Business Travel, Educational Adventures, Going Solo

TBEX Toronto: Triumphs and Challenges (Now with Pie Chart!)

One of the first things I learned at TBEX--how to use Toronto's (super easy) metro.

One of the first things I learned at TBEX–how to use Toronto’s (super easy) metro.

In the past two weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to what I gained (and lost) at TBEX Toronto.  You may recall that I had some fairly serious trepidations about attending in the first place (if you haven’t read that post yet, you really should; it will give you some perspective on my own personal hang-ups.  And who doesn’t like to read about other people’s hang-ups?)  And while I’m glad that I went, TBEX was not without its challenges.

I’ve read many (MANY) posts (and their comment threads) from a variety of bloggers at all places in their blogging career, from hobby-bloggers to big-name bloggers, some of whom presented at TBEX.

One thing does seem pretty clear–your opinion on TBEX will depend a lot on what you expected to get out of TBEX.  And of course, everyone’s goals are slightly different.  Thus, I’m sharing my reflections on the experience based on my own personal goals, in order of importance from least important to ‘the #1 Reason I Attended’.

Goal:  Make a few connections.

Getting to know Toronto on my own two feet (two wheels would have worked too...)

Getting to know Toronto on my own two feet (two wheels would have worked too…)

TBEX came at a fortuitous time for me; I recently left my job of ten years to pursue a more travel-centric career (though I will still be working more-than-full-time).  My last day as a public school teacher was one week after my return from Toronto (more on that here). It seemed like a great time to try to make a few connections in the tourism board world.  I’ve had a lot of luck arranging my own trips, and have been traveling perfectly happily for the past four years both with and without assistance.  But I thought hey, it can’t hurt to talk to a few PR reps or tourism boards, right?  Right.

Triumph:  My main triumph was getting over my own personal fear of semi-assertive networking.  During Open Marketplace, I forced myself to go up to at least one table and introduce myself.  And I didn’t melt (hurray!)  In fact, I had a lovely conversation, followed up with an email the following day, and have since arranged a trip to that area; I’m leaving this Sunday.

Additionally, I found that most of the connections I made were not on the showroom floor; I returned home with a pile of business cards that were handed to me while I was standing in line for drinks (don’t complain about drink or food lines–those are networking opportunities that end with alcohol) or while charging my phone between sessions.

Challenge: I asked for only five different speed dating appointements and I did not get any of them. To be fair, this was my own fault; I did not follow up, I did not send a private message–hell, I barely even filled out my own Blogger Bridge profile.  I blame myself.  Had I taken the awesome advice offered by The Dapper Traveler, I’m sure I’d have had more dates–er, appointments.  But that’s ok.  This was clearly not my primary goal for TBEX; I came away with more than I expected on the connection-front, as I expected very little.

Goal:  Explore a New City

More Toronto scenery on my day of randomly walking around.

More Toronto scenery on my day of randomly walking around.

Triumph: On my first full day in town, after a three-day pre-TBEX fam trip to Sudbury, Ontario, I was exhausted.  So instead of setting my alarm for an ungodly hour to make my day-long day trip to Rouge National Urban Park, I un-set my alarm and slept until I was done–I rolled over, yawned, stretched, and discovered it was almost ten in the morning!  I then proceeded to spend the entire rest of the morning, all of the afternoon, and part of the early evening walking around Toronto by myself.  I explored the St. Lawrence Market, made my way along Esplanade Park all the way to the Distillery District, and then sauntered back through yet more parks, around epic churches, and along tree-lined streets.  It was a lovely day; for sure, one of the best ways to explore a new city is ‘alone on your feet’.

Challenge: I’m sure most TBEX attendees had the same issue–there simply wasn’t enough time to do all that I wanted to do!  And there certainly wasn’t enough time to eat everything I wanted to eat!  My two big regrets are not getting out to Casa Lomo (I love historic homes) and not going up to the top of the CN tower (I’d have loved to do the Edge Walk, but, well, I’m poor…)  And I arrived in town late on Wednesday; how anyone who came ‘just for the weekend’ found time to enjoy Toronto is beyond me.  Next time, I’m arriving earlier and staying later–particularly if future events are held in cities or towns as vibrant, interesting, and downright photogenic as Toronto.

Goal: Learn as much about blogging as humanly possible.

I began traveling in order to learn, and from yoga retreats in the Berkshires to writing workshops in the Great Smoky Mountains to a teachers’ conference in Walt Disney World (you thought it was going to be another mountain range, didn’t you?), travel has taught me much.  Travel-as-education–that’s what I’m all about.  And TBEX is many things, but first and foremost it is a place to learn about the art, craft, and business of blogging.  So I went.  And I learned.

Triumph:  To list all of the things I learned at TBEX would make this already-too-long post even longer (and one of the things I learned at TBEX was ‘maybe don’t write 3,00 words posts’.  Whoops!) But I definitely came away with a better understanding of the things I’m doing well, the things I need to improve, and the things I didn’t even know I should be doing that I’ve already started implementing (with varying degrees of success; for example, my tweet-old-post plugin settings need to be adjusted pronto, but my pitch letter has improved exponentially).

Challenge: Many of the sessions I wanted to attend were all at the same time; the second session on the first day, for example, was jam-packed with great presenters speaking on topics about which I was deeply interested.  Yet I had to pick one.  This turned out to not be as difficult as I’d thought, because of challenge #2–which is a biggie, so I’ll put it in bold and center it:

There simply wasn’t enough room at many of the sessions.

Anyone who attended TBEX Toronto can tell you–it had a fantastic turn out.  But we knew this before we arrived–it was all over every social media channel to which I subscribe–and I’m certain some that I don’t.  Thus–and this is my only criticism of the-way-the-conference-was-run–why were some of the sessions held in tiny little rooms?  I’m not positive, but I’m pretty confident that if you calculated the maximum room capacity of all of the session rooms combined, it was less than 1,300.  At some sessions, people were bunched around the door.  Lots of people.  This just seemed silly when we were in a giant conference center.  Of course, I’m not a conference organizer, so I can’t really speak to why this is or how this could be helped.  But on the bright side, it did often help me choose a session–I’d simply select the session I was interested in that also had standing room.

And finally, I bring to you:

The #1 Reason I Attended TBEX…

Goal:  Make New Travel Blogger Friends

I am a travel blogger, alone.  In my day-to-day life, the only interaction I have with other bloggers is virtual–and even that is limited.  I wanted to ‘find my tribe’, if you will.  I imagined TBEX to be this sort of Shangri-La, full of people willing and ready to swap travel, tech, and lifestyle stories with me.

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 9.33.28 PMThat is why I attended TBEX–to make blogger friends.  Everything else, listed above, was secondary.  I can make connections online; I have and I will continue to do so in the future.  I can and do explore many new cities on my own, without any more of a reason than ‘hey look, cheap flights to San Francisco!’  And a lot of what I learned could have been learned online, too (though admittedly not as quickly).  The thing I wanted more than anything was this: face-to-face interaction with other people like me.  And I have to say that this goal was the most challenging, and the single aspect of TBEX about which I was the most (desperately) disappointed.

Triumph: I was able to meet a few people in real life that I’d been communicating with on Twitter, pre-TBEX.  Ladies (and one gentleman–Erik, you rock), you know who you are, and I’m extremely happy to have met you–and extremely happy that we are still in touch.  You were the highlight of my time at TBEX.  That being said…

Challenge: The only people I connected with were the (small) handful of people with whom I formed solid connections before I arrived (and, occasionally, someone they knew); I can honestly say that I did not make one single personal connection with any attendees ‘at the spur of the moment’.  And I have a theory as to why this is:

A conference like TBEX is not designed to encourage camaraderie.

Or, perhaps, most people did not attend TBEX with camaraderie on their minds.  Because I’m a nerdy travel blogger, allow me to use the definition of camaraderie to prove my point.

camaraderie: /ˌkäm(ə)ˈrädərē/ noun.

Mutual trust and friendship formed among people who spend a lot of time together

I did not feel mutual trust or friendship with 99% of the people I spoke to at TBEX. Was this because of the lack of ‘lots of time to spend together’?  Perhaps.  But I see a deeper reason.  In fact, I’d argue that a conference like TBEX is designed–not on purpose, mind you, but simply by the nature of what it is–to encourage what I consider to be almost an antonym of camaraderie–competition.

competition: /ˌkämpəˈtiSHən/ noun.

Rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common

The key phrase?  ‘an object desired in common’.  At TBEX, this ‘object’–abstract as it may be–was ‘attention’.  Please refer to the pie chart, above left.  As you can see, at least in my perception, the majority of bloggers attending TBEX attended in order to gain the attention of either bloggers-more-important-than-them or PR reps.

Was this unfortunate dynamic the fault of TBEX organizers?  No.  We did it to ourselves.  Can it be helped?  I’m not really sure.  On a personal level, I can fix the problem–I’ll just arrive with totally different expectations next time.  I honestly expected that at some point during the week, I would have had…fun.  Next time I’ll look at it as work, and be far less disappointed.

So–should you attend TBEX?  I’m assuming this post is being read next year–or even later on this summer in preparation for Dublin–as first-time travel bloggers ponder the relative benefits and drawbacks of attending such an event (what?  I can’t be the only person who does extensive cost-benefit analysis research.  Right?  It’s not just a ‘daughter of an accountant’ thing.  Right? RIGHT?!?) And to you I say–go to TBEX.  I’m glad I did.  And know that as much research as you do, as many stupidly-long blog posts you read (you know, like this one?) your experience will be different.  You will come to TBEX with different desires and expectations and, more than that, the conference itself will grow and change.  May you find what you are looking for.

And hey–if you do decide to attend, and you see me sitting alone–charging my phone or waiting for a drink–please, for the love of travel, say hello to me.

Hey TBEX Toronto attendees–what were your personal triumphs and/or challenges?  Share them in the comments.  Perhaps we didn’t meet in real life, but I’d still love to ‘meet’ you, virtually!

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