open to constructive criticism. Even if you never host another meetup, it is nice to know your areas of improvement and to make your guests feel as if their opinion is valued which will only strengthen relationships.


Lessons learned:

  • Business cards are a must! 
  • At first we had wanted to book a hotel and do an overnight but that may be too big of a commitment and too pricey for some, so decided to hold it at one of our houses. 
  • I wish I had hired a professional photographer-- It was hard to get in photos when I was the one taking them. Plus, it took time away from connecting with my guests.
  • Realize planning events take time. A lot of it. (I'd say I spent five 8-hour days) Be sure you have the energy and resources to devote to it before committing. I'm looking at you, BP.
  • Bring an open mind and a smile!
Have you ever hosted an event? Any tips and tricks you would add to this list?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stupid Simple Berry Cobbler

#ROTW
Recipe of the week, duh. Clearly I think I'm Betty Crocker all of the sudden. Soon enough, I'm gonna need a tab devoted to this.

In college, when it comes to alcohol, there is a trade off involved. Quality, taste, how quick you get drunk, and price. You get to pick two. Apply that same logic to food and you have the perfect dessert to whip up for your next cookout this summer: 3-ingredient, stupid simple berry cobbler.

Ingredients

1 (12-ounce) can diet lemon-lime soda
1 box white cake mix
2 (16-ounce) bags frozen berries

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. Place both bags of frozen fruit into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish (do not thaw).
Fresh fruit is great too, when in season.
3. Sprinkle the dry cake mix over the top of frozen fruit.
4. Pour entire can of diet soda over the mixture.
5. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.
6. Uncover and bake an additional 40 minutes.
7. Let cool and serve.
Voila! Enjoy with a glass of milk indoors or an iced sangria on the patio! And did I mention, it's Weight Watchers approved?
Serves 12. 

Giveaway

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Friday, July 18, 2014

In need of a bloggy facelift?

Meet Ashley, my newest blog crush. I'm gonna go ahead and call her Ash from here on out, because we're tight like that. Ash writes about whatever tickles her fancy on a given day: from beauty and hair tutorials, to crack dip, allll the way to posts from The Wise Chee. Intrigued right? The Grits is her place to say what she wants to say - sprinkled with a bit of sass. Her friends and family claims she doesn't have any hobbies outside of blogging (hey, mine too!) but I guess you will have to stop by and see right?!
As if she could get any more perfect, she designs some pretty rad blogs on the side. Don't take my word for it, go see for yourself! Check out her portfolio of awesome sauce that is eveything glitzy and glamorous.

Her magic is so incredibly affordable. Grab yo'self a full custom design for $60! Or peruse her a-la-carte for a header. I now give you full permission to go stalk her all over the interwebs, then come back here and treat yo'self to a rad giveaway for a FULL BODY MAKEOVER. Your blog thanks you in advance.
bloglovin // facebook // pinterest // instagram // twitter

Giveaway time

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Before Sydney Bon Voyage

Just two weeks prior to D-day, in the midst of packing, navigating the daunting work visa process, and arranging my travel, I had the crazy idea to throw a bon voyage party. And party hosting is hard work, especially when everyone is there to see you one last time. It is near impossible to make the rounds to out of town family, college friends, and your step-fathers, niece's daughter, while not completely ignoring your boyfriend in the process. There simply was not enough Shane to go around!

It was a perfect occasion to bring everyone together, because lord knows I would not have enough days to see each person separately in the short time I have left in the states. As my day of departure grows near, I am realizing how incredibly blessed I am to have such amazing, supportive family and friends. I will miss everyone terribly for the next 12 months but cannot wait to start this new chapter in my life.
I get home and my mama brings out these bad boys. Yes, those are cakes. That you eat. Almost too beautiful, right? The cake lady asked what sorts of thing I liked. My mom told her: "Red wine, blogging, and peacocks" Well, we see what made the cut. Ohio is red velvet and Australia is carrot cake (My two faves!) with cream cheese icing. Holy get in ma belly!
This is my happy face.
Note the plethora of City BBQ in the background (pulled pork, brisket, chicken & turkey + corn puddin' baked beans & mac & cheese!) And the plane flying 'cross the ocean. I'm inside waving!
Just when I thought things couldn't get any more perfect, my sister (who's been interning at an aquarium in South Carolina all summer) walks in and surprises me. My mom flew her in to see me one last time before Australia! Cue the waterworks.
Yep, my mama is the best ever.
My bubba. Notice the family resemblance?
Now I interrupt your regular scheduled program with a random Samuel photoshoot...
So sweet of my darling housemate and her man to drive down for the occasion.
Noticing a trend here? My family likes our kisses.

Always the hostess with the mostess.
Cornhole is a must at any party at la casa de mi.
My babysitter since I was six months old. So happy to see her, it has been years!
Oh hay! It's The Rachael Way.
If you're wondering where my fab dress came from, the boyfriend brought it back from his vacation. Does he know his girl's style or what?!
I was thrilled to be surrounded by the most important people in my life on this special day. Thanks to all who made it out! Cue the fireworks!