Scenes from the Financial Blogger Conference. (Now with more Klingons!)Posted by Donna Freedman on Oct 6, 2011 | 35 comments
I got mugged on my way to the first-ever Financial Blogger Conference last week. Fortunately that was not a portent. Can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun.
The robbery occurred in downtown Seattle, as I took the escalator to the light rail tunnel. A trio of young knuckleheads, one of them quite physically imposing, were involved. It took three of them to take down a tired middle-aged woman. Some heroes, huh?
I’ll be writing about this in greater detail for an MSN Money column. Suffice it to say that they got a little over $80 in cash and that by the time I got Citibank on the phone they’d already bought themselves sandwiches.
Suffice it also to say that I hope all three of them get bleeding piles.
But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, I’ll share a few conference memories.
Early-bird special. My plane landed at 5:20 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30. Fortunately I was able to share a cab with Kara Reinhardt of Cheapism.com, thereby halving the cost of the O’Hare-to-Schaumburg commute. A small group assembled in the hotel lobby at about 7 a.m.: two readers (hi, Holly and Ashley!), Suba of Wealth Informatics, Elle of Couple Money and Elle’s infant daughter. I have the distinct feeling that I’m leaving someone out; if so I apologize, but what can I say? I’d slept less than three hours on the overnight flight and I’d just been mugged! My apologies also to The Corner Bakery, because I think we were kind of loud.
Hey, boss. I’ve been e-mailing and occasionally chatting with J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly for years; although we live relatively close to each other (Portland, Seattle) we’d never met. I’d always told him that when I met him I’d say, “I thought you’d be taller.” That’s how he knew it was me. Or maybe the MSN Money column photo gave me away. We teased each other all weekend but J.D. had the last laugh: In his conference roundup he not only posted a singularly unflattering photo of me delivering my talk, but noted that I was “much taller than you probably imagine.” Nice.
The Irish polyglot. J.D. gave the opening speech at the conference. It was interrupted by a man shouting insults in the Klingon language and wearing full Klingon regalia. This was all part of the plan; J.D. used Benny the Irish polyglot, who’s adding Klingon as his eighth language, to illustrate the value of story. Speaking of story: I told J.D. to let Benny know that I once spent part of an evening chatting with a 40-something Alaska bodybuilder/stripper named Pillow who recited original verse in Klingon at a poetry slam in Anchorage. I wonder if Benny thought I was making that up. I couldn’t make that up. Pillow brought along a short Ferengi with a stack of posterboard. She’d roar something in Klingon at the audience and he’d hold up a translation: “They will sing of me when I am dead!”
The wealth instructor. Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich is just as opinionated in real life as he is on his website. But he’s upfront about it, and he’s so smart that I can agree to disagree. (Even when he’s wrong.) Ramit set up a short meeting with me in advance and we had an interesting conversation. Also, he has great taste in gifts: On the last day he produced small notebooks bound in soft pistachio-colored leather with no logo/brand stamp. Very classy.
Logos and brands. A little rubber duck from BillFloat.com (float – get it?). Reusable shopping bags from ING Direct (guess what color they are?). A book of financial cartoons from CreditCards.com. Oreos dipped in white chocolate and embossed with the Ally Bank logo, which was actually a paper disc. I sure wish I hadn’t found that out by myself, if you know what I mean.
Talk, talk and more talk
Hey, I read your stuff! Name tags hung on lanyards around everyone’s necks, so it was fun to sneak peeks at last names or sobriquets. Many, many conversations ensued. By the time Sunday rolled around I had very little voice left. In a good way.
The MP is here. That’s Dunleavey, not a military cop. She wrote a column for MSN Money for years but we never met because, well, we lived in different states. Now MP is with Daily Worth and she and I talked so intensely that I missed a panel I’d wanted to hear. And, dammit, one of the panelists mentioned my name in a positive way but no one remembers exactly what he said. I might have agreed to write something for MP, but I can’t remember exactly what I said, either.
Being interviewed. MP interviewed me for Daily Worth; hope I didn’t have spinach in my teeth. A nice young Brit named Murray Newlands interviewed me but I’m not really sure why. A couple of young men from a company whose name I never caught interviewed a bunch of attendees on what advice they’d give millennials. (Mine was “Don’t sign” – for exorbitant student loans, for six-year auto financing or anything else without first doing one’s homework.) Tess Vigeland of National Public Radio’s “Marketplace Money” interviewed me for a feature on the conference. Her voice is just as lovely in real life – and just as recognizable, which means she can never make prank phone calls. (“Hi, do you have Prince Albert in the can?” …. “Tess Vigeland? Is that you?”) But I thought she’d be taller.
My program: I was so nervous I forgot to introduce myself – just leapt up and started talking about why good writing matters. Apparently the PowerPoint mechanism was nervous too because some of my slides were out of order. In fact, one of the mishaps screwed up a punch line. Sigh. I’d like to point out, however, that I was the only speaker who had not just a slide of “The First Defenestration of Prague” (yes, there was more than one) but also a slide of the First Lego Defenestration of Prague. The feedback was good, and folks chased me down the rest of that day and on Sunday to say that the program was helpful. Favorite reaction was from Dr. Dean of The Millionaire Nurse Blog, who opined that my advice was like pouring alcohol on a cut: “A little pain for a lot of gain!” Next time I’ll try to be the speechifying equivalent of Bactine, or Neosporin.
Debt Ninja is my neighbor. This fellow, who writes Punch Debt in the Face, punched me (but in the shoulder) when I said I live in Seattle. Turns out he and his wife recently moved to a town just north of the Emerald City. Too far away to borrow a cup of sugar, but close enough for the three of us to do something frugal some day soon. Groupons may be involved.
Plutuses and cougars
Speed networking. I sat this one out. Imagine a couple of hundred people sitting in rows of chairs, with 60 seconds to talk about who they were and what they did. Except that they had to shout to be heard, which in turn made the folks next to them shout even louder. The din was so immense that my glasses trembled on the bridge of my nose.
Happy hours/receptions. We were each given two tickets to trade in at the bar. I got Diet Cokes. Not everyone else did. Imagine a couple of hundred people milling around with drinks in hand, full of excitement about meeting people they’d been reading for months or even years. (“So you’re Tight-Fisted Miser!” “Hey, Miranda Marquit! How do you write so damn many articles?” “J. Money! Love what you’ve done with your hair!”) Hands were shaken, hugs were traded. For all I know, children were fathered. “Free beer makes people friendly,” I said out loud. Someone asked my permission to tweet that.
The Plutus Awards. I won one. J. Money won four, plus his hair is cooler than mine. I’m still his friend, though.
Italian food, twice. I was invited to a pair of dinner parties at Maggiano’s. I love it when other people cook for me, even if it’s the same people two nights in a row.
Sunday lunch, once. The Wise Bread crew (Lynn, Will, Gregory) hosted a small sit-down. It was my last chance for a while to harass J.D., who was heading for Peru soon after. During the last 45 minutes or so we were joined by Sonya Ann, who blogs at A Mom, Money and More. She turned down food, opting for a pomegranate/green tea beverage in a bottle so elaborate that I gave it a surreptitious rub to see if a genie would emerge. Sonya even tried to pay for her beverage. Fat chance: The lovely and talented Lynn insisted on buying. Sonya, you should have ordered the food.
Funniest memory, aka “How rumors start.” Late Saturday night a bunch of people were sitting in the lobby, talking talking talking. I’m proud to say I was among the last men standing. (Well, sitting.) At about 4 a.m. one dude and I were having a long conversation when the also lovely-and-talented Flexo (of Consumerism Commentary) decided he’d had it. His departure started a general exodus. The man with whom I’d been talking stood up, too, and announced, “Donna, let’s go to bed.” If someone had been tweeting, I’d have been dead meat. Dead cougar meat, and we all know that I never wanted to be a cougar. The guy realized what he’d just said and added hastily, “But not together, of course!” A malicious tweeter might have chosen not to hear that, or to hear my reply: “Thanks for asking, but I don’t do guys young enough to be my son.”
I’m definitely going to the Financial Blogger Conference in 2012 – and speaking there, too, if they’ll have me back. Maybe next time my slides will be in the right order.