Wow, the Microsoft Ignite Conference in Atlanta is almost here and this years conference is sure to be another great one! And thanks to a free full conference pass from Microsoft, I’ll be attending so I’m really excited to see old friends again and to make new ones! I’ve been attending Microsoft Conferences for several years and as with any event of this size, it really pays to be prepared. So borrowing from previous conference survival guides I’ve created in the past, I’ve put together this Ignite 2016 Survival and Readiness Guide with valuable tips I’ve learned that will help make your experience more productive and enjoyable.
So, What Are Your Goals?
An important part of conference planning is to think about your primary goals. I’ve listed a few below to help get you started:
- Networking with other professionals: this should be a major goal of every attendee, especially for conferences of this size. But to accomplish this, it’s important to be outgoing and approachable. Don’t be shy; talk to everyone you can! You’ll be surprised what information you’ll pick up from others just by having spontaneous, even short, conversations! Also, this Channel 9 post shows a list of networking activities for getting you directly in touch with Microsoft experts, industry thought leaders, and peers!
- Learning new and emerging technologies: You’re definitely in luck! Back when I wrote the survival guides for the now-retired SPC conferences, I emphasized that attendees would be exposed to a wide collection of (somewhat bleeding-edge) sessions and demos focusing on the latest and greatest from Microsoft. With Ignite, the context has expanded several times over! It’s probably a good idea to always have something on hand for writing notes. [BONUS: Ignite attendees will enjoy a 50% discount on certification exams!]
- Discovering valuable vendor services: the exhibit hall will be packed with top-shelf vendors as well as hoards of Microsoft reps who are more than happy to demo their products and answer questions. Take time to visit all of them.
Essential Conference Tips Before the Conference
- Update your Attendee Profile – A completed Ignite profile is vital so make sure your information is up-to-date before you arrive. Expect that others will be looking you up so include some information about what your areas of interest are and what you want to accomplish at the conference. And upload a (recognizable) picture of yourself so that others will make the connection when they see you. While you’re at it, update your other social profile pics and info too.
- Set your Session Schedule – Set up your schedule plan and get familiar with the conference room layout map ahead of time (there’s even an interactive floor planning guide on the GWCC site!). This will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering too late that your next session is a thousand steps away only to arrive to a “Room Full” sign. After finishing your schedule plan, you’re likely to step back and wonder which sessions to attend …
Don’t stress about it, just attend the session that you are more interested in. [Pro Tip: the post-session Q&A is often as valuable as the session itself]. Just remember that Microsoft will be posting full session videos (likely on Channel 9) usually within a day or two. However, if you show up at a session and realize it just isn’t for you, bail out right away and head to your alternate session! For more tips on session and time planning, see Tips for building your Ignite schedule and How to plan your time at Ignite. Also, there’s a blog post on using PowerShell to download your Ignite schedule.
- RSVP for Parties – There are sure to be several public and many private events (Joel is keeping track of public events on his blog). All will likely require an RSVP ticket (usually by stopping by a vendor booth), so be sure to look into this before hand. Note: for MCP’s a special MCP Party is also planned.
- Logistics – It’s always a good idea to have copies of all reservations on hand in the event of confusion at your point of check-in and to secure ground transportation ahead of time. Atlanta also has a notable public transit system (MARTA) and hosts an interactive station map to assist in planning trips around the city. Additionally, Taxi Fare Finder provides Atlanta fare estimates and two services (Uber Estimate and Uber Estimator) provide Uber estimates. This blog post contains helpful information on Ignite Check-In Location & Hours.
- Communication Devices – You’ll want to think ahead about which type of connected devices (laptop, notebook, tablet, phone, etc.). Just don’t forget extra batteries, charging devices and portable battery packs. [Pro Tip: A/C outlets can be difficult to find at times; showing up with a mini powerstrip will set you apart from the crowd]. While on the conference floor, try to keep a light payload. Otherwise you’ll soon realize that what you’re carrying will magically seem to gain weight as the day goes on (especially as you collect swag during the day).
- Cellular Wireless Card – with so many active devices present, wireless networks at conferences are often congested and can suffer from unsatisfactory network speeds. Having a cellular wireless card can offer a real bonus.
- Camera – Have one (or more for backup). Memories are made at conferences like this. But beware: you’ll always be surrounded by camera-carrying geeks ready to capture any potentially reputation-changing pics that will last for an eternity.
- Check With Your Local User Group – Find out if they are conducting a special event while at the conference.
- Pre-Plan Space for Conference Swag – You are likely to end up with a lot of conference ‘stuff’ (product information sheets, T-shirts and other goofy swag). Be sure to allocate extra room in your bag to get it all back home. Don’t put yourself in the inconvenient position of either having to hand-carry onto the plane, leaving behind, or being forced to ship it home (I actually had to do this for SPC09).
Tips While at the Conference
- Dress Comfortably – You’ll be walking and standing ALOT! [Pro Tip: good shoes and comfortable clothes will leave you with more energy to last for the nighttime events].
- Stay Connected – UPDATE: the official Ignite Mobile App is out!. Use the #MSIgnite hashtag on Twitter to keep up on any spontaneous announcements from vendors, such as entry into specific drawings and giveaways. Other good resources for keeping up on social channels are the Ignite Blog on Channel 9 and the Tech Community Discussions site for Ignite. There’s also an Ignite YouTube channel.
- Cash – Most sponsored events and gatherings will be no-cost. For all other outings, cash is king; it’s always quicker to process and always well-received at busy restaurants and bars.
- Pace Yourself! – These types of events are known to exhaust even veteran conference attendees. Avoid burning yourself out during the day so that you can survive partying into the wee hours every night and still make the next days sessions.
- Post-Party Morning Kit – Most hotels are notorious for furnishing few or no amenities (coffee, water, etc.) without a significant up-charge. [Pro Tip: keep snacks, aspirin and water (or RedBull!) in your hotel room]. This will help you get going in the morning in the event of partaking in an all-night bender.
- Stay Nourished – Breakfast and lunch is provided most days at the conference but it’s scheduled only during specific time windows. Have some snacks and water on hand if the pace of the conference results in a missed opportunity for food. And be sure to get a good meal before heading out to nightly events.
- Foreign Germs & Hygiene – This isn’t something that’s usually at the forefront of attendee thoughts, but keep in mind that this is a conference where people from all over the world are mingling in close quarters and exchanging as many handshakes as conversations. [Pro Tip: frequent hand washing and liberal use of sanitizer products will help avoid getting an illness]. It’s typical to see portable sanitizer stations stationed around the conference areas and you will likely find many conference vendors handing out small Purell bottles as well. Take advantage of this. No sense in having your conference time cut short by an unexpected illness.
Please comment if you have other suggestions to share!