Monday, September 5, 2011

Business Convention Survival Guide

I'm freshly back from a four-day business trip to San Francisco attending the 9th Annual DreamForce conference. It was my first such conference, and I learned a lot about the product, and a lot about conferences. If you're planning to attend one in the near future, here are a few pointers:

Learn The Public Transit

BART is awesome if you're in the Bay Area and take the time to get to know its quirks. You can get from downtown to the airport for $8.10 in roughly the same time it would take a taxi to get there. The biggest challenge for me was that any subway stop will have five or six exits, so it's easy to get the right stop and emerge on the street not having any idea where you are. But you get the hang of it after a few trips.

Obviously this varies by city. St. Louis has crappy public transit. LA has buses that have to fight traffic along with the commuters and great subways that don't go anywhere worthwhile. Vegas is easy to get around in cabs and limos are frequently cheaper. I seem to recall some good things about Seattle, and I haven't had the pleasures of New York, but what I'm getting at is that a little research in this area can really pay off.

Unless You Actually Intend To Give Them Money, Ignore The Vagrants

Don't make eye contact, don't answer their questions, don't walk in time to their shitty music.

Anything Worth Attending Is Worth Arriving At Early

...this includes your flight, by the way. And the corollary: Anything worth leaving is worth leaving early. These two kind of go hand in hand because you'll want to arrive at sessions early so you can make sure you get an aisle seat so you can sneak out when the Q&A begins so you can arrive early to your next session.

Bring Diversions

You spend a lot of time waiting, due to the nature of conferences: drumming up as much hype as possible while trying to herd thousands of people around.

There Are No Available Outlets And Your Phone/Laptop Battery Sucks

Just be prepared. Or bring an iPad, since those things seem to last forever.

Don't Count On Doing Anything Touristy

...because your schedule is full. You(r company) paid good money to make sure it's full.

It's Okay To Call Home, But You Have Nothing To Talk About

...because if your significant other was the least bit interested in what you're learning, they'd have come with you. This is doubly true for tech conferences when one is married to a non-programmer. Just so you're aware.

There's Nothing On TV

...but it makes a hotel room feel less empty.

Specifically, There's Nothing On HBO

...unless you're a boxing fan. Which you're not.

All Catered Meals Suck A Little Bit

Cold breakfasts, boxed lunches, and then hors d'oeuvres for dinner. All of them are designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of palates, so none of them will be particularly memorable.

Not All Kool-Aid Is Created Equal, But It Is Still All Kool-Aid

Every product announcement gets treated like the second coming of Krishna. The conference is all about hype. Some of the products will be nearly as cool as advertised. Some will be cool for reasons totally different than advertised. And some will just be advertised. And of course, the one thing that is going to make a difference for you is going to be one detail buried in a product that does fifty things, forty-nine of which you don't care about.

Dress Appropriately

The obvious advice is to wear comfortable shoes, but double check the weather. It never even occurred to me that August in San Francisco might be jacket weather, but it totally is!

Leave Some Room In Your Suitcase

...because you will be getting shwag.

Just Because The Shwag Is Free, That Doesn't Mean You Won't Pay For It

...you can look forward to our email on Monday. Have a T-shirt you'll never wear!

When In Doubt Follow The Masses

They're all following someone who is following someone who is following someone who knows where you're going. Just find a group all wearing the same dorky laniard as you and stick with them.

Have Fun

...because you(r company) paid good money for this.

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