After attending a number of large scale tech conferences like Microsoft TechEd and CES, we have seen and made many needless mistakes. These are always giant visual impact productions and if you don’t get it right, you can spend alot of time running around in circles and not getting much out of them.
This article is intended to be a brief on how to get the most out of any large scale conference:
There are often discounts and premium enticements that sell out fast so book your event as far in advance as you can reasonably handle (i.e. 6 months).
Stay At the Main Hotel:
Most large events have a sponsor hotel and that is the one you should stay at. That hotel is often closest to the venues and often offer enticements (free WiFi, better goodie bag, breakfasts included…) in their packages that make the extra cost worth while.
Take The Upgrades:
Most large events have upgrade packages that seem costly at first, but make your experience much more valuable. At the current Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando Florida for instance, their was a $500 upgrade package that I choked on at first, but then realized it included better swag, early badge pickup and exclusive access to Universal Studio’s on the Thursday night.
Arrive A Day Early and Tour:
Unless you already know the facility and the event well (i.e. because you attend every year), you should arrive the day before the event and walk through ALL of the event facility hall ways to give yourself a grounding on where rooms are and how long it takes to traverse them. For example, at MS Ignite it takes a massive 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other including both buildings.
Take the Intro Course:
Most large conferences offer a “So It’s Your First Time Hear” 60 minute orientation and you should attend that.
Dress Business Casual including Comfortable Shoes:
I like my men’s black dress shoes and can walk all day in them but many people cannot. Flip flops are inappropriate (see #7 for details), but a comfortable pair of runners will serve you well. At Ignite, I averaged 10,000 steps per day. That is a lot. As the old saying goes, there is “business casual” and then there is “career threatening business casual”. Remember you are still at work and you represent your company. This is not your personal vacation. If professionalism is not something that convinces you to dress appropriately, you should be aware that after you leave a vendors booth or a talk, the sales staff or people around you DO comment on your lack of judgment behind your back. If you want to be taken seriously, dress like it.
Use An Electronic Notebook That Supports Photos
It is critically important that you are paying attention to the presentations and not trying to document the event but if you think you should just sit and pay attention to the talks, courses or vendors you are simply wrong. You should be overwhelmed with information and questions that arise from your interactions at such events. Having a SIMPLE notetaking tool will help you jot down key thoughts, takeaways and future questions. At very least being able to take photo’s with your cell or tablet will help you. OneNote is an excellent product for taking notes because it is so simple, seamlessly syncs to the cloud and then all your other devices (cell, laptop, PC, and Browser). Oh ya… did I mention that MS OneNote is also now FREE on all platforms (Web, PC, iOS, Android, MacOS) and even has a version built into every version of Windows 10.
Watch SHORT Video Reviews of Last Years Conference:
So many YouTube video’s covering large multiday tech events try to document the show. Those are not the most helpful. If you have not been to the event in a few years, find a short (<5 mins?) video that goes over some of the highlights. This will get your mind prepped for your future encounters and hopefully raise a few questions you can clear up before you arrive. Hearing comments like:
- ‘the badge pickup line took 45 minutes”
- “the lunches were all cold meat sandwiches” or
- “the keynote auditorium is full 90 minutes before it starts”
will give you some insights and set your expectations
Revise Your Schedule:
After the each day, revisit your schedule and decide if what you chose before you arrived is still what you want. You may find that the two presentations you saw on ‘corporate culture’ were more marketing presentations that hard core how-to’s so perhaps you should consider changing into a different stream or at least swapping in some alternates.
Remember, It’s All Kool Aid:
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Be skeptical. It is good for you to get excited about a new product or service but question what you hear and know that the presenters are giving you the most rosy picture possible. They are leaving our the:
- It only works when you ALSO have these two other licenses
- It only works on that one Operating System
- It is insanely expensive
- It crashes frequently
- They demo’d a pre-release version that won’t be out until next year
It is sometimes hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but these events are made for connections. If you do not meet 4 people every day, you are failing. You don’t have to become Facebook friends or exchange email, but you should extract as much information from others peoples experiences as possible.
If you don’t change what you are doing as a result of the information you have learned at the conference, you have wasted your time and money.