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The oldest lady in the (conference) room

Posted by BJ Roche  December 29, 2012 06:44 PM

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I am heading out west for a conference this week, and though I'm excited about the lineup of speakers and the material we'll be covering, I'm a little afraid this one will be like the other half-dozen I've attend in the past five years. At all these events: conferences and workshops at the intersection of blogging, business, journalism education and technology, I've been one of the oldest ladies in the room. (For the record, I'm north of 55.)

I'm not sure why this is. But it can make you wish you'd stayed home. If you've been struck by your increasing invisibility in other places, imagine what it's like being in a crowd of 20-and-30-something tech afficionados.

At first it was disorienting (where is everybody? when did I get this old?). Then I'd find myself scanning the place for other people with gray hair. Then it became downright irritating. Those BlogHer conference organizers should have told me ahead of time that the bulk of attendees would be mommy bloggers in their thirties, and a good number of them would be bringing their babies along for...why? I don't know why. A weekend at a hotel in New York City, and you're bringing your baby with you?

Never mind. If you're in your fifties or sixties and trying to stay relevant in your job for another ten or 15 years, you're crazy not to be upgrading your skills and understanding of technology and social media. So it's good to get out to these events and dive in, meet new people and learn some new things.

Here's what I've learned. Before you go:

Update your professional presentation. Make sure you've got good business cards with a LinkedIn address (and be sure your profile is up to date). A lot of people are now using QR codes to direct the user to their websites from a smartphone. If you're in a hurry, Vistaprint can deliver them pretty quickly, and Staples.com has a service that you can order online and pick up the next day at your local store.

Does your tech make you look old? If you don't have a smartphone or tablet, yes. Just go buy one. Everybody will probably be Tweeting (another conference irritation these days), so you should probably take a crash course on Twitter if you don't know how it works. I had to join and figure out Google Plus for this workshop, and now I'm looking forward to using Google Hangout in my online classes.

I've had my iPad for a year, but haven't done much with it; this conference pushed me to upgrade to some useful apps, like Evernote, Dropbox, and a few from this post from The Daily Beast. And hat-tip to the boston.com folks for putting together this great list of useful apps. If you're really feeling techalisciously ignorant, check out lynda.com, which offers all-you-can-eat online video training for a pretty low monthly rate.

Update your physical presentation. Get a good haircut and figure out the makeup. As Fernando used to say on Saturday Night Live: "It is better to look good than to feel good."

Once you're there:
Don't bother to be polite to impolite people. They won't notice anyway. At one conference I found myself seated at a lunch table with two younger guys who were deeply immersed in conversation about their iPads. I didn't have to ask whether I was chopped liver. In my younger days I would have feined interest until the subject changed. This time, I picked up my tray, scanned the room for another table with an empty chair, and plunked myself down in a new spot, where pleasant conversation ensued.

Don't worry about looking stupid. Sometimes at these events it seems like everybody wants to be the smartest person in the room. But you know you're not. This is so freeing. The nice thing about being older is you can just stand there and say, "Oh, really, tell me more about that," and soak it in. This is a time of tsunamic change in most professions, and anyone who claims to know it all is deluded or lying. So don't be embarrassed about what you don't know.

Be open to unexpected opportunities to have fun. After that lonely day at the BlogHer convention, I finally gave up and took my free drink tickets to the hotel bar. So glad I did that, because I ended up seated next to Liz Dolan, one of the wonderful Satellite Sisters, and a total peep, who regaled me with stories of the Sisters and working for another old broad named Oprah. We were joined by a forty-something cable television exec who was also feeling oldish, and who blew off a planned field trip to Martha Stewart Living to have a few glasses of wine with us.

We stayed at the bar long after the mommy bloggers had gone up to their rooms to breastfeed. An excellent time was had by all.

Join the conversation over at the Fiftyshift.com Facebook page. Find links to stories of interest by following us on Twitter and read other stories about midlife Fiftyshift.com

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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