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How to Win at Dreamforce 2016

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For me, going to a tech conference is like being dumped in the middle of Bratislava without any pants or a map. I can manage not to die, but there are fleeting moments of intense anxiety and confusion.

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe you’re a person who dumped all their Magic cards in the trash so that they could store business cards in the little box. Maybe your handshake is less sea-creature-ish than mine. Good on you.

dreamforce 2016

If, however, you feel like a cat at a rave whenever you step onto the conference floor, I have good news for you.

You can still win at Dreamforce. You have the tools to make this possible. You can walk away with a headful of knowledge, a pocketful of business cards, and a bag full of sweet, sweet swag.

Come prepared, leave alive

So before you even head out to the airport – you get there three hours early, right? – you need to pack a sort of bug-out bag for the conference. I would leave the machete at home, though – the TSA doesn’t seem to love them.

In your conference bag you will need:

  • A fat stack of business cards with your name spelled correctly. I leave my phone number off these because talking on the phone makes me sweat behind my knees.
  • Some shoes that aren’t heels or sandals. Last year, I got lost in the Bellagio and walked a bonus mile and a half before I even got to the conference floor.
  • A backpack that you can comfortably wear for eight hours and that you can fit your head inside. You know, in case you just need to get away from the world for a few minutes.
  • Layers upon layers. San Francisco’s temperature is more prone to variation than a Phish concert. Bring thin layers to keep the cool out at night and the vacuum solos in during the day.
  • It’s day three, you’ve met with just shy of a million people, and – good lord – they’ve met with people too. Hand sanitizer is a must. This is effectively an adult daycare, and you do not need little Tommy’s snot all over your manicure.

Things you will absolutely not need:

  • A water bottle. You will end up with fifteen of these. By the final day of Dreamforce, you’ll be bracketing these things like March Madness teams, bringing only the finest powder-coated bottles home.
  • A pencil and paper. I carry these around to make notes, but I also am unafraid to look like a refugee from the That ‘70s Show set. Take notes on your tablet, phone, or fake tablet – cardboard wrapped in white fondant is an excellent choice.
  • Your zipcase full of U2 CDs. U2 is playing on Wednesday, so you’ll get your fill of The Edge in-person. I guess if you want Bono to misspell your kid’s name on a CD you could bring one along for him to sign.

Get your schedule right

Dreamforce is rocking over 2,000 individual sessions over the four days. Unless the dream where you’re suddenly sitting in the final for a Latin class you never attended is a fun one for you, you’re going to want to narrow down the options before you show up.

Luckily, Salesforce has broken the Dreamforce session down into 16 industries, 27 themes, 18 roles, and 25 products. You also have three different skill levels to narrow down by, giving you plenty of ways to get a shortlist of the best sessions for you.

When you’re making your list, remember to build in some downtime. This is a conference for over 150,000 people. You can’t meet them all, but you can give yourself a mild heart attack. Take a break as often as you feel the need to and just wander the conference, step outside, or get a cup of coffee (Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, and Sightglass all make my list, by the way).

If you’re looking for some fun sessions, here are my top five.

  1.      3D Printing: The Future is Now – This session promises features such as “the Octobot, a 3D-printed, farting, gummy octopus.”
  2.      Admin Comedy Club – Salesforce jokes. I can’t think of anything funnier.
  3.      From Corsets to IoT Smart Clothing – Great name and an interesting history of how a clothing company made the leap into the future.
  4.      Hacking the Human Body – Watch a demonstration of how health simulations are making the medical world a more personalized place.
  5.      Negative Brainstorming: Harness Your Inner Evil Genius for Ideation – This is awesome. It’s a process that essentially has you think up ways to make you customers miserable and then turn those ideas on their heads to get real, useable insights.

Make/bring a friend

The best way to be lost is with someone else. We’ve all seen the Lord of the Rings – when things get heavy, it’s nice to have someone to lean on. Or to carry you up the side of a mountain while you’re both chased by a sort of half-man with a jewelry obsession.

Going to a conference with another person – especially one as big as Dreamforce – is a great way to build some camaraderie. You share notes from the sessions you go to, you chow down together, and you have the random conference bump-ins that make huge settings seem manageable.

If you don’t have a friend to bring, make a friend. There are plenty of networking events where you can search the dark corners for other terrified guests who could use a buddy.

Find solace in Capterrans

If you didn’t bring anyone and you strikeout at the networking, you can always count on Capterra. Swing by our booth #1813 and we’ll gladly give you a high-five, a pleasant smile, or a small bag to throw up in – don’t hold me to the bag thing, I’m not in charge of swag.

We’ll also be running our own session on building a smart and efficient technology stack for your marketing program. In #MarTech Demystified: Build Your Small Business Marketing Stack, we’ll teach you how to move beyond the basics of CRM and into the world of the successful marketing gurus.

If you come by the booth, you can also leave reviews of software that you’ve used. We’ll give you some Starbucks love and a chance for big prizes throughout the week.

So just remember, pack smart, plan ahead, make time for breathing, and try not to forget to eat. 150,000 people can be overwhelming, but you can win at Dreamforce with just a little planning and a can-do attitude.

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About the Author

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is an analyst at CEB. His background is in retail management, banking, and financial writing. When he’s not working, Andrew enjoys spending time with his son and playing board games of all stripes.

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