I’ve been lucky enough to attend Cisco Live twice with both instances being on the full conference pass. This year, due to out of pocket expenses and the overall higher cost of San Diego I am attending on the lower cost Explorer Pass. In years past I purely interacted with Cisco Live remotely. This guide is intended to combine the best of both to assist in making the most of the Explorer pass. With that in mind, lets get some housekeeping out of the way.
Cisco Live is fast approaching. In fact, so fast you better get your pass soon! That means time is running out on discounted. I grabbed the below screenshot off of the conference webpage. As you can see April 22nd is the end of the early bird discounts. I wanted to call this out as a “hey get your pass now!” reminder. Please reference the website as this is a static screenshot off of ciscolive.com which I have no affiliation with. That also means dates/prices/etc are all subject to change.
With the explorer pass there are a few things you miss out on but it’s not the end of the world. A couple of the things are material and while cool they don’t break the experience of the conference. The first if that years conference t-shirt.
For some, they enjoy collecting the shirts for every year they have attended. While you can’t get the conference specific shirt on the explorer pass the Cisco Store will be there and you can pick up all the Cisco related shirts you would like. Also, don’t forget in the World of Solutions there are usually plenty of shirts you can get your hands on via attending vendor demos, games, and various other events. This makes you interact with vendors, learn a few new things you may not have none, have a bit of fun, and still get some nice geeky shirts to wear around town.
The next thing is the conference bag. Again, this is something a lot of individuals like to collect over their years of attendance. For me I have too many bags around the house anyways. In years past you could donate your backpack at registration which I’ve known many people to do.
Another thing you will miss is the free certification exam. While this is a nice addition the overall value difference between the full pass and the Explorer Pass which in my eyes makes it a non-loss if I can attend the conference on the Explorer Pass vs Not attend the conference. Along the same lines, with the time this post is published the time frame to study for an exam to the average person is too short to bank on being ready for the exam anyways (for me at least).
This brings me to the thing I think is the largest loss between the Full Conference and Explorer passes. That is the breakout sessions. These are the large rooms full of like mind individuals getting their brain turned to mush from the amazing teachings of all the rock star speakers. Fear not though, these breakouts are recorded and usually posted within weeks for your viewing pleasure after the conference is over. Not being able to attend these real time doesn’t remove you from the ability to learn lots of information. This is where I will transition into how to make the most of the Explorer Pass. It starts with being social.
*For a full list of Conference Package Highlights visit CiscoLive.com
I want to get a really key thing out of the way first. IF YOU AREN’T ON TWITTER GET ON TWITTER! Sorry for being obnoxious and putting that in all caps but honestly do it. First of all, the Cisco Live Social Media team absolutely rocks! You post a question such a when is a keynote, when does anything happen, and they get back to you very quickly! Throughout the entire conference they send out all kinds of information about the happenings, times, news, even contests to have fun participating in. This is only the tip of the Cisco Live twitter iceberg though.
Follow #CLUS on twitter and you will find all sorts of people posting about cool things they are hearing, seeing, doing, and experiencing. This can aid you in finding out where things are happening so you can join in on the fun.
Twitter also gives you a way to potentially participate in the breakouts you can’t attend. Often times individuals attending breakout sessions tweet about it as it’s happening with the hashtag #CLUS. If you see one you are intrigued by follow them live tweeting it. You may even be able to responds with a question to them and if they can they might ask the question and get back to you. I can’t promise this obviously but something you can still do to participate.
The more you participate on Twitter the larger your online colleague base will become. I have to say, the online community is an amazing wonderful group of people who are always helpful, entertaining, inspiring, and insightful.
Now that we have the introvert side of participating in CLUS while attending (whether remote, Explorer Pass, or Full Conference Pass) out of the way I’m going to encourage you to be an extrovert. This is say from some, more difficult for others. For me, I’m a shy person, but interacting at the conference always brings me out of my shell for a little while.
First off, you will have opportunities literally all day and evening (and night if you choose to stay out late) to talk to people that have the same interests as you. Talk to people, start a conversation, you will learn so much!
Breakfast and Lunch are prime opportunities for this. There are people gathering at large tables and it is inevitable you will sit next to people you don’t know. Join in on conversation, start a conversation. It’s as simple as “what do you think XYZ meant at the keynote today?” It’s almost sure fire that you will end up talking about not only the keynote, but maybe a specific Cisco technology, a particular sector of work, or even non Cisco technologies. Of course this can derail to personal hobbies and the likes but that’s not a bad thing. You are meeting people and learning from them. For instance, I’ve had conversations go from CLUS, to work, to hobbies, and directly into work/life balance which has sparked ideas that have helped me tremendously with taking steps back when needed.
Once the conference is over for the day many people go out in groups to various places for dinner or sponsored events before calling it a night. I highly recommend you take up any offer to go to any of these if offered. It’s a more relaxed, layed back time to meet people in the industry. Get a group together yourself with people you’ve met throughout the day as well. Sometimes it’s nice to get a few people together outside of the masses to enjoy a quieter atmosphere.
Look around for your heroes! The authors you’ve read books by, the presenters you wish you could have attended their breakout. These people are wonderful and are happy to strike up conversations with you even if it may be short while they are traveling between presentations. Did someones books help you pass your exam? If you see them say thanks! Have a quick conversation with them. They would love to hear it. Did you enjoy the video of someones breakout session last year? Do you wish you could have seen this years? Did you have a question about it? If you seem them tell them how good their session was. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone there is looking to learn, including those teaching the sessions. People there are usually all willing to help spread the knowledge. Keep on eye on the Cisco Store page for Cisco Live for a list of Author Signing times.
Video, whether blogging or streaming has been on a major increase in the last couple years. Look for people with cameras. Last year I can name specifically the likes of TheLanTamer (CCIE Study/Lab Liverstream) and EngineeringDeathMatch (Head to Head IT Challenges) that all had cameras around and they were talking to, interviewing, documenting the people and experience of Cisco Live. These are great people to talk to as they love interacting and spreading knowledge. Below is an example of a fun game called the IT Inquisition put together by Engineering Death Match.
If you are still unsure about talking to strangers at such a large conference I understand. It can be intimidating with all of the brain power, celebrities, educators, authors, experts…I’ll stop there. You get the point. If that’s the case I want you to go to one place in particular. Go to the Social Media Lounge. A lot of people that are very interactive hang out there during downtime. These people are among the most amazing people I’ve met and welcomed me in with open arms the first time I attended and said “Hi” to someone I knew from twitter alone. We may look scary but I promise, once you see the fun everyone has and some of the people that hang out there you’ll be hooked into having fun yourself and enjoying great conversations in all categories of life.
Another group to look out for is the Cisco Champions group. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of this group for a few years now. At CLUS we won’t be in one spot together in any sense that makes us known however, we will surely be around. Last year a lot of the hangout space was at the PodCast booth. Also, many will wear a Cisco Champion shirt one day while onsite which can help indicate the person. This is a group of very fun individuals who love to talk tech, cooking, animals, anything really. It’s a great group of individuals to spark conversation with. Keep an eye on our banter during the conference by following the hash tag #CiscoChampion on twitter.
Another amazing gathering place of knowledge sharers, great content, and wonderful conversations around a very hot topic is the DevNet Zone. If you haven’t heard of DevNet or the DevNet Zone you need to. Go there, watch, learn, talk. Whether you are new to the idea of Automation and Programming networks (like myself), or one of the brain trusts pushing it forward (Talk to Dmitry, you won’t regret it) you need to go check it out and interact.
So you’ve made it to the bottom of this post. I know it’s more appropriate to put a tl;dr at the top of the post but honestly, I feel it belongs better down here. The short answer of getting the most out to the Explorer Pass (or even the Full Conference Pass) is to interact with people. Have conversations about anything and everything. The people networking always brings up interesting things that you will take home as a learning moment. You can read about EIGRP all day in books, blogs, and videos. It’s not often you can bring up a particular issue with anything including how do you do and manage XYZ and have someone around that probably has an idea for you. Enjoy your dedicated week with thousands of like minded, same interested people as you!
*Subnote: As you noticed I wrote this posts title specifically geared towards the Explorer Pass. This was done to help anyone that feels they shouldn’t attend because they can’t attend on the Full Conference Pass. Also, those that have to attend on the Explorer Pass because it’s their only viable option and they feel a little bummed about that. Don’t be, attend if you can! Come say hi! I’d love to chat with you as would many others!
See you in San Diego!