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Convention Go-er's Guide, Part 1

Level 17


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!

Level 14

Great notes!  I will definitely be using these very soon.


Good notes Leon !

The note on VPN all the time is so very important these days...these big conferences/conventions are a huge draw for the nefarious waiting to prey on the unprotected devices out there. 

Level 20

I find that carrying Tagamet and ImmodiumAD both is a good idea just in case.  You just never know what the food and/or water might do!  Nothing is worse than having things like this go wrong.  And Leon don't tell me you didn't take your Thwackpack???  You're supposed to represent!


Yeah're supposed to take the thwackpack on events such as this !!

The idea of the imodium type substance is a good one as well.  Being I already consume a proton pump inhibitor the tagamet is not needed. But I would also recommend ibuprofin as a must have.

Those bits are all good advice.  I'd add:

  • Take a bio-break twenty minutes before a session begins
  • When you arrive, sit close to the front. 
    • You'll be more engaged and less anxious to cut & run to the next event. 
    • Sitting up front gives you opportunities for Q & A that others won't have, and might even get you invited on stage for some audience participation--which could result in interesting swag making its way into your bag as a reward.
    • You'll be particular glad you took that bio-break before the session started (if you're way down in front).  There's nothing like breaking everyone's concentration by getting up from a front row and leaving, and coming back ten minutes later.  If the moderator or guest speakers are cruel comedians they might single you out for "special attention" that will turn you red and make everyone else laugh at you.
  • If you happen to be a speaker, please turn off your wireless microphone anytime you leave the stage.  Many of us have heard the comic session where someone left their lavaliere mike turned on when they left and went to the bathroom.  Oops!

adatole​ So you did the yoga & SDN session, same day?

Great notes!

   Ironically enough some are borderline common sense, yet they are often overlooked.

Some others I will add, especially for these larger conferences that cover a large terrain and go on for longer periods of time in a day...

1. Wear comfortable, yet presentable clothes. You'll be standing far longer than you realize, and you'll attract far more attention from the people you want in the neat and tucked attire than the pizza-stained Spuds Mackenzie t-shirt.

2. If you are all in on the conference schedule watch your intake. I'm no dietician but I know that multiple healthy snacks and a light lunch prevents the dreaded sugar crash and the nodding-head syndrome I far too often see in some of these conferences. Also, if alcohol is available. Please, please, please! use discretion after the first one. The other participants aren't your friends.

Level 17

No, that was ONE session "Yoga and SDN". My network backbone still hasn't recovered.

Great point, Leon

Level 13

Nice advice....  Yes bring a water bottle.

Level 14

Excellent check list

Level 13

I definitely agree with your list. The only other thing I suggest is bring a small power strip as outlets are surprisingly sparse! Also, don't forget to speak to others during your lunch/bus ride. Its a great opportunity to learn something new or maybe get a new perspective on something old  


What is great to bring is a charging battery such as

I have one like this... I can charge 4 items at 2.1 amps each at the same time. Usually ipad and phone can be charged several times on one charge of the device.

sort of like this...(be sure and bring cables)


Level 17

WOW... you guys have some amazing comments! I'm compiling my list for "Leon's Patented SolarWinds Never-say-die Convention Go-Bag". So far it includes the following. Keep the ideas coming. I may be able to convince DanielleH​ to create some kind of give-away or something!!


travel mug

re-Charger & cords

mini-power strip

mini-USB splitter

??water bottle??

GiftCard for VPN service


cold meds


breath mints

USB drive

notebook (like paper) and pen


Probably need to add a protein bar or three or even beef jerky for each day so that you have a constant supply of calories and not dependent on carb enriched meals or the glucose rollercoaster.


You forgot the towel, never leave home without it!   You never know when those darn Vogon's are going to stop by, they're rather unpleasant...

Oh man, I really must be a geek, I remember that they were Vogon's without even looking it up somewhere!?   Gack! 

Level 17

Just in time for Towel Day today. Nice catch!


Fortunately when Cisco Live is here in Melbourne it's only a 10 minute walk from the office so I can dump any extra bits if needed. These are great tips when travelling for a conference though. I've been to one international conference in the US... lost my phone! That should be a tip - don't lose your phone! Although probably part of the "keep track of your devices".


No no, you need to upgrade your towel to a Chilly Pad.


I do believe if I lost my phone I would head home immediately. #gameover

Level 20

that would work well here in the desert!


It's the only thing that gets me through my semiannual pilgrimages to Austin, TX.

Level 11

Thanks for the great pointers!

Level 11

I've seen people travel internationally to conferences with an iPad, laptop, kindle and a surface, but no travel chargers!

Less is more when travelling, but if travelling internationally don't forget:

  • reading material (hard copy: not every airline allows electronics during take off/landing. Also useful if batteries die)
  • travel charger (World Travel Adapter - SKROSS)
  • Use tripit to keep track of details, and save passport/drivers license copies to dropbox, in case you lose them
  • Travel toothbrush/toothpaste/deodorant (again, useful in carry-on if main luggage gets lost, or delays at airport)
  • Headphones (I also keep earphones as well, if need to be more discrete)
  • One of these bad boys, if you want to use your own headphones during the flight
  • 500pcs-lot-New-Gold-3-5mm-to-dual-x-3-5mm-Airplane-Airline-Headphone-Earphone-Jack.jpg
  • And if you have space, a spare t-shirt (again if conference centres are hot, or for long flights). I find some of the underarmour polo shirts are great, because they are light, and quick drying.
About the Author
After working for SWI I have decided to pursue a career in cyber security. I will try to maintain a thwack account and help where I can