Conquer Dreamforce with Pro Tips on Keynotes, Coffee, Tasty Cocktails, and Managing Your Schedule

I’ve been seeing a lot of “Dreamforce Survival Guides” and “Dreamforce Tips” popping up as we get closer to the big event. While some of them are good (I’ve linked to a few below), some of them are just crap SEO / tweet fodder thrown together at the last minute.

Here’s the deal – this will be my 4th Dreamforce, and the way I describe the experience to people is that it’s like sticking your finger in a light socket and keeping it there for four days. It’s intense. It’s a nonstop barrage of information and stimulation. It’s awesome. BUT if you don’t manage your time and energy, you will burn out quickly and miss out on much of the experience.

So how do you make the most of your Dreamforce experience without needing to take the following week off to recoup? Here’s my strategy…

Skip the keynotes

I’m sure the folks behind Dreamforce won’t be thrilled with this one, but let’s think about it…unless you camp out for seats or are part of the upper echelon of Friends of Marc, you’re not going to be sitting close to the action; you’re going to be watching a big TV because Benioff will be ant-sized from where you’re sitting. And sit you will…for hours at a time on a chair that was not built for comfort. The keynotes rarely, if ever, start on time, and they are notorious for running way long. So there goes a couple hours of your day right there. Unless you really need to see or be seen my Marc, my advice is to watch the keynotes from somewhere comfortable; you’ll hear the exact same messages, and your butt won’t fall asleep.

Prioritize sessions…you can’t see everything

My #1 Dreamforce rookie mistake was packing every single day end-to-end with sessions. By the second day I couldn’t sit through another session to save my life. You have to choose wisely – pick one “must see” session each day, with a second “should see” session, and a “could see” third session. If you’re making it to more than three sessions each day, I salute your attention span.

When the office calls, don’t answer the phone

Dreamforce is your time. Your company will not go out of business with you being out of the office for the week, despite how many times you hear the words “critical,” “urgent,” or “OMG YOU HAVE TO CALL ME NOW OR THE EARTH WILL EXPLODE!” in your voice messages. Honestly, if you can’t tear yourself away, stay home. I was that guy last year huddling next to the only free power outlet in Moscone center hacking away on projects when I should have been networking or sitting in a session.

Turn off all email notifications

Similar to taking phone calls, if you’re continuously allowing yourself to be distracted by email, you’re not going to get much out of Dreamforce. If your phone buzzes you every time you get an email, turn that notification off. If you use Outlook, first of all I’m sorry, but second of all make sure you don’t have new email notifications popping up while you’re trying to take notes at a session. Just say no to email while you’re in sessions or attending functions; schedule times throughout the day where you give yourself 10-15 minutes to read and respond to email, but beyond that shut it off.

Leave extra space in your luggage for swag

Hats, shirts, stuffed monkeys…you will pick up a lot of swag at Dreamforce, and as cool as some of it is and as much as your kids will love it, it’s not worth having to buy another bag from one of the tourist shops and paying $75 to check it on your flight back. Leave some room in your bags, because you will come home with more than what you left with.

Let your freak flag fly

Be social. And no, I’m not talking about tweeting or posting to Facebook. I’m talking about getting out and feeling the energy of the Salesforce community. I won’t belabor this point since it has already been brought up in other Dreamforce how-to posts, but seriously…you’re away from the kids, you’re away from the office, and you’re in one of the greatest cities in the world. Enjoy the hell out of a party or twelve.

Put 30 minutes on your calendar to stop by your hotel

If you have a hotel close to Moscone, go there before you head out for the Dreamforce parties. There are two reasons for this. One, you don’t want to lug around your bag all night – it will get heavy as you party hop through SoMa, and you run the risk of forgetting it somewhere. Two, after having lived in San Francisco for a number of years, I can tell you that you never know what the weather will be like from one hour to the next and you will probably have to add a layer or two as the sun goes down. I had to drop $100 in the Dreamforce store last year to pick up a fleece and a hat because it was bitter cold once the sessions ended and evening set in.

Install Evernote on your phone, tablet, and laptop

If you already use Evernote, you already know what I’m talking about. If you don’t already use Evernote, drop everything you’re doing (after you’re done reading and retweeting this post, of course) and install it on every device you own. Learn how it works (should take about 10 minutes), and use Evernote to capture everything important from Dreamforce. It’s the only way you’ll remember everything – this will be an intense experience, you will meet many people, and you will learn many new things; it wouldn’t be fair to your brain to expect it to remember 1/4 of what you see at Dreamforce, so capture everything in a trusted system like Evernote.

Leave the paper behind when you pick up materials

This is another one that I know the Dreamforce marketing folks won’t like, but we need to send a message that in this day and age we don’t need to kill so many trees on glossy collateral that most of us won’t read. It killed me last year to get that stack of sponsor handouts and the paper Dreamforce guide, when everything else in my life is 100% digital. Not to mention, it’s at least another couple of pounds that you’ll have to lug around with you all day.

Pack healthy snacks

You will get hungry in between meals, and there aren’t a ton of options around Moscone for healthy snacks. If you happen to be near a sweets table before it gets picked clean, leave the brownies and cookies alone and stick to something with less sugar and more protein…getting through a full day of the Dreamforce madness is difficult enough, but trying to do it after loading up on fatty, sugary snacks is just going to put you into a coma.

Starbucks is not the only coffee option

There will come a point where you feel like you could kill for coffee, and there never seems to be any inside Moscone when you really need it. It will appear as though the Starbucks on 4th St. is your only option, and indeed there will be 40-50 people in line who have come to that same conclusion. Do yourself a favor, walk right past the Starbucks and turn left after crossing over Mission St. Walk about a block, cross 5th St., and Mint Plaza will be on your right. Make your way to Blue Bottle Coffee. You’re welcome.

Do not call San Francisco “San Fran” or “Frisco”

Just don’t. Please. Don’t.

Beer before liquor…

Call this a “pro tip.” The Dreamforce expo hall usually has at least one or two nights where beer and wine are available as you’re meandering the endless aisles of sponsors. As tempting as it might be to grab a beer or two before heading out, just make sure that you’re sticking with beer the rest of the night. Chances are, as sponsors try to out-party each other, you will encounter some tasty specialty cocktails along your party crawl…if you’ve warmed up on beer, just make sure you know what you’re getting into if the mixed drinks are too tempting to resist. Dreamforce hangovers are not fun.

I hope to run into you at Dreamforce! It’s going to be a great time, and hopefully one or two of these tips helps make what is already an unbelievable experience even better. Are we following each other on Twitter yet? No? Well, let’s get on that: @topalovich.

Mike Topalovich Salesforce Technical Architect in Chicago
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