The elevator doors opened and there I was on the fourth floor of the Westin where all the action would take place. Just as I expected, there was a crowd of faces, all strangers – I did not know a single soul! Of course, I could have networked before the conference and exchanged tweets and made friends even before getting to Seattle but of course, I didn’t do that. I wanted to take a slow organic approach to it all (or at least that’s what I kept telling myself).
There was some intial confusion around how the registration process worked but everybody got in the ‘gift suite’ eventually and started lining up around the various food and fare stands set up by sponsors of the conference. We were supplied with enough bags we could fill up with goodies of all sorts starting from delicious Raincoast Crisps to cute little Washi tape packs. There was more than enough for everybody – I later spied fellow attendees staggering back to their rooms with a few fully stuffed bags! I could only hope that they were not flying back home. there’s no way all that stuff would fit in check in luggage.
My personal favourite swag was the one provided by Aneto, a Spanish company specializing in stocks and paella bases – they created customised aprons with each blogger’s blog title embroidered on them – a really thoughtful gesture.
Although I’d armed myself with a glass of wine to loosen up and interact with fellow bloggers, everybody seemed engrossed in exploring the wares on display – light banter with a stranger was definitely not what people wanted to do, not for too long anyway. So after an hour of walking around the gigantic conference room, I left and joined Peter in the lobby for a much needed drink. The next day’s agenda was fully packed and I needed to get a good night’s rest as well. So no, we didn’t go out and hit the town no matter how tempting the idea.
The next day pretty much passed in a blur of sitting in different rooms and listening to various speakers. The one thing that I wasn’t ready for was the extent to which the brand sponsors were prevalent during the entirety of the conference. We had breakfast sponsored by a yoghurt brand (Noosa), lunch sponsored by a blender brand (Ninja) and the next day’s breakfast sponsored by a tea company (Bigelow). It makes sense given the scale of the event that the bigger players get a chance to put their products up front and center. The food was amazing but it also meant that we had to listen to their sales pitches and stories while having our food and trying to getting to know other bloggers at the table which was all a bit too much.
The sessions I enjoyed the most were a photography session by Todd Coleman, who previously worked with Saveur and a session on how to change one’s perspective in life, risk taking and getting inspiration for writing by Joe Yonan, the Washington Post food and travel editor. Both speakers were truly entertaining and gave us a fresh take on the art of picture taking and writing.
The other highlight of the conference was the ‘Taste of Seattle’ event held on Saturday evening. It was quite similar to the opening evening lineup but on a much larger scale. You’ll read all about it in my next post!