How to make the most of tech conventions

Your hotel is booked. You’ve got your plane tickets. A cheerful registration e-mail is in your inbox. Maybe you’ve even signed-up for a few training sessions.

Right now, the plan is that you’ll show up to the convention, get the keys to your room, and just see where the week takes you. You are stoked. Yay, convention!

This is a terrible plan and you should feel bad because you came up with it. Go stand in the corner and reflect on the bad decisions you’ve made up to this point.

Such. A. Noob.

Here’s a better plan.

Plan your ground game

There are two major groups of convention-goers — those that roam around aimlessly, following signs to free drinks and swag, and those who walk with purpose, ignoring the cattle chutes and doing their best not to run over the smaller, slower members of the herd.

To get value from a convention, you need to be planning your ground game weeks in advance.

  • What do you want to learn about?
  • Who do you want to talk to?
  • What questions do you need answered?

Assuming you’re going to a vendor’s convention, this is the time to pull in your account team. Communicate your priorities and ask them to help.

Ideally, you’ll arrive onsite with your calendar pre-booked with appointments to talk to product managers, engineers, and other customers dealing with similar problems. These discussions will be 1000 times more effective and valuable than sitting in on sessions.

Also, make sure to book some time to get work done. Staying semi-caught-up will make your return to the office much more pleasant.

There are only three sessions worth your time

  1. The keynote — Any big announcements will be in the keynote. Yes, there will be a lot of marketing speak and things you don’t care about, but the keynote gives context to where the vendor is headed and highlights a lot of business info your management will want to hear about.
  2. Round tables — These are small, interactive sessions with engineers, managers, and fellow customers. Round tables tend to be far more content-rich than standard sessions. There’s more opportunity to ask questions and generally less marketing. These are good sessions to find out how other people are solving problems that you are trying to solve.
  3. Bootcamps — Onsite training. Most bootcamps are tied to a certification track. Standard sessions are not. Go educate yourself and get certified. You’ve already carved time out of your schedule for the convention. Make the most of it.

Vendor parties are for chumps

“Customer appreciation reception” is a euphemism for “opportunity to gain leverage over you.” Nothing is free, everything has strings attached and unintended consequences.

That drunk customer swinging from a chandelier is going to have a hard time negotiating come renewal time. Don’t get me wrong, I like to chandelier swing as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to do it around people I do business with.

Going to a vendor party to “network” is a pipe dream. Ninety-five percent of the people there will be too inebriated to explain what they do for a living and the other 5 percent will on some spectrum from “Please shut up about your dog and/or ex” to “I bet you have a basement dungeon”.

The music will be too loud for you to hear anything anyway. Wubwubwubbbb womp womp womp.

Go have a nice, quiet dinner instead, catch up on work, and rest up for tomorrow. If you’ve planned well, you have a busy day ahead of you.

Originally published at