Episerver Ascend 2017 will be the 10th(?) Episerver/Ektron annual conference I’ve attended and exhibited at. Honestly, I stopped counting a few years ago. Suffice to say, I’m fairly well versed in the dynamic of this conference, and I'm happy to share a few insights for first timers or those interested in an insider’s perspective.
For first-time Ascend attendees, if you’ve ever been to any other software/technology/business conference, Ascend will seem very familiar to you: a few keynote addresses with notable speakers, breakout sessions on a variety of topics geared toward specific attendee tracks (developer, marketing, business), meal times, partner exhibits, a big social event…and of course, lots of people from all over the country with a shared interest in Episerver. But whether you’re new to the conference experience or an industry veteran, below are a few tips to help you not only survive, but to get the most of the experience.
Come With a Purpose
Ascend provides numerous opportunities to learn, network and get inspired. However, the conference can quickly overwhelm you and send you in multiple directions if you haven’t prepared for it. The most important thing you can do ahead of time is ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve by attending this conference and what you want to make sure you come away with. Make a list of objectives in a journal and keep it with you all day, every day, updating it with the insights and ideas you’ll collect. Map out your sessions ahead of time and avoid making last minute decisions about where to go next. Prepare questions to use as conversation starters with attendees, partners, or Episerver staff. Create a to-do list of actions that will keep you on track to meet your objectives. For example: Meet 5 new people per day, schedule a meeting with a partner to discuss your priorities, ask a question during a Q&A session. Whatever your purpose is, just make sure you’ve identified it and have a plan to achieve it.
Find Your Inner Extrovert
This can be a tough one for many people. Showing up to a hotel ballroom filled with strangers and trying to strike up conversations can be anxiety inducing, to say the least. But the best way to really get the most out of your conference experience is through interacting with as many new people as possible. There’s a wealth of untapped knowledge in the other attendees all around you. When you dive into conversations with anyone and everyone, you’ll expose yourself to new information and potential breakthrough moments that you’d otherwise never experience.
Extroverts generally don’t have a problem with this, and they thrive in these types of interactions. But those that veer more toward introversion (myself included) need to put in some extra effort. If you struggle to be a conversation starter, keep in mind that you’ll probably never see most of the people you meet again, so go ahead and throw yourself out there. Fake it until you make it.
Also, conversations and interactions can be draining for an introvert. Be sure to take some breaks to recharge back in your hotel room or any quiet spot. One thing to remember is that many other attendees are probably feeling the same way you are. Being the first one to say “hi” and ask a question is usually welcomed and appreciated.
Practice Your Elevator Pitch
99% of the conversations I’ve struck up with people I’ve met at conferences start with the question “So, what do you do?” It's a natural ice breaker and the easiest way to find something in common and spur the conversation onward. But don’t just answer with “I work for XYZ company” and leave it at that. Have a quick description of your company, your role, and your purpose for attending ready to go. After all, Ascend is a business conference. Be prepared to talk about your business! As a technology partner, the more you’re able to explain what you do and what your biggest hurdles are, the easier it is for us talk about solutions.
Eat, Sleep, Hydrate
While it may seem like common sense, eating quality meals, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated are often overlooked at a conference hosted in Las Vegas. When you’re constantly on the go, meeting new people, soaking in knowledge, and getting inspired, you can easily overlook some of the basic necessities that you need to keep going, especially with the lure of Las Vegas enticing you with even more to do. Pacing yourself and keeping your body fueled will give you the energy to get the most out of the 3-day event. Some basic rules that help:
- Meals are provided for free. Show up for them, especially breakfast.
- Tear yourself away from the blackjack table and get a decent nights sleep, so you can achieve #1.
- Bring a couple of water bottles with you each day, or grab some in between each session.
Other Pro Tips
Finally, here are a few standard conference tips to help you enjoy your days and keep you going:
- Wear comfortable shoes; you will be walking a lot.
- Bring a jacket; it's always cold in conference halls.
- Get a portable cell phone charger. Don’t be that person sitting on the floor to get access to a power outlet.
- Have some Advil or Tylenol handy. This is Vegas, after all.
- Keep breath mints with you, if you want your conversations to last.
- Take breaks. A 20 minute nap can work wonders if you’re dragging.
I hope to see you in Vegas! Stop by our booth (table 13) to say hello and pick up some cool conference survival SWAG. And be sure to take some pictures with us at the WSOL-sponsored photo booth!