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The 10 Smartest Things to Do at the RSA Conference

by Susanne Gurman on Wednesday September 28, 2016

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Even for the most experienced of tradeshow goers, RSA can get overwhelming. The show’s continued growth, which has now expanded into multiple buildings of the Moscone center and beyond, combined with the amount of simultaneous events/sessions/classes taking place from dawn straight through to the wee hours of the night is dizzying. Add to that the sheer noise levels generated in the exhibit halls, the massive crowds everywhere, and the pressure of fitting 4 weeks’ worth of business into 5 days, anyone is subject to anxiety and/or panic attacks. Here are the 10 smartest things to do to keep your sanity while at RSA.

1. Make a plan.

Be sure to prioritize your days and schedule in accordance with the goals you have in attending RSA. Figure out as much as you can about what is going on before you get on-site so you can look at the conference from a "big picture" perspective and time things out correctly. This is an expansive conference that, if not planned properly, could leave you feeling enervated or result in a trip that resembles more of a Vegas vacation than a security conference.

2. Don’t stick to the plan.

One of my favorite lines in cinema is from character Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean. He says, “The code (of the Order of the Brethren) is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules.” And that is exactly what your plan should be, a guideline. Have your plan to keep you in check, ensuring that you are achieving what you set out to do, but don’t be afraid to soak in something that has piqued your interest while at the show – even if it didn't jump out at you on paper during your pre-show planning. For example, perhaps you walk by the "Open Garages – Learn How Technology Drives Your Car" and find that it’s calling your inner tinkerer. Go for it. That could be the type of experience that can either make your trip or end up being one you’ll regret missing. However, to counter that point, if you’re in a session and it is not at all what you had hoped, don’t hesitate to step out and try a different session. Side note: Be sure to give feedback on both good and bad sessions so RSA can keep their sessions up to par.

3. Familiarize yourself with the landscape.

Prior to the conference, try to familiarize yourself with as much of the conference session locations, agenda, exhibitors, local neighborhood, and weather. This will help you time out your day better – a walk back to your hotel to get a more comfortable pair of shoes can cost you precious session time, trying to find the session room can cost you a seat, and so on. And there is little in life more miserable than trying to learn while late, standing, on tired feet, or wet because you forgot an umbrella.

4. Learn both inside and outside the session room.

While everyone knows RSA does a great job at developing their conference sessions, there is so much to be learned outside of the session room as well. Be sure to introduce yourself to folks around you – after all, they ended up next to you because they have the same interest you have. Growing your professional network is one of the better, long term benefits of attending RSA. Be sure to check out new technology vendors in the exhibit hall. Reconnect with existing vendors. The exhibit hall has a lot to offer (free food, prizes, giveaways and solutions to your business problems), so find the technology and services that appeal to you, mark them on your tradeshow diagram, and be sure to stop at those booths on your tour through the hall.

5. Take chances.

This advice goes out to those in the industry who would rather spend time with computers than humans. You know who you are. You walk the tradeshow floor directly in the middle of the aisle, trying as hard as you possibly can to not make eye contact with any booth staffers. You grab giveaways only if the person handing them out doesn’t appear to be engaging in conversation.

If you can flip your perspective to see the exhibitor’s view of the tradeshow experience, you may feel more at ease with engaging in conversation with them. Exhibitors search the crowd for a kind face, someone they can have an engaging conversation with and explain how they can help you and your organization. They are prepared based on how little or much you know about their offering or their particular expertise. From an exhibitor's point of view, it's easy to feel like a robot from spending long hours staffing your booth, so it’s the real conversations that make the most memorable impressions. Exhibitors don’t just want to give you their pitch, that want to help you learn.

6. Ask the right questions.

While we’re on the topic of the tradeshow floor, there is one other thing you’ll likely notice when you’re walking the aisles: every booth seems to be saying the same thing. "Best of breed cyber threat defense," "ultimate endpoint protection," "the only security solution you need," and so on. Booth signage can only say so much before there’s too much to read and you don’t even try, so it’s important that you ask the right questions to get a good sense of what makes one service or technology different from another. Here are a few ideas:

  • Who do you consider to be your biggest competitors?
  • What makes you different?
  • Who are your customers? What industries rely on your solutions or services the most?

7. Take notes.

There is so much information to consume throughout the day, and with the myriad of options for unwinding at night, you don't want to rely on your memory for anything. Information overload, especially when coupled with lack of sleep, equals mush for brains. Take notes on the back of business cards you collect highlighting the conversation(s) had, make notes in the catalog program or on the exhibit hall map, or take notes on your device – whatever method works best for you, you'll no doubt be happy that you have something for reference long after the conference is over.

8. Be safe.

San Francisco is a beautiful city, but as with any major city, it's important to look out for your safety while there. Outside of the general data security travel risks of which we're all aware (unsecure Wi-Fi networks, higher potential for device theft, prying eyes at airports or on planes, etc), you’re in a major city that has seen a 20% increase in property and violent crimes over the past several years. Be aware of your surroundings and know where you’re going. Neighborhoods can vary dramatically block by block in the city – one wrong turn and you can find yourself in uncomfortable surroundings. Don’t leave valuables in plain sight and try not to walk the city streets alone at night.

9. Have fun.

There are so many fun things to see and experience at the show, at the parties at night, and in the city! Be ready to step outside of your comfort zone and have some serious fun while you're there!

10. Plan to be heavier when you leave.

Whether it’s because of the large quantities of good food, the hundreds of free items you collected in the tradeshow hall, or a combination of both, it’s always wise to make sure you leave extra space in your luggage or bring an empty bag as well as comfortable travel clothes for your return home.

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