Over the years, I’ve attended a lot of conferences, and Microsoft Ignite is by far the largest I’ve attended. It has hundreds of sessions, vendor experiences, and engagement opportunities with Microsoft FTEs (Full Time Employees) & Industry experts. Mix in the thousands of attendees, and you have a great big sea of humanity. In order to make your experience a success, you need a plan before, during, and after your conference experience. In this post, I’m going to cover some tips from the trenches for setting yourself up for success at Microsoft Ignite.
What is your Goal
One of the most important pieces for a successful conference is knowing the goals of the conference. So you might say it’s obviously to learn new things. That is true for most people. However, many attendees are at Microsoft Ignite to network with other industry professionals, vendors, or Microsoft FTEs. So laying out your goals is important and necessary so your trip is a success. Since many are attending as part of your employment, talking with your co-workers about topics of importance to your organization can help you focus on the sessions you need to attend or the people you need to meet with. Also, think about the opportunities that are important for your career. Once you have your goals, it’s time to build a plan.
Build a Game Plan
Take it from me. I’d had a few years going into Microsoft TechEd where I didn’t take the time to plan and simply showed up. Those years tend to stick out like the ones where I didn’t get as much out of the conference for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t research the sessions that made the most sense so I found myself attending the wrong sessions. Next, I didn’t have a plan for networking with people so I missed opportunities to engage with others at the conference because it can be hard to meet up with people in a huge venue especially when everyone has busy schedules.
How do you avoid this? For sessions, utilizing the Session Catalog and Session Builder in Tech Community. Session Builder is the best tool for taking your goals and matching them to the onsite content. I start by searching each day by the keywords of my goals, reading the resulting session abstracts, and adding the interesting sessions to my schedule. My schedules always have multiple sessions in time slots but I don’t worry about that since the sessions will be available for streaming later. I’m more concerned that I capture the sessions that interest me, and I have a place to work from.
Networking is Key
Over the years, the people I’ve met at conferences have been just as (if not more) important as the sessions I attended. Conferences are a great way to meet other people outside your normal circles. For networking, I contact the people I really want to meet prior to the conference and set up time that fits into their schedule. I refer to these as hallway schedules, and I’ll schedule these even during sessions (if that is when the other person is available) since these are the most important in-person sessions in my book. Along with this, you can utilize the community guide in TechCommunities to reach out to industry experts before the conference, and set up meetups at the show. If you haven’t created a profile on techcommunity.microsoft.com, you should as it’s a great place to network before, during and after Microsoft Ignite.
Personally, I’m fond of The Krewe, a networking community born out of Microsoft TechEd. This is a group that has been meeting for years at Microsoft events, and continue their interactions throughout the year via their facebook group. If you are looking to engage with others at Microsoft Ignite, make sure to check out the group. They have a Meet N Greet on Sunday evening before the conference. It’s a great way to meet others and have people to hang with during the week.
In 2008, the airline lost my luggage so I was without everything except what was in my carry-on. It proved for a challenging week so I know how important having the right personal items is. It’s important to note for clothing that Orlando in November will not be as bad as September in the past. It may get warm and humid during the day, but cool off at night. Yet the conference hall will be much cooler so prepare for both extremes. Here’s a short list of the important pieces for me:
- Summer clothes for post-conference activities. Many night activities will be outdoors so plan accordingly
- Sweatshirt, hoodie, long sleeve pull-over for the conference hall
- A reliable external battery pack for mobile devices
- Power Converters
- Powerstrip for sharing out a single power outlet with others or your multiple devices
- Sunscreen & Sun Glasses
- Umbrella or rain coat
- Mobile devices of choice
- Extra medications
- Comfortable & broken-in shoes
- Re-usable coffee or tea mug
On Mobile devices, I don’t take my laptop to the conference hall as I’ve found I rarely use it for notes, and I don’t want to carry around the extra weight. This year, I may use a Surface Go as a mobile device in addition to my iPhone. But since my role for the week will be different than in the past, I may not need a device besides my phone. Unlike smaller conferences, power outlets during sessions may be hard to find, and the available outlets throughout the conference center are a toss up year to year.
The conference will provide you with a backpack and water bottle. I normally bring my own as my backpack normally gets donated to an attendee so you can choose your own adventure here. Also, conferences like Microsoft Ignite have a ton of swag (aka marketing giveaways) you can choose to take advantage of. If you like t-shirts and marketing stuff, make sure to bring an extra bag or plan for extra room as you pack. In the past, I’ve shipped items home vs. trying to pack them. I tend to shy away from all the swag so this is another choose your own adventure.
Self Care for Success
One of the top things that can derail a conference is your health. One year at TechEd in Houston, I lost my voice on the Sunday before the conference. This made for a very challenging week so I make sure to begin preparation for conference trips weeks ahead. I try to make sure I reach the conference well rested, properly hydrated, and ready for a long week. If I’m traveling more than 1 timezone, I bring a sleep aid for the first night to ensure I get good rest. I don’t sleep well the night before a trip so I make sure I have plenty of time to relax on arrival, and I take the first day easy.
And knowing I am going to be gone for 9 days, I try to make sure I get extra family & friends time in before the trip. We often forget that our support system at home gets stressed by our business trips so make sure to spend extra time where it counts most. I try to help with some meal preparation before I leave, ensure any household work that I normally do is covered. Also, make sure that all of your contact information for the conference is up to date. I share all my travel information with my family so they are in the loop, and can contact me should something important come up.
Having become a regular traveler, I like to have all the information I might need for my trip available at my fingertips (aka on my phone) so I make sure I have all the apps I need for a successful week. Hotel and Air apps ensure I have the most current information as well as contacts should things go wrong. Once it is released, the conference app is a great way to keep track of your schedule and conference happenings. Also, I have rideshare apps available w/ my current credit cards. Speaking of credit cards, make sure to let your banks know you are traveling if you don’t on a regular basis.
One app that I live by now is TripIT. It’s amazing. It shows you all the information you need to know about airports, times between gates, commutes to hotels, and a ton more.
Unless you plan to taxi or ride-share from the airport, you will want to schedule a shuttle before you leave. This will ensure you get the time you want, and it will probably be discounted. I usually taxi or rideshare since I prefer to go directly to my hotel vs. stopping at multiple hotels. Chose whatever works best for you and your budget.
That about covers it for preparing for Microsoft Ignite. I’ll be publishing another post on how to get the most out of your time at Microsoft Ignite so stay tuned for that.
Do you have tips for other attendees? Post them in the comments below!