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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to attend and enjoy a really big conference and survive!

How to attend and enjoy a really big conference!

Every industry has big conferences that have over 50,000 people attend. Out in Silicon Valley you have Dreamforce, Oracle and Cisco events and out in New York there are big trade shows at the Javits Center. Event planners have the statistics of how many babies are born, legs broken, people that go missing, hangovers and lost shoes that occur. In fact, every city will have some sort of conference or industry event going on at any given time. For many attendees this is a new city for them and may be their first time out of the office.

As I tried to tell my mates at the big Nortel ISLUA conferences back in the day, that these events are not parties (although there are some big ones) but a chance to learn, engage, connect and have a bit of fun as well. Those that did not take heed ended up AWOL in their rooms trying to clean up what the made should not have to. Make the best use of your conference and it will help propel you forward in the future. Remember, you are an ambassador of your company and if the VP of Sales likes dancing with a lamp shade on his head then make sure you are not that guy.

1.     Know the Agenda

Take a look well in advance of the event the actual agenda and read the event descriptions. You have the chance to register before popular events are sold out and ensure you get to attend those activities related to your job function. Some events will have room for walk in traffic if push comes to shove and you must attend it you then go early to the session if you can because there will be no shows. There are special event specific apps that will allow you to build your agenda and save it to your smart device.

2.     Floor Plan

Study it and if the events are in various buildings then you will need to understand the travel times between events. If the convention hotel is sold out then you will need to choose an alternate that is close by.

3.     Who else is going?

Find out if your customers, partners, potential prospects or co-workers from other offices are attending. Plan in advance any meet ups as during the conference things can get pretty crazy.

4.     Bring a Backpack

There will be swag, handouts, and laptops to carry plus the much needed peripherals. If you have your own bag then it won’t look like the handout bag everyone is carrying around. If you leave your bag in a corner at some event then someone will take it by mistake and then “hey someone grabbed my bag and my iPad was in it”. It was a black bag with the Avaya logo on it…hmmmm there are 126 of them in this corner…

5.     Arrive early and maybe leave late

If you can arrive a day or two early then you can avoid the crush at the airport and hotel check ins. Trust me it will be a zoo regardless of how much staff is available. When the show ends at 3pm most attendees will be like bats out of hell rushing to the airport to catch flights. I think it’s best to leave the following day. The evening is a great time to reflect on the event and if with customers or colleagues share in learnings and coordinate next steps. After 5 long days at a trade show, a day off to take a sightseeing tour or do some shopping will be a relaxing thing to do.

My Secret Super Rockstar Show Tips

Bring along a personal assistant to look after all your whims and petty needs. If you do not have one then you are on your own and these survival tips may help:

Keynotes: 80,000 people in a room means you will be watching Tony Robbins on a big screen so why not enjoy the show from a remote viewing location or vendor lounge. The A/V crew will be filming like it’s the Academy Awards so beat the crowds and enjoy it in a saner environment. Check ahead to see if this is the case at your venue.

Aisles Seats: These are the golden seats but you need to get there early. If you choose the front row you have a chance to get pulled up onto the stage and participate sometimes.

Schedule: Do not try to pack it all in one day because your brain will not allow it. Take a break between the longer sessions to get fresh air and recharge your senses.

Leave Work at Home: Your business will not end while your away so do not try to juggle both because it will be very stressful. There are many things that can wait until later in the day. Set you email to reply back an out of office alert with a name of a backup person while you are away.

Check the Weather: A co-worker arrived in a T Shirt and jeans not understanding that Toronto has cold and snow in November. His first mission was to buy winter clothes.

Travel with an Empty Luggage: There will be material to bring back, swag, T Shirts and travel mugs and most likely souvenirs. You may also come back with a jacket if you forget to bring one or do not understand the weather patterns.

Leave the Backpack at the Hotel at night: If you are hitting the party and dance floor circuit then dragging a heavy back pack around is no fun and then you have to worry about it getting stolen while doing the chicken dance with the red head from Fargo.

Healthy Snacks: Pack protein bars, nuts and berries and breath mints instead of loading up on carbs that will put you into a doze by 3pm. Donuts and Muffins are hotel trade show staples.

Booze and Booze and more Booze: For some that have never been away from home or their small town it makes the big city very inviting. Do not overdo it the first night or two because it will affect you the rest of the week. Save the blow out for the last night if you have to get your freak on. I hate seeing so many people wearing sunglasses in the workshops to hide their bloodshot eyes and haggard faces. It didn’t hide the fact one attendee has his pants on backwards. I can count several vendor reps crashed out in the lobby couches at 8am while the attendees stream by to fetch breakfast. “Oh hey look there is Brian and he looks like he lost a shoe last night and seems to have coughed up his oatmeal” or how Francois from Montreal has to explain to everyone how he has his arm in a sling because he tried to climb a fence in the back parking lot with his dress shoes on. He always adds the EMS staff was so nice!

Extension Cord or Power Outlet: Belkin makes a nice 3 outlet extension plug with 2 usb ports. This will be a lifesaver and you will make many friends if you are near an outlet. I found a 3 foot extension cord at the local Dollar Store and it’s been a lifesaver at training classes.

Power Pack or Battery: Yes bring one because cell coverage indoors is usually weaker and your device will use up more battery power. What your HP laptop onlys runs for an hour? Ok bring 8 batteries

Transportation: Car pool with others, take public transit or shuttles or just walk. I saw one guy from the Atlanta office take a cab every day for two blocks from our  hotel and while I walked I got there before he did and didn’t have to try to expense $8 for each trip. “OMG the traffic is horrible around here”

Dress Properly: Comfortable shoes and loose fitting clothes are best. Umbrellas and rainwear will be required for Seattle and Vancouver. Going to Wiinipeg in January…bring a North Face Everest Expedition jacket to go over your Dewalt Contractor jacket (the one that takes 2 12v batteries with the built in warming element).

ID and badges: Make you sure you have ID as some events require you show ID to match with the name on your badge.

Business Cards: Bring lots and I like to write details on the back if handed a business card so I do not forget when I get back as to why I had that card. “Oh I see Tony Bishop at Evans Inc. is interested in a product demo as opposed to a blank card”

Don’t Be Shy: talk to people, engage with others and smile and take it easy. The person you are chatting with may just end up having the invites to a special party. I was talking to some guy at the coffee urn at one conference and it turned out he was the keynote speaker. I was able to chat with him later because we made a small connection and he tossed me his VIP ticket for the rest of the event.

Play Safe: I have seen people do stupid things and usually while impaired resulting in personal injury. So try to keep a level head or at least have your gang all be on the lookout for each other. Crossing the street, getting into fights with locals, stumbling around New Orleans in the alleys at 4am, and meeting interesting women at the bars in Las Vegas can be a real fun time (she cleaned his room out while he slept like a baby - passport, watch, wallet, luggage, TV remote and even the little shampoo bottles were gone)

Take in The Local Sights: Take a bus tour to see the city and learn about it the week before you go. You will appreciate it better when stuck on the 405 in Los Angeles or walking under the overhead trains in Chicago.

Coffee Line Ups: Be prepared as they will be long and bring a travel thermos and a reusable water bottle

Client Dinners: make reservations well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Attitude: It will be stressful, line ups, lousy food, bitter coffee and lots of running around. Relax, it’s just a conference. Have fun! and smile!

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