I’ve attended probably a dozen CAD conferences over my career to this point in various capacities including end user, CAD manager, reseller employee, press, and user group representative. Regardless of what capacity you are attending, it is easy to get to the conference and waste a lot of time. There is only so much time, in this case really just two days. If you don’t have a plan of attack, this time can slip through your fingers before you know what’s going on. Here are some suggestions on how you might prepare for Solid Edge University to make the most of your time.
Download the Agenda
The agenda is online, and downloadable in PDF format. Plan the sessions that you absolutely want to go to. Hands on sessions in my experience always fill up first, usually as soon as sign ups are available.
Develop your Personal Schedule
I usually use Excel, but you might have access to something else you like, such as Google Calendar, Microsoft Project or something else. If you want to talk to someone specific, try to contact them before hand and schedule a time. Be open to lunchtime meetings, or connecting during other events. Your time will be full, but you may be able to have a meaningful discussion during the reception on Monday night or Tuesday during breakfast. I’m not a morning person, but at CAD conferences, I’m ON 100% of the time. This is event where you will get opportunities you won’t get otherwise.
Don’t skip important stuff. You will regret it if you skip the main speakers. The guy from NASA, the guy from Engineers Without Borders, Karsten, Chuck Grindstaff, and Dan Staples all have important things to say that you won’t be able to hear any other time.
You might even go to the extent of preparing questions for speakers. If you plan to go to a breakout session, you might write a list of things you want to get from the session. If your questions aren’t answered during the presentation, most sessions have Q&A, and if not, stop the speaker in the hall later and ask him/her directly.
Get to meals and things early. Determine which events will have lines, and either go early or late to those. If you have to wait in line, try to find someone to talk to in line so your time isn’t just spent waiting. New connections is a huge part of how Solid Edge University can be a benefit to you.
Get Your Gadgets in Order
For the gadget-obsessed, conferences can be overwhelming. Should you bring your smartphone, tablet and laptop? How about a dedicated camera? Personally, I like to bring a phone and one other device I can type with and do some blogging. This year it will probably be a Microsoft Surface, a sort of tablet/ultrabook hybrid with a real keyboard and that can run Solid Edge.
If you plan to take pix, and you have a DSLR, you don’t really have a choice, you gotta bring the camera. The line is a little blurry between a compact digital camera and a phone. I often take my compact camera because it is easier to get focused shots, and the flash doesn’t kill the battery as quickly.
Put the agenda and your own personal schedule in an easy to access place on all your gadgets. The biggest challenges about gadgets is making sure you have enough media to store recordings, battery life for a whole day of activity, and connectivity where you need it. Remember, wifi at conferences like this can be iffy. They will sometimes also block 4G signals. It’s not always up to the organizers, sometimes the facility charges a ridiculous amount of money to provide wifi. The bigger the crowd, the bigger this problem is, and it varies by facility. Sometimes conferences have press-only wifi passwords, or something just for employees. If you need something special, ask for it, you might be able to get a favor.
I make sure to bring an external battery for my phone, and a AA and AAA recharger in my room because plugs aren’t always available when you need them. Thumb drives and SD/microSD cards are also important in case you need to share data with someone quickly. If you’re traveling internationally, remember to bring power adapters for US access.
Oh, yes, and with regard to gadgets, make sure to turn down all those cute notification sounds and ring tones during public sessions. Just common sense, but every time, someone forgets. Don’t be that guy.
Manage your Vices
Last year at Solid Edge University I had a situation that I never mentioned where someone who should have known better did something that probably affected their career negatively. After a couple of drinks, make sure that you’re still in control. If you can’t handle it, don’t risk it. In general most people know this instinctively, but just because of my experience last year, it seems some people need reminding. There may be an open bar and buffet at some events. Know your limits, mistakes of this sort can hurt your career.
You are going to hear people say things you want to remember. So record stuff. Take notes. Shoot quick movies. Whether you do this with some gadget or a pen and paper, you need to be able to remember stuff that’s important to you. If you’re blogging you need lots of pictures and notes.
Last year, Solid Edge made the presentations available after the show. They will probably do the same this year, although I can’t say for sure.
Above all, remember that this is a professional event with a lot of opportunity, but it’s not a stiff, formal affair. The conference is arranged for you to have fun, make a lot of new friends, and learn a lot of stuff. Make sure to introduce yourself to people you want to meet, bring a pocket full of business cards, and be ready to be worn out at the end of your trip.