Read Me if you work and travel

Read Me if you work and travel

Why write this post?

It’s a new year, 2018 and if you are in the community that I hang around in that usually means a ton of conferences to attend,  speaking engagements “Call for Speakers” etc. Personally I usually have 5 conferences before the end of the 1st quarter.  When you have this much travel, and you are in the role at time of both Attendee and Speaker, there is a delicate science and art that goes into making this a good experience. Work and travel much? 🙂

European SP Conf Dublin Speaker Pic
European SP Conf Dublin Speaker Pic

Why? If you work and travel these are some of the challenges you have or will face:

  • Logistics (Travel, Hotel, Local Commute, etc.)
  • Attire (at a conference you will be walking around and stuck in rooms where you can’t control the temperature)
  • Session Planning (this could mean something different if you are a Speaker/Attendee and or Sponsor)
  • Brain Full/Weak Syndrome (face it, there is only so much learning you can do in 1 day… plus there’s tons of parties to attend)
  • Networking (know thy speakers, know thy session track leads, and just strive to meet 3 new people every day)
  • Sharing is Caring (tell everyone and anyone what you learned & the selfish benefits of that is also rewarding)

These are only some of the challenges you may face. This blog post will go into some of the techniques you can use in order to really get the full benefit of a conference. Not an exact science here, just anecdotal stuff from a veteran.

Work and Travel

Logistics is the glue of this all.  In order to succeed at this conference stuff, you will need to be constantly moving and that begins even before you leave you home. Lets begin, unless you live local to all events [totes impossible] you will have to hop a plane or plan a road trip. That being the case, often times you have:

  • Hotel – Conference Registration bundled in unless you want to go off the grid
  • Airfare
  • To and From commute (think Limo Service, Uber/Lyft or Rental Car)

So, the key to logistics is “Be Early”, there is usually ONE (1) hotel that is going to be key. This hotel is the one that will host a lot of the conference events, house the speakers, be close to the venue.  These hotels usually will sell out fast. As an example, take Microsoft Ignite which is now locked into being in Orlando Florida every year.  I know folks, and I am one of them that Book my hotel as soon as the conference ends in anticipation for the following year conference.  May seem odd, but if you want that good room in that good hotel, this is the way.

If you are not up for that, then you will have to be the “F5” guru. What’s the “F5 Guru” you may ask? That’s the individual that as soon as the Conference is announced, and registration is open, they are racing to sign up and hitting “F5” Refresh on the Browser to get in early. Or suffer the consequences.

Let us break this down, as you go through registration, knock out the hotel first, even if you have to race through all the mundane collect your information for the registration stuff. Get to the hotel screen and get your confirmation number. Once hotel is locked in, then go back and fill out all the necessary information that they need. Once that is complete then it’s a matter of getting the good flights. This is not a trivial task; the holy grail is getting that “nonstop flight” and for a good price.  This is all predicated on how long your hotel stay is for… see, this is making sense now chronologically.

FabianWearingBose
FabianWearingBose

Speaking about air travel, invest in a good pair of “noise cancelling” headphones, you will thank me later, see my post here.

Once you arrive to the location and assuming you didn’t drive there, then you need to make a decision about how to get around. Personally, I do the Uber thing; why? I usually am expensing my entire trip and need the receipts… Uber has one of the best process for that IMO.  They have a picture of the trip, maps, pickup and drop-off location so, in one fell swoop you have all you need. Now, that may not be for everybody, so other options could be:

  • Airport Shuttle (because 9 times out of 10 the Hotel shuttle will tell you they can’t pick you up at the airport)
  • Rental Car (good, but you may have to put up with exorbitant daily parking fees)

Once onsite however, you have a decision to make as to how to get around locally.  Regardless of how you got there, taking the conference shuttle, or hotel shuttle, or Uber is more “stress free.  It may not be economical, but you will thank me for it. Especially if you have the 2 or 3 or 4 after hours after conference events that you want to attend and do not want to resort to fishing for parking.

Attire

Key here is Layers, always Layers, its easier to take attire off (without been creepy) than to put then on, especially if you didn’t dress accordingly.  So, it’s a given, the auditorium or breakout session rooms will be cold, while you are walking around you will be hot, so you can do the math.  Next is shoes, trainers, sneakers, kicks, whatever you call it, but plan on having around eighteen thousand (18,000) steps per day, on average i.e. eight thousand (8,000) more than an average day.  If you want to be able to walk the next day, get proper footwear.  Now, in all honesty, I am bad at this. I wear a suit when I go to conferences, so I am in proper dress shoes.  I do bring trainers (sneakers) with me, but it usually an afterhours thing, dressed down in the hotel lobby kind of deal.

Here is one that is not usually discussed, don’t bring a backpack with you! Sounds strange doesn’t it? Chances are there will be a bag for you at registration, OR you will have a bag from a vendor, trust me on that.  This give you more space in your luggage inbound and it gives you additional packing room on your way out, don’t make that rookie mistake.

Session Planning

Like logistics, this is an activity where you want to get on this early.  Chances are that no matter how long, how much you plan, you will not stick to what you have planned out.  Top tier conferences will usually have an App or at the very least have the ability on their website to book sessions and have them sync to your calendar.

Its best to get organized way ahead of arriving to your venue. It serves as a reality check for all that you set out to get done as well as accurately forecast things that time will just not allow for.  For instance, undoubtedly there will be sessions or speakers that you really want to attend or see, but they may be set up at the same time, or perhaps at opposite ends of the conference facility. This makes it impossible to do both. By doing proper session planning, you set that expectations ahead of time.

Furthermore, proper session planning allows you to get or set the breadth and depth to your conference exposure.  Personally, I like to knock out the sessions where my professional life revolves around.  At the same time there may be things “off topic” that I need/should know more about.  By doing this planning up front, I put some diversity in my conference experience. One final thought here, often times there are last minute adjustments to the schedule, by having your sessions planned out, it’s easy for you to react to changes rather than scrambling around.

Brain Full/Weak Syndrome

Studies have shown that there comes a point where your attentiveness drops off even in topics where you have lots of interest.  Image attending sessions over multiple days, several hours each day, this can and will take a toll.  How do you manage this? Here is how

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat balanced meals and eat often
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Consider supplements, snacks, protein bars, etc.
  • Take breaks intra and between sessions

In all things… moderation is key and learning something new or re-emphasizing something familiar is no exception.  Add to this the inevitable social events that happens each end of day at these major conferences, and you will get to see how that efficiency curve tends to fall off to the right of the bell curve really quickly.  Vendors are a large part to the success of any conference.  These vendors usually throw some social event over the course of the conference after hours.  Think “happy hour”, “mixers”, “meetups”, full blown parties etc.  this is happening daily on top of sessions starting as early as 0800 hrs. and sometimes concluding at 1700 hrs.  It is not uncommon to have your day start from the crack of dawn and concluding all the way into the wee hours of the morning.

AvePoint Red Party
AvePoint Red Party

When it comes to setting the benchmark of those events, you cant beat the work of Julie Liu from AvePoint.

It is therefore essential that you drink plenty of water, eat regularly, and get some sleep.  As a speaker and attendee, I myself have burned that candle at both ends.  While you can do this without too much negative effects… you can’t do it all week.  Not only that but you cant and won’t be able to run on all cylinders the day after unless you are adhering to those 5 bullet points above. Follow the guidelines and stay within the guardrails here and you will maximize your conference experience while having a bit of fun along the way.

Networking

Cultivating meaningful relationships is a huge part of life and the conference experience is no exception.  I usually tell the story that

“I am never stuck on any problem in my professional career, not because I know everything, but because I know someone, or knows someone who knows someone else that is a domain expert in the topic I need to master or question I need answers for”

When you are at a conference, you are surrounded by experts, you have access to the teams that build the product or service that you use in your daily lives.  Get to know these experts, meet these speakers at the end of the session, exchange business cards.  Better yet connect on social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter.  The key thing here, especially for me as a speaker is. Once I have met you and you can reference that in ongoing conversations, it’s easier for me to stop what I am doing and pay attention to what you are saying way after the conference is over if you ask me for help.

It is a habit that I also do myself, even as a speaker at these conferences, I try to break out of my circle and meet new people, meet speakers that I’ve always had an interest in knowing. Perhaps it is folks in product group teams where I am working in that technology space.  I can guarantee you that when you get back home having that personal connection will come in handy when you need to solve a problem and you are out in the intellectual deep end of the pool alone. Meeting the movers and shakers of your industry can only serve to help you grow and become better in your professional life. I am fortunate enough in my travels to network with some of the folks below. Stephen L Rose, Julia White and the father of SharePoint itself Jeff Teper to name a few.

MeetStephenRoseInDublin
MeetStephenRoseInDublin
Keynoters at Ignite 2016 Atlanta
Keynoters at Ignite 2016 Atlanta

Notwithstanding the above from a professional point of view, go out, have fun, break up the monotony of the conference.  You are away from work, away from the daily responsibility of work, take some time to have some fun with your peers, work colleagues, fellow speakers. In my personal experience, I sometimes only see my fellow community speakers, MVP colleagues, once or twice a year.  When I do meet up with them, there is so much to catch up on.  The days are usually jam packed, we are in the speaker room prepping for sessions with headphones on.  Frequently we are racing to do some interview, or we have booth duty.  Take the time to have a human 1:1 experience outside of work, cultivating these personal experience is an important part of everyday life, even outside of work.

Sharing is Caring

Borrowing from the SharePoint mantra, Sharing is Caring. I encourage you to take what you learn and go share it.  This can take many forms, but there are a few things you can do or require based on your respective roles to guarantee that sending your employees or attending a conference is maximized. Lets approach this from employer/manager and employee (you):

  • As a manager who has to make a decision to send employees to a conference. Big decision, I know, but once you make that decision, how do you get ROI? Consider having each person you send come back and present on a topic they saw.  It can be in the form of “Lunch and Learn”, In your weekly team status meeting, or something more formal that can be scheduled soon after getting back to work.
  • As an individual, consider doing the above bullet point on your own. This not only re-enforces what you learned, but shows initiative at work, increases your value within the organization.  It also shows a willingness to teach and improve your communications skills.  Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. This is your opportunity to reinforce what you learned and make it sticky in your brain.
DanielGlenSpeakingAtIgniteOrlando17
DanielGlenSpeakingAtIgniteOrlando17

I also encourage you as a fellow speaker to take this knowledge you have and sign up for your local User Groups, Meet Ups and begin to submit sessions of your own.  The speaker community welcomes new perspectives and opinions. It is the diversity and inclusiveness of the community that makes us all grow and become better at what we do. I also guarantee that once you get this speaking ‘bug’, it’s hard to shake and you will grow to love it. Just take a look at my fellow MVP colleague Daniel Glenn speaking at Ignite.

For instance, where I live in the DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia) Area, there are a few User Groups to attend and register to speak.

Summary

In conclusion, the topic of this article did say “… conference or work…” and admittedly I spent most of my time here discussing the conference experience.  What I can tell you is that the benefits can be attributed to also a working/traveling consultant life.  Traveling for work? The same techniques here make for a successful trip and I will go one further.  Find out if there is a local meetup or user group meeting in the location you are traveling. See if you can attend or also speak at that group. As for myself, my speaking engagements are here.

Why? often times theses location need speakers, having speakers from out of state/region will bring in more attendees. The result keeps that User Group or Meet up relevant and shows value to the sponsors of those events.  Also, it’s a good way to pay it forward. I hope you enjoy this post, please leave me some comments if you found this of interest. Thank you for your time.

Sharing is Caring!

5 Replies to “Read Me if you work and travel”

  1. Wonderful post Fabian. So much of this resonates me and I agree wholeheartedly on sharing the learnings and initiating a lunch and learn session with colleagues back in the office. The magic at live events comes from the all of the networking opportunities and new connections. Embrace it with open arms. I also have not conquered the ‘shoes issue’ yet.

  2. Wonderful post Fabian. So much of this resonates me and I agree wholeheartedly on sharing the learnings and initiating a lunch and learn session with colleagues back in the office. The magic at live events comes from the all of the networking opportunities and new connections. Embrace it with open arms. I also have not conquered the ‘shoes issue’ yet.

    1. Thank you @Tracy I agree with your sentiments here, maximum value comes from the knowledge and the networking. I guess you and I have to take a ‘needs improvement’ in the shoe category 🙂 Cheers.

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