This weekend sees myself and hundreds of my peers from the IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) Community visit the JW Marriott hotel in sunny Orlando, Florida for the start of Autotask Community Live 2012, one of the top IT industry conferences put together by Autotask – one of the biggest vendors in the IT Managed Service industry!
Whether you are a IT company making the transition to Managed Services, an established MSP, an MSP Vendor or like myself, an industry Consultant – Community Live will be a packed few days!
Now – while Community Live offers incredible opportunities and learning experiences, as a Conference veteran I can tell you that if you don’t plan your time for it correctly then it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all that is on offer. But with a little forward planning, your Community Live experience can be an incredible experience – enabling you to not only get the most from being there in person, but to make sure you take home with you the best ideas, fantastic opportunities and some strong relationships.
To that end, here are my five tips for making the most out of Autotask Community Live!
1. It’s all about the networking!
When I say that everybody within in the MSP industry will be attending Community Live, I’m not exaggerating. Community Live draws the most successful MSP’s and Vendors into one place – which presents you as a fellow attendee with an awesome opportunity to grow relationships and make new contacts.
But with so many people attending Autotask Community Live, if you don’t book meetings with key people you want to meet *before* the Conference, you may end up missing them in the hustle and bustle.
Schedule Meetings in advance
My advice? Reach out to Vendors and members of the MSP Community you want to meet *now*. Pick up the ‘phone. E-Mail and Tweet people to see if they are attending. And if they are, schedule some time over breakfast, lunch or dinner to meet up. Put the time in your diary and exchange cellphone numbers so you can stay in touch. Think you’ll just bump into each other at the event? Maybe, but maybe not – it will be really, really busy.
Meet new people
If you want to make new connections then check forums such as the LinkedIn Friends of Autotask Group to see who is attending.
You should also make time for casual networking. When you attend break-out sessions, make the time to chat with the people you’re sat by – compares notes on what you’ve just seen or are just about to see.
Do Vendor Research
Schedule time to visit the Vendor stands – a couple of hours or more to go along, meet vendors and understand their offering. You can do months worth of research into MSP tools in one afternoon! If you have a specific tool you’re considering implementing, organise to spend time with someone from the Vendor during Community Live – and remember that most Vendors will have some sort of show offer on, so Community Live is a good time to do deals…
2. Use Social Media
Want to know which are the hot break-out sessions to attend during Community Live? Want to hear the latest news, find out where the best parties are at, and catch-up with the real movers and shakers attending the show?
If you start watching the #CommLive hash-tag now, you can get a heads-up on much of what is happening during Community Live – especially the last minute arrangements.
Connect with people on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Let people know what you are doing, what you’ve enjoyed, who you have met.
And remember to participate in the conversation. Listening in to what is being said is fine, but you’ll get the most value by engaging in conversation with others. Don’t be shy now!
3. Make the most of the Break-Out Sessions
There are a ton of great seminars, break-out sessions and presentations at Community Live.
But don’t get overwhelmed by everything that’s on offer. Scour the session agenda and then schedule these sessions within your Outlook or Google Calendar complete with room locations. This is important because a Conference like Community Live can be very big and very busy!
Also, don’t rely solely on your gadgets. Print a copy of your itinerary out. Technology is wonderful, but batteries die, Smartphones crash and tablets freeze. Sometimes there is no substitute for whipping out an old fashioned piece of paper to help you know where you should be next.
Finally, actually be there during the sessions. You’re going to see some of the worlds top MSP companies and industry experts sharing their insight. Listen to what they have to say. Don’t multi-task between your e-mail, Facebook and occasionally glancing up at what’s on stage. Do yourself a favour and be there in the moment.
4. Have your equipment at the ready
I’ve already made mention of a good old fashioned pen and paper, and sometimes it’s the quickest and most reliable way of taking notes. Hint – don’t take one pen, take some spares. You’ll make plenty of friends by being the guy or gal who has spare pens!
Take plenty of business cards. Got plenty? Now take some more. Don’t be the person who says he’s run out of business cards on day one. Trust me, you’ll need twice as many as you think you will.
You’re going to meet a load of people, probably far too many to remember, so use one of the pens you’ve not yet given away and make notes on the back of business cards you’re given as memory hooks for when you return to the office.
Further reading – How to use the business cards you collect at networking events.
If you’re a blogger (as I am) or just prefer a good old fashioned keyboard, then you’ll want to take a Netbook as well as an iPad. Make sure they are charged up now, and invest in some power socket extenders. Remember how popular you made yourself with those spare pens? Well you’re going to be everyone’s favourite friend as they are trawling around the conference hall trying to find a spare power socket for their dying smart phone and you suddenly multiply the one taken socket into many free sockets for them.
Take a spare battery for your Smartphone. You’ll eat battery faster during the Conference than an Englishman at a free vendor buffet. Pack a separate charger for your hotel room to charge your devices overnight, and one to carry with you during the day.
5. Enjoy the Parties!
Ok, you’re not going to Autotask Community Live for the parties, but when you are there – you’ll want to attend them, right? It’d be rude not to!
The parties at Community Live are awesome. Expect to have a good time. But trust me when I say, Conferences like Community Live are tiring – very tiring – so don’t go spoiling your experience with a 6am party finish on the very first evening that leaves you in a gibbering wreck for the remainder of the Conference!
And remember to keep an eye on Twitter for whispers of the parties… and the parties after the parties…
Autotask Community Live is going to be big! You’ll want to do everything, see everything and meet everyone – but time is short, so you need to pick your spots and use your time at the event wisely.
By planning ahead, you can turn your Community Live visit from something good into something awesome, creating new relationships, offering you ideas that can help you transform your business, and opening up new opportunities to you.
If you’re attending this years Autotask Community Live, the enjoy and if you see me during the show – do say hello!