I’m currently sat in the ServisAir Lounge at London Heathrow Airport, ready to head out to Washington, DC where I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to be one of the presenters at this years Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).
My First WPC
The first WPC I attended was in 2008 in Houston, TX. It was my first “real” overseas Conference – and honestly, I was blown away by it. WPC is huge (there are typically 10,000+ attendees) and it typical takes over whatever City it is being hosted at. I spent most of my time dashing back and forth between break-out sessions, trying to track people down to say hello to, and definitely burning the candle at both ends with late night parties and early morning starts. I came back exhausted.
In 2009 I was asked to be a speaker at a couple of break-out sessions at WPC in New Orleans. This time I was more prepared. I’d attended a number of different Conferences, and had learnt some tricks. The hours were long, but I packed in so much to that WPC that looking back, I’m really pleased with it.
So, whilst I’m hardly a Conference veteran, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up for make attending a Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference a successful one!
With 10,000+ attendees at WPC, if you don’t book some meetings with people *before* you get to the event, you’ll end up chasing your own tail. One thing I do is reach out to all our major partners and vendors to ask them if they’ll be at WPC. If they are, we schedule some time in the diary – early morning breakfasts, lunches at the Convention Centre, drinks after hours – make sure you’ve got people to meet at all times.
One way of putting your name out there for potential networking opportunities is to use the Microsoft WPC Connect Tool – here you can create a profile, ala LinkedIn, and put details about the type of people you’re trying to meet. For instance, my WPC Connect Profile highlights the fact that we, as a UK Partner, are looking to talk to US Partners who are investigating a UK presence.
The only downside to WPC Connect is that you might receive some meeting requests from people or companies that you really aren’t interested in meeting with. Be ruthless – your time at WPC is precious and you need to pick and choose your meetings.
There should also be time for casual networking. Each of the Microsoft Territories has it’s own regional lounge. You’re not restricted to your own – so breeze by, say hello to a few people and strike up some conversations.
It also helps to know some people from your own territory and get together with them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been catching up with someone who was on their way to a meeting that they’ve then invited me along to, which has been extremely useful. In short, you’ll find you can “tag along” with some great opportunities!
The same goes for visiting the Vendor Expo. Schedule a couple of hours in your diary – go along and meet people. If your own Vendor partners are there, schedule some time with them prior to the Expo starting.
For fellow SMB’ers, like me, the place to be seen is the Yellow Lounge. It’s where all the SMB’ers get together, and if you’re hoping to bump into that guy or gal you know from Twitter – you’ll no doubt find them in the SMB Lounge.
A quick tip – take business cards. TONS of business cards! You’ll go through them at a terrifying rate! If you’re like me, with a memory like a sieve, then carry a pen around and make notes on the business cards you take. Note things around the conversations you had, where you met, and follow up items. So much will go on at WPC that you’ll easily forget things – easier then if you make notes as you go along.
On that same subject, Kelvin Kirby of IAMCP recently suggested that it’s a good idea to invest in a Voice Recorder or some technology such as the Pulse Smart Pen which allows you to make digital copies of notes and link them to recorded audio. The thinking is the same – without some way to record all the info that will be thrust at you, you’ll invariably forget something without some sort of assistance.
There are an absolute TON of break-out sessions on everything from Cloud Computing, to SMB IT, to Windows Mobile.
Scour the sessions *before* WPC and schedule them in your Outlook calendar (remembering the time difference!) complete with locations. This is important, as WPC is typically such a huge location that you don’t want to be traipsing around trying to find the right room!
As well as syncing up your mobile device and Outlook with your agenda, print a copy out. Technology is wonderful, but sometimes it’s quicker to grab a piece of paper to see where you’re supposed to be.
You’ll often find that many of the sessions you want to attend clash with one another. Some of the bigger sessions are either repeated or recorded, so check to see if that is the case before booking yourself in. The big famous speakers tend to have their sessions recorded, so you can always watch them via Digital WPC later.
As for the Keynotes – they are nearly always broadcast live on-line. Whilst it’s very cool to be in the audience watching them in person, sometimes it’s an idea to watch them streamed over the Internet back at your hotel, to give you some time to either catch-up on those e-mails, or to have a relaxed breakfast after a late night. Which leads me on to…
Yes, there are parties at WPC. Tons of ‘em! I mean, every night of the week you can find yourself somewhere with free booze, free beer and a few sights to see!
The big parties to seek out are invariably the ISV Party, and the UK Party – which goes on until the wee early hours and is usually fairly raucous. There was a time when you could sneak a few non-Brits into the UK party – sadly, the bouncers have got bigger and the guest list smaller, so nowadays it’s tougher than ever to bring friends along. Trust me though, you’ll get asked!”
That said, I’m not part of an ISV and I’ve managed to go to the ISV party each year, so the key is to network, network, network until somebody offers you an invite.
My first WPC, I partied hard. I mean, really hard. As a result, by the end of the week I was barely alive. Lack of sleep is a killer, so remember you are at WPC for work, and with all those early morning starts, a late night can be a killer really quickly. You’ll be glad of your sleep by mid-week when the long days start catching up on you!
Talking of sleep – make sure that your diary for the week after WPC when you return home is light. You’ll be *shattered* and so in no state to do anything other than a light week.
If you’ve got a blog – blog about WPC as often as you can. I try to blog once per day as people are actively looking to find out what’s going on at the big event.
If you’re on Twitter, follow the #WPC10 hash-tag to be kept up to date on the breaking stories (and opportunities!) and reach out to people. Everyone back at home will be interested to read what you are up to, and you’ll pick up new followers at the Conference too, often with the opportunity to meet them in person.
Record details of your flights, hotel and meetings as Outlook Appointment with addresses. You’ll need the information to hand to get quickly between locations – don’t rely on Taxi drivers to know exactly where to go! You can also use a service such as TripIt to keep track of your itinerary and share with others.
When visiting Conferences such as WPC, I always try to “top and tail” the visit – arriving a couple of days before the conference starts, and leaving a couple of days after it ends. This gives you an opportunity to recover from jetlag upon arrival, as well as take some time to do some sight-seeing.
I’ve visited Washington, DC once before and some of the highlights for me were The White House, The Smithsonian National Air + Space Museum, as well as the beautiful wide open spaces. Why not book some sight-seeing in advance with your fellow nationals?
WPC in New Orleans last year was HOT. I understand from my buddy Dave Sobel at Evolvetech that his hometown of Washington, DC this year will be equally as hot and humid. Drink bottled water regularly, take loose fitting clothes (the dress code at WPC tends to be smart casual rather than business attire) and take an umbrella – it can rain a lot in DC and many of the WPC sessions involve walks between buildings.
If you haven’t already, invest in a Netbook computer. I own a Samsung nc-10 running Windows 7 Starter Edition, and it’s tiny enough to fit into my conference ruck-sack, allows a full day’s intermittent use on a single charge, and allows me to stay on-line and up-to date without being a hindrance to carry around.
Also invest in an International Charger power socket with a USB slot, or two. I bought a unit with interchangeable power pins, so regardless of whether I’m travelling to Europe or North America, I know I’m covered. The USB slot is helpful for keeping you iPod or Mobile Phone charged up.
Talking of Mobile Phones – International Roaming fees can be *ridiculous*. My carrier, T-Mobile, charges £1.20/min to both receive and make calls. Do yourself a favour, and look to keep costs down. Here’s a great article that has some useful tips on keeping roaming costs down. Most hotels and venues at WPC will offer free Wi-Fi, so make sure you’ve got Skype setup to make calls back home, and turn your Mobile Phone Voicemail off *before* you leave the country. You don’t want to get charged at International rates when people leave you voicemails saying “It’s not urgent… Call me when you get back”.
That said, you’ll find many of the calls you receive aren’t from back home, but are from fellow delegates looking to find you for meetings during WPC itself. This year I’ve tried a different strategy and bought a Virgin Mobile USA Pay-as-you-Go unit (cost = $8.99) to keep my own calling costs down. Before setting out, I’ve setup a VoIP UK regional number for incoming calls, and re-directed my Mobile phone to this. In turn, that VoIP UK number then forwards to my US Cellphone at vastly reduced rates, so I’m looking at around $0.20 per min to make and receive calls rather than T-Mobiles’ ludicrous £1.20/min, and my loved ones can call me at local call costs rather than International mobile rates.
I hope you find these tips of some use! If you’re heading to WPC this year, then please let me know – it’d be great to see you there!