It’s time again for the weeklong whirlwind called the Esri International User Conference. This year’s event will be bigger and better than ever, likely with more sessions, more attendees, more co-located events and more opportunities to lose track of your personal and professional goals. Below are my suggestions for getting the most out of this intense and valuable week in California.
1) Make a List
All the ladies magazines strongly suggest that grocery shoppers make a list before heading to the store. That way, shoppers don’t buy what’s not on the list and they do buy what they need. Esri UC is a bit like a giant grocery store, one packed with information. To be sure you get your questions answered, bring a list and make getting answers to those questions a priority. You do not want to leave the store without something you need.
2) Read the Q & A
Esri puts out a lengthy document before the User Conference highlighting user questions with answers from the appropriate Esri teams. While there’s a bit of marketing going on, there’s also a good deal of valuable information provided. The document can be a basis for your list of questions and a pointer to the announcements to expect during the event. Take time to read this document before you arrive, either at work during the week, or if necessary, on the plane, train or drive to San Diego.
3) Avoid the Crowds
Everyone visits the map gallery on Monday night; it’s a fun and festive time. But if you want to get a good look at, or a good photo of, a map or display, visit later in the week. The Sail Area will be quiet and calm. Similarly, most people hit the big tech sessions (the Road Ahead and ones exploring new products) on Tuesday or Wednesday. These “first offerings” are typically packed. If you are staying later in the week, consider going to a “repeat performance,” which will be less crowded and may include key questions raised in the first offering.
4) Take Notes
You may or may not be required to write about, or present, what you learned to your employer or organization after you return from the week in San Diego. Still, it’s a good idea to document your personal “takeaways.” Aim to pull three key ideas from each session you attend and write them down on your favorite device (paper is okay, too!).
In fact, if you want to go back to the conference next year, I’d make it a point to share your list with your supervisor and/or colleagues over a brown bag lunch. That way supervisors and peers will know it was worth your time and expense.
5) Use the Exhibit Hall
You can just wander around the exhibit hall and pick up pens and T-shirts, but learning things and networking are far more valuable. Pretend the show floor is a museum; in many ways it is. See something you don’t recognize in a booth? Ask what it is and what it does and how it’s used. This year, I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to get up close and personal with a UAV (drone). Learn about the different form factors, limitations, and payloads they can carry. They will be a bigger part of all of our lives soon and most of us won’t get too many chances for a close encounter.
6) Visit the Islands
Esri teams are organized into product and industry areas and islands in the Exhibit Hall. Not sure who to talk to or where to start to get your questions answered? Visit the nice people in the Information Booth. They will often take you by the hand and introduce you to the right person. The Information Booth is one of my favorite ones on the show floor!
7) Shun Your Friends
Traveling to a conference with colleagues or toward old friends, sounds, and is, a bit like a party. It also tempts many, especially the shy, to stick with the people they know throughout the event. Don’t do it! Be brave and strike up a conversation with someone in the next seat before the tech session or track down the interesting person who asked the best question during the Q & A. You already have something in common: you selected the same session!
8) Do What Mom Always Suggested
Mom always said to wear comfortable shoes, bring a sweater, and carry a snack when heading out for the day. That’s important advice for the Esri User Conference as well. If you plan to be at the convention center for more than a few hours per day (and most of us are there for far longer) you’ll want to be comfortable, warm enough and well-fed. That comfort level will allow you to follow the rest of the suggestions above!
9) Use Social Media to your Advantage
Some very timely information about conference events (room changes, added sessions, etc.) may be found via social networks. Build your list of official and unofficial sources and hashtags to follow before the event if possible. Be wary of having your head in your phone too much; if you pay too much attention to social media, you may miss the value of face-to-face encounters.