In the past couple of weeks I have spent several days in the company of amazing, inspiring women at Alt Summit in Palm Springs, California! When I started my blogging journey last year, I searched for a bloggers’ conference (as I would, being a learning geek…) and when I saw this one in Palm Springs, I think I hesitated for about 15 minutes (just about enough time to check the flight schedule from the UK!) before booking it. It was all at once the most terrifying thing I had done, and the most exciting. I spent literally months planning how to get there, and how to make the most out of it. This post is about what I learned as a first timer at Alt Summit, and I have my best tips just for you!
The week is full of amazing sessions – there are solo talks, workshops, round tables, keynote speeches, arts and crafts demos, expert desks and panels. The topics include all kinds of areas designed for female entrepreneurs and creatives, such as learning about SEO, Pinterest, Instagram, writing, book publishing…the list truly goes on and on. You can see the schedule for 2020 here
The point is – there’s a lot that you can do. But you can’t do it all. The organisers open up the Alt app in about January time ( the conference runs for a week from the end of February, usually). You can add sessions to create your own agenda, so at a glance you can see what you’ve planned for the day. Here’s my first tip – have an outline plan, but be flexible. Review your session choices for the following day each evening – you may decide to switch and that’s ok. Don’t be too rigid – some of the best sessions I attended were those that I hadn’t originally intended to go to. Many of the speakers make their slides available to all attendees later (upon signing up with your email address, of course!), but this isn’t ideal, especially if you haven’t been to the session. You just need to accept that you won’t be able to go to all of them, but to make the most of the ones you do attend.
Amy Webb, aka @thislittlemiggy
My second tip is to join the Facebook group. I’m not a huge FaceBook fan, but the Alt group has been amazing – I needed to get to LAX to Palm Springs, and spent hours looking at different options (I didn’t want to drive from LAX…and I think that was a wise decision for a UK newbie..). I posted on there that I was looking for a lift, and the lovely Anna from annaDishes responded immediately that she was happy to pick me up. She even waited around for me – for several hours! This is the sort of person that this community is built on. Truly amazing. As well as that, you get all sorts of hints and tips about Alt, so it’s really worthwhile joining up.
Once you’ve booked your ticket and flight, you will need to think about where to stay. I was travelling on my own from the UK, and initially booked up at the Riviera, but it was so expensive for a solo traveller. The FaceBook group were exchanging all sorts of info about places to stay, and I ended up changing to the Best Western, which was near to two of the hotels (Ace and Saguaro). It was perfectly adequate for an event where you were just using it as a place to crash, but I wouldn’t stay there again. My next tip is that you don’t have to stay at one of the conference hotels – in fact, you might be better staying somewhere else. That means you have a place where (if needed) you can retreat, and have some downtime, away from the full-on Alt experience. Wonderful as it is, it can become a bit too much, so having somewhere else to go can be a blessing. Many of the attendees booked AirBnBs, and many of them ended up sharing – even without knowing each other beforehand.
The Saguaro is one of the very stylish hotels!
Next tip is a short one – leave room in your case for the freebies! And the shopping, if you decide to indulge! There’s a gifting party, where basically you get to choose a number of free gifts. In 2020 it was 8, and I’m not ashamed to say most of my chosen freebies were journals or notebooks!! Other items on offer were prints, makeup, accessories – even some kind of keep fit equipment! And I was surprised that even though my items were relatively small, they still added to the volume inside my case, leaving me googling ‘luggage in Palm Springs’ half an hour before the Uber driver was picking me up to get to the bus to LA!
While we’re talking about suitcases and preparing to go – make sure you take some business cards. It might seem old fashioned, and people can connect on the app or on FaceBook, but there’s nothing like exchanging business cards to generate conversation about what you do. Aim to take about 100 – 150.
The organisers lay on shuttle buses to take you between the conference venues, which are pretty good – they run often, the ones I took were rarely full, and they are a great opportunity to meet people. However, if you are not driving, you will need an Uber or Lyft account. Palm Springs is surprisingly large (to me, anyway, coming from the UK), and although I was able to walk to two of the hotels from the Best Western, I did give myself a blister on Day 1 by doing so! Plus, you need to get back to where you are staying, if you’re not at one of the conference hotels so, no brainer – make sure you have Uber/Lyft set up.
There are a number of free photo opportunities available in the week, but next time I would definitely consider booking a paid photoshoot. Probably with a bit of makeup artist help too 😊 . These can be relatively inexpensive; again info is shared on the FaceBook group about who’s available, but if you have your own business you know how important branding is. It’s also a great way to remember your experience!
OK, so probably the most important tip of all – speak to people!! Network, connect, share information, join in and make friends!! I know this one is scary – especially if you are an introvert by nature – but believe me this is the one which will make your experience magical. There are so many awesome women there, many of whom will be at the same stage of the journey that you are, and they are all willing to share information and help you. If you need to force yourself to speak to someone, then so be it, but it is only by making those connections, and joining in, that you will get the full benefit from this experience. I went to Alt from the UK not knowing a single soul. By the time I left I would say I had made several friends, and many more acquaintances, all of whom are happy to share experiences, tips, resources and time to help you on your journey. It really is a conference for uplifting women and amplifying their voices. If there are evening meetups or parties, make the effort to go along and join in. You don’t have to stay for the whole night – but you may well want to when you get there! You never know what connections you will make, or what you will learn, or the fun you will have, until you make the effort.
With the very lovely Anna, from @annaDishes
Next tip, when you are in the sessions, make notes – take photos of the slides, sign up for the email afterwards where you get the slides sent to you, share notes with a buddy. You will be getting invaluable information from these people – make sure you take it in. I would also recommend reviewing your learning afterwards – I tried to make sure that I typed my notes up, or otherwise reviewed them – I didn’t always have time for this (given the jetlag and the parties 😊 ) but it’s a good way to embed your learning. Make notes of any actions you need to take, or people you need to follow up with afterwards, or that you need to follow on social media. And then when you get home – make sure you take the action or follow up.
As I’ve said, the conference is packed with sessions and information and, for first timers, there is a real temptation to fill your boots and make sure you attend ALL THE THINGS! I would recommend not doing so. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, especially given that I have advised that you make the most of it, but it is so easy to become overwhelmed. If you are feeling like you need a time-out, then make sure you take one. Whether that’s going off and sitting in the hotel bar, going for a walk, going back to your room or chilling in the pool – if you need some down-time then take it. Your brain (and your body) will thank you for it. Anna and Valerie recommended this to me on the ride in, and it was so valuable.
Finally (this post was a LOT longer than I had anticipated!) – come with an open heart and an open mind. You may be coming along, imagining that you will concentrate on ‘X’ and ‘Y’ sessions, and find that instead, you are being led by your heart to ‘A’ and ‘B’ sessions. Trust yourself. Go with it. You know down inside what you need, and what you will get value from.
Some of the women I spoke to had previously come up with a project or a product idea when they attended Alt – and this year they were there having launched it. How inspiring is that? The inventor of Pinterest attended Alt when he was launching the Beta version, to get feedback. Now look where he’s at. Go for your dreams. Trust yourself (have I already said that?!). I do not know a single person that regretted attending Alt – but I met many for whom Alt changed their lives.