I started doing SharePoint Conference readiness checklists back at SPC11 and I wanted to continue the tradition with #SPC14. Mark Freeman (@SPHotShot) has continued the tradition of beating me to it and has already put out a great guide and I wanted to add my two cents. This list may look similar to previous lists, but I have made lots of updates and additions.
What to pack:
- Chargers / Power Supplies – I remember when I went to PDC05, I forgot my laptop charger. I was quite bummed. Don’t forget the chargers to your laptop, netbook, Surface, phones, etc. I have gotten a few of these new emergency phone chargers at conferences lately and they are very handy here. Especially when you have a Nokia Lumia 920 and the battery life is terrible. Keep in mind your average day can be 16 – 18 hours plus and you don’t want to be left in the dark and miss that big gathering because your phone died.
- Tablet – In lieu of carrying around your heavy laptop, I find carrying a tablet at conferences to be quite handy. I'll have my Surface 2 with me everywhere I go. This device is perfect for conferences with it's all day battery life. Bring whatever device or combination thereof you prefer, but keeping up on what’s going on at the conference using one of these small devices is much easier than trying to look things up on your phone. You also can use these to fill out session evaluations. There are usually incentives for filling out evaluations so I try to complete each evaluation right before the end of the session so I don’t forget.
- Laptop – This used to be high on the list. Now it's pretty low on mine. I used to bring two monstrous W520s to conferences. Now I am on a light-weight computer and I could actually give my session on my Surface 2 and Azure if I needed to.
- Bring your own Internet – The wireless networks at conferences are rarely good. They are jammed with geeks trying to post updates on Twitter and check out what’s happening on Facebook. If you have access to a wireless AirCard, MiFi, tethring, etc, bring it. See if your company has any that you can check out temporarily. SPC organizers have claimed to have rock solid Internet this year after the issues we saw at SPC12. I'd still bring your own if you can.
- Cash – Just a little (more if you drink and gamble a lot :) ). There are a lot of free events but you might go do something before or after the conference and I am not a fan of running tabs at busy restaurants and bars. Don’t take it all with you every night. Leave some in the hotel safe.
- Snacks and Water – After a long night, you will want something to eat. At the minimum, you might want something to eat in the morning. The hotels will likely have stuff in your room, but it will cost you dearly.
- Business Cards – Even if you are not in sales, bring twice as many as you think you will need. You will go through them faster than you think.
- Bail Money – The Houston SharePoint Users Group has a running joke about always keeping a stash of bail money around when attending a #SharePint. You never know what is going to happen.
- VPN Tokens - If your work network requires a VPN token or Smart Badge you might want to bring it if you think you might need to use it. Otherwise, you might conveniently forget it, to ensure you can focus on the conference. :)
Before you go:
- Arrive early – Come in early and have some fun in Vegas before you get into the conference grind. Many of us will be arriving Friday or Saturday. I tend to arrive on Saturdays while most of the foreign nationals I know, tend to arrive Friday or earlier.
- Don’t leave early – After a week of Vegas, I am sick of the place and I am ready to leave. However, you don’t want to cut the conference short on Thursday by having to leave early. Plan for an early Friday departure.
- Set your schedule on My SPC - This will make your SPC organizers happy when it comes to capacity planning. You aren’t required to go to that session you schedule, but it will help you pick from the 10+ sessions going on at any given time slot. Go to My SPC and set your schedule now. Not sure about a session, watch the teaser video on YouTube.
- Create your Bio on My SPC – Whether you are an end user or a SharePoint rock star, take a few minutes to write about yourself. Include where you work if you want along with what you typically do with SharePoint and what you want to get out of the conference. Upload a picture of yourself to make things more personal. Be sure and set the privacy settings as desired. Set your My SPC bio now. Be sure and edit your profile on Yammer too.
- Connect on My SPC - If you go to the Communities tab, you can search for other attendees. You can also connect your social networks on the Favorites page to find even more people. I managed to get LinkedIn to work, but have had no success with twitter.
- Get on Yammer - The conversations have already begun about SPC on Yammer. This is a great way to find out what other people are doing, network with others, and talk with people with similar issues. Most importantly, you can have a conversation about the sessions while they are occurring. Speakers will be watching Yammer before, during, and after their sessions. As an example, here's a link to my session #SPC3000 in Yammer. Be sure and follow others in Yammer to have more show up in your social feed.
- Create a #SPC14 Search in Twitter – Twitter hasn't gone away by any means, so keep an eye on the activity of the #SPC14 hash tag. However, this year, I think Yammer is where you are going to find the most info and conversations. Twitter will still be good to find out about sessions, events, and it will generally give you an idea of what is happening at the conference. Be sure and include the #SPC14 hash tag on anything you post and help get this conference trending!
- Follow @SPConf on Twitter – @SPConf is the official twitter account for SPC. This account often posts useful stuff about the conference. I’ve also used it to ask questions or provide general feedback and I’ve had very good luck getting a response. SPConf has a bit quieter this year due to the use of Yammer. Keep in mind this twitter account is effectively manned by one person, so if you have an inquiry, take it to Yammer.
- Reach out to your local SharePoint User Group – Find out what your local SharePoint User Group is doing while at SPC. Many of them are having meetings or socials.
- Don’t forget to set your user group in your profile - You can now set your SharePoint user group in your My SPC bio. Set that to make it easier to find people in your group.
- Register for Pre-conference Sessions – If you think you will be able to get up on Sunday morning, attend one of the pre-conference sessions. Some of them are free, some are not.
- RSVP for Parties – Budgets have been cut, but parties are still out there. Many of the "big" parties have reverted to going back to customer appreciation parties. Getting into them is going to be difficult unless you are spending money with the vendor hosting it. Be sure and follow @SPCPartyPatrol to find out where the parties are too!
- Arrange for Ground Transportation - Don’t forget to arrange for ground transportation. You really don’t need a car in Vegas, but you do need a way to get there. Taking a Taxi usually isn’t too expensive and there are plenty of shuttle options as well. This may be less of a concern on arrival but more for your departure.
- Leave space in your bag – Between the conference materials and the vendors you are going to end up with a heap of product information, trinkets, and T-shirts. Make sure you have room in your bag to bring them home. Otherwise you’ll be hand carrying them on the plane or leaving things behind.
- Update your devices - Now is a great time to make sure your devices are up to date with the latest security patches. You might even consider applying Service Pack 1 for Office 2013. Make sure they are charged too!
- Set your out-of-office - You're at this conference for a variety of reasons, you need to focus. Try to stay out of Outlook and let people know that you will be slow to respond. If you need to stay connected, I recommend picking one time of day, such as in the morning before sessions, to catch-up on what's happening back at home.
What to do at the conference:
- What happens in Vegas, will not stay in Vegas – Nerds have gadgets and they like to take pictures. Do something stupid and you can rest assure it will be on twitter within seconds. :)
- Find the official SharePint bar, the Bourbon Room – Every year there is always one bar where people tend to hang out. At Mandalay Bay it was EyeCandy. This year it sounds like it will be the Bourbon Room. Make a habit of cruising by it from time to time on your way to wherever to see if anyone you know might be there.
- Ask questions - Don’t be afraid to walk up to the mic and ask a question. That’s what you’re here for. If you don’t want to ask it in front of everybody, wait in line and talk to the speaker at the podium just be mindful that the speaker has to clear out in a hurry. Don’t be afraid to approach speakers outside the room either. Most of them are friendly and are easily engaged using beer and cocktails. :) It's not uncommon to find them at the official SharePint bar.
- Make friends – You may run into lots of people you know, but many people aren’t active on twitter and aren’t familiar with the SharePoint community at all. Find a friend if you didn’t come to the conference with any one. It’s much more fun to go do all of the activities in a group rather than by yourself. If you have coworkers there, feel free to hang out with them, but don't feel that you are obligated to.
- Go to the evening events - I can't stress this enough. Try to avoid team dinners that overlap with the events. Get them rescheduled. The evening events are where the real connections are made, friends are found, contracts are signed, and new jobs are discovered. If you just go to the conference and nothing else, you are missing out on half the experience.
- Remember to eat - This one sounds obvious but it’s not. You may be going to lots of parties with nothing but light appetizers. This does not give you a good base to work upon before embarking on a night of massive consumption. Pace yourself!
- Don’t worry about writing everything down – Remember the slides and content will be on Yammer before the session. Don’t stress out because you weren’t able to write down a URL or code snippet on a slide. You can also take pictures of slides as well.
- Visit the Exhibit Hall – The exhibit hall is a lot of fun. Besides all of the SWAG and drawings, you are likely to find out about evening events that way. Make a point of going there every day. I spend a good majority of my time there during the conference. You'll never know who you run into.
- Be on the lookout for the SharePoint Monkey - You'll never know what that silly monkey is going to be up to during the conference. Be on the look out for him throughout the convention center. Follow him on twitter @TheSPMonkey for clues!
- Attend the sessions – Don’t skip out on the morning sessions. If I have to get up early so do you. :)
- Attend the Hands on Labs – If you haven’t had a chance to get your hands on SharePoint 2013, get down to the HOL and check it out. This is a great way to experience the product without having to take the time to install it. It opens at 9:00 am on most days (after the keynote on Monday).
- Take a test – Certification tests are available for half price during the conference. Go roll the dice and find some time to take a test.
- Don’t underestimate travel times – At SPC12, the walk to the convention center from a room at the Mandalay Bay is at least ten minutes. When I stayed at the Luxor at SPC09, it was a full thirty minute walk. I assume the walk is just as far. Even within the convention center, there are long walks between sessions. Plan accordingly.
- Set your alarm before you go out for the night - Before you go out for the night, set your morning alarm on your phone. You may not remember when you get back to your room.
- Arrive early to sessions – Many sessions will fill up and entrance will be denied, especially futures sessions. Don’t get left out by showing up late.
- Don't be afraid to leave a session - If you decide in the middle of the session, that this one isn't for you, don't be afraid to quietly step out and go see something else. A few speakers might call you out for it, but most won't. :)
- Learn hash tags for the sessions you are attending – Every session you are attending has an associated hash tag that you can follow. For example, my Display Templates session number is 3000, so the hash tag for it is #SPC3000. You can go ahead and save a search for that one now. :)
- Don’t wear your badge outside of the convention center – Nothing says you don’t have any game like walking out of the convention center with your badge on. Take it off as you exit the area. Don't lose it though as it may cost you a lot to replace it.
- Don’t forget your badge (and lanyard) at the attendee party – At SPC09, your badge and the lanyard were required to get in. I know several people that had to walk all the way back to their room just to get the lanyard. That was a one hour walk since it was back to the Luxor. They may do a wristband for the attendee party this year, so if they do, don't forget that.
- Keep your phone charged – The battery life on LTE phones is horrible and even worse when you are tweeting non-stop all day. Keep an eye on your phone’s battery life and charge up throughout the day.
- Don’t blow all your money – This one goes without saying. I came to SPC09 on a budget and quickly depleted my designated gambling funds. It prevented me from doing anything else for the rest of the trip. If you gamble, keep your gambling money separate and leave some of it in the room early in the week. This will keep you from losing it all early and you will still have some left should you get mugged. :)
- Don’t be afraid to leave for lunch – I’m not a huge fan of conference food and it rarely gets along with my diet. Usually by the second or third day I am grabbing anyone I can find and going off-site. Find me at the conference and you can join me.
- Attend #ShareHofbrau on Thursday – After the conference, unwind with friends at Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas. It’s an authentic German beer hall and it’s loads of fun.
- Take the pledge! - For those non-developers out there, tell the world you are tired of semi-colons! This little sub-group organized by my wife, @JenniferMason, will have stickers for your badge (link).
- Fill out your evaluations – These really are important to the speakers. Let them know they did a good job and take the time to leave actual text comments in them.
- Establish rendez-vous points – Establish meeting spots in advance with your group and set a time to meet. Mine will probably be the slot machines immediately outside of the Bourbon Room. :)
- Go to the attendee party – Go to the attendee party. If you are expecting to meet people there, meet them before you leave the hotel. As an added bonus they are serving drinks before you get onto the bus. If you don’t walk in with the people you want to see, you will likely not see them that night. I wouldn't have high expectations of doing a ride-along although supposedly they have quite the system to make this happen. 10k people at an event and only a handful of cars. You do the math.
- Hydrate - Drink lots of water throughout the day. This is especially important if you have had a lot of late nights.
- Don't forget to go outside - At one point during SPC09, I realized I hadn't been outside in three days. Sneak out at some point and go find some sun. The weather should be nice in Vegas.
- Walk the casino floor – Even if you don’t gamble, make a habit of walking the casino floor. You never know who you might run into. An accidental run-in might shape the way the rest of the night goes.
- Silence your phone during sessions, turn it on as loud as possible everywhere else - Don't be "that guy" who has your phone ringing in the middle of a session. That's guaranteed embarrassment. When you're not in sessions, turn the volume up on it as you probably won't hear it go off otherwise when you get a message.
That’s my list. I’m sure there are other things to remember. Do you have anything else to add? Leave a comment. This probably goes without saying, but if you are not on Yammer and Twitter, now is the time to join. It’s the best way to keep up with what’s happening at the conference.
I’m also presenting a sessions at this year’s conference and I would love for you to come see it.
- #SPC3000 – Changing the look of Search using Display Templates (Yammer) (Schedule Builder) (Thursday, March 6th, 10:30a) – In this session, we’re going to go into the anatomy of a display template. We won’t spend time making complex visualizations, that you’ll never use. Instead, we’ll go into the basics of changing every aspect of a display template and how they are all connected together. You’ll leave with code samples and supporting blog posts to walk you through every step of the journey of transforming search.
Enough with the shameless plug. :) Get ready and I’ll see you at the conference.
Follow me on twitter: @coreyroth.