Convention Go-er's Guide, Part 1


As I mentioned a while ago, I've returned to the world of the convention circuit after a decades-long hiatus. As such, I find I'm able to approach events like Cisco Live and Interop with eyes that are both experienced ("I installed Slack from 5.25 floppies, kid. Your Linux distro isn't going to blow my socks off,") and new (“The last time I was in Las Vegas, The Luxor was the hot new property”).

This means I'm still coming up to speed on tricks of the trade show circuit. Last week I talked about the technology and ideas I learned. But here are some of the things I learned while attending Interop 2016. Feel free to add your own lessons in the comments below.

  • A lot of shows hand you a backpack when you register. While this bag will probably not replace your $40 ThinkGeek Bag of Holding, it is sufficient to carry around a day's worth of snacks, plus the swag you pick up at vendor booths. But some shows don’t offer a bag. After a 20-minute walk from my hotel to the conference, I discovered Interop was the latter kind.
    LESSON: Bring your own bag. Even if you're wrong, you'll have a bag to carry your bag in.
  • What happens in Vegas – especially when it comes to your money – is intended to stay in Vegas. I'm not saying don't have a good time (within the limits of the law and your own moral compass), but remember that everything about Las Vegas is designed to separate you from your hard-earned cash. This is where your hard-won IT pro skepticism can be your superpower. Be smart about your spending. Take Uber instead of cabs. Bulk up on the conference-provided lunch, etc.
    LESSON: As one Uber driver told me, "IT guys come to Vegas with one shirt and a $20 bill and don't change either one all week."
  • Stay hydrated. Between the elevation, the desert, the air conditioning, and the back-to-back schedule, it's easy to forget your basic I/O subroutines. This can lead to headaches, burnout, and fatigue that you don't otherwise need to suffer.
    LESSON: Make sure your bag (see above) always has a bottle of water in it, and take advantage of every break in your schedule to keep it topped off.
  • Be flexible, Part 1. No, I'm not talking about the 8am Yoga & SDN Session. I mean that things happen. Sessions are overbooked, speakers cancel at the last minute, or a topic just isn't as engaging as you thought it would be.
    LESSON: Make sure every scheduled block on your calendar has a Plan B option that will allow you to switch quickly with minimal churn.
  • Be flexible, Part 2. As I said, things happen. While it's easy in hindsight (and sometimes in real-time), to see the mistake, planning one of these events is a herculean task with thousands of moving parts (you being one of them). Remember that the convention organizers are truly doing their best. Of course, you should let staff know about any issues you are having, and be clear, direct, and honest. But griping, bullying, or making your frustration ABUNDANTLY CLEAR is likely not going to help the organizers regroup and find a solution.
    LESSON: Instead of complaining, offer suggestions. In fact, offer to help! That could be as simple as saying, "I see your room is full. If you let me in, I'll Periscope it from the back and people in the hall can watch remotely." They might not take you up on your offer, but your suggestion could give them the idea to run a live video feed to a room next door. (True story.)
  • VPN or bust. I used to be able to say, "You’re going to a tech conference and some savvy person might..." That's no longer the case. Now it is, "You are leaving your home/office network. Anybody could..." You want to make sure you are being smart about your technology.
    LESSON: Make sure every connected device uses a VPN 100% of the time. Keep track of your devices. Don't turn on radios (Bluetooth
    , Wi-Fi, etc.) that you don't need and/or can't protect.
  • Don't bail. You are already in the room, in a comfortable seat, ready to take notes. Just because every other sentence isn't a tweetable gem, or because you feel a little out of your depth (or above it), doesn't mean the session will have nothing to offer. Your best interaction may come from a question you (or one of the other attendees) ask, or a side conversation you strike up with people in your area.
    LESSON: Sticking out a session is almost always a better choice than bailing early.
  • Tune in. Many of us get caught up in the social media frenzy surrounding the conference, and have the urge to tweet out every idea as it occurs to you. Resist that urge. Take notes now – maybe even with pen and paper – and tweet later. A thoughtfully crafted post on social media later is worth 10 half-baked live tweets now.
    LESSON: You aren't working for the Daily Planet. You don't have to scoop the competition.
  • Pre-game. No, I'm not talking about the after-party. I mean make sure you are ready for each session prior to each session. Have your note-taking system (whether that's paper and pen, Evernote, or email), preloaded with the session title, the speaker name, and related info (Twitter handle, etc.), and even a list of potential going-in questions (if you have them). It will save you from scrambling to capture things as they slide off the screen later.
    LESSON: Ten minutes prepping the night before is worth the carpal tunnel you avoid the following day.
  • Yes, you have time for a survey. After a session, you may receive either an electronic or hard copy survey. Trust me, you aren't too busy to fill it out. Without this feedback, organizers and speakers have no way of improving and providing you with a better experience next time.
    LESSON: Take a minute, be thoughtful, be honest, and remember to thank people for their effort, in addition to offering constructive criticism.

Do you have any words of advice for future conference attendees? Do you take issue with anything I’ve said above? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a note in the comments below and let’s talk about it!

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