I'm not the Ninja you're looking for

With LeWeb starting tomorrow morning I couldn’t find a best timing to translate and update 13 trucs indispensables pour survivre en conférence technologique I’ve been maintaining in French since 2012.

The original post started with a list of epic fail situation I’ve faced while running tech conferences in Europe. I’ve added some tricks coming from my observation or some hot topics that have shaken conferences all over the world.

1. Act like 3G doesn’t exist

Even though you’re going in the ultimate first world place, act like 3G has not been invented yet. In other words, don’t rely on Internet and your mobile phone.

The first time I went to Vienna was a catastrophe. I recently changed my carrier plan, and to get a European 3G access, I needed an Internet access. The company I was working at recently got acquired by a huge corporation, and they did not activate my 3G plan outside of France. Fortunately, there’s a Starbucks at 20 metres from the monorail station so I was able to get my things together, but that’s not enough when you need to be mobile.

Since then, I’ve been writing everything down on a sheet of paper I keep in my passport: the hotel’s address, a map to go from my hotel to the conference venue and the name and address of my business contact in the country. The latter was pretty useful to answer the toll questions when I first went to Tel Aviv.

If you’re going to Paris, the city is well covered by the 3G and even the 4G, but not everywhere. There’s a strong lobbying against GSM relays and some streets like the ones around Baubourg are no GSM land.

2. Act like WIFI doesn’t exist

Even in 2014, WIFI is often the tech conferences weakest point. Things are getting better, but having enough coverage for everyone is still a technical bargain for the network teams. If you’re expecting 1000 visitors, consider you’ll have to provide an Internet access for about 3000 devices, laptops, tablets and smartphones. As a consequence, the 3G will also be saturated.

There’s worst: the 3G can be jammed by the event organisation. It happened to me at Eurovision Song Contest 2011. I was supposed to live tweet the even from the TV speaker cabin which was at the 6th floor without elevator of a 50,000 people capacity stadium. I had to go 50 metres from the stadium every time I wanted to post something because 3G was jammed inside. Talk me about a marathon and live coverage.

The best thing is to forget about Internet for the day unless you’re part of the event official bloggers team. Fetch your email at your hotel in the morning, upload your pics on Flickr before bed time. And enjoy the talks and people at the conference, that’s what you’re there for.

3. Make your appointments a few days ahead

Tech conferences are the best place to meet industry specialist you’d never meet otherwise. These people are usually busy and you’re certainly not the only ones who want to get in touch, so first arrived, first served. Make your appointments a few days before the event.

For every people you contact, send an introduction email telling who you are and why you want to meet them. Once the appointment is settled, write down a few things you want to ask or say so you won’t lose each other time.

4. Take a Kensington with 2 keys

Kensington are heavy, take useful place in your backpack and they’re probably the latest thing you want to carry when wandering around the world. They’re also very useful to leave your MacBook Pro at your front row table the time for you to go to the lavatories and back.

Kensington are provided with 2 keys, so take them both, one in your pocket and one in your backpack, no surprise that way.

5. Bring your anti-inflammatories

I spent the whole FOSDEM 2006 with a toothache so big the only thing I could do to calm the pain was slamming my head against the wall. Try it, you’ll see how good it is when you stop. Unfortunately, Belgium is a place where the only thing I could by freely was Paracetamol.

For that reason, I always take my pain medicine (Ibuprofen or stronger things) in my luggage, without the box or anything. Before flying, check twice if the substance is not strictly forbidden by the law.

6. Always carry 20€ of local money in your pocket

Being aggressed is not fun. Being aggressed and stolen your wallet with your passport, your plane tickets and your credit cards is enough to waste any trip.

Always carry 20€ of local money in your pocket. In most cases, it will be enough and you won’t have to get (and give) your wallet. I’ve also taken the habit to hold my passport and plane tickets in a pocket and my wallet in the other. I also leave my credit card at my hotel. These can save your life.

7. Make business cards with your picture on them

Make your business cards ahead of time so you won’t panic a few days before boarding because you still don’t have them. They’re a critical part of networking events.

Store your business card in a riding case. In some countries like Japan, exchanging business cards is a strong symbol. Giving a torn business card you kept in your jeans back pocket is considered an insult.

If you really want people to remind you, order business cards with your photo on them. People usually get dozens of them, and having your face printed on your business cards is a good way for them to remind who they met.

8. Take a spare laptop battery

It’s becoming hard to switch laptop batteries, but you can still carry a spare USB one. Most conference centre won’t provide you with a plug, and the organisers don’t always think about them either.

In most conferences, you’ll spend hours sitting in a room without accessing a plug. If you’re live blogging the event, you’ll also need some network access, to dump and process your photos… Without a spare battery you’re doomed.

There’s another reason why you should take a spare battery. If you can’t find a plug, your USB port will allow you to charge your smartphone, which can be life saving.

9. Take a strip

If there’s one thing worse than a tech conference without network, it’s a tech conference without a plug to charge your laptop.

The first time I went to the OSDEM (the FOSDEM ancestor), I found myself in a hacking room without a spare plug for my old Vaio. Since then, I never go to a tech conference without a 4 plugs universal strip. It’s huge, it’s heavier than the above mentioned Kensington, but it’s life saving and helps to make friends.

10. Buy a local SIM card

In most countries you can buy a very cheap SIM card with a data plan without giving your ID or needing to live in the country. This is very convenient to avoid being overcharged for international roaming. Don’t forget to give your friends your new cellphone number and change your voicemail message. Ensure your cellphone is unlocked before boarding and your local plan includes tethering.

Extra trick: if you have an iPhone, don’t forget to carry a paper clip so you can change your SIM card when you need it.

11. Take an extra pair of jeans

Even when you go to a single day even, carry spare jeans with you. A few years ago, I had to travel with a friend for a 1 day meeting. During the trip he got a bottle of red whine spilled on him. The rest is history.

Don’t count on buying an extra pair in case of emergency. You never know when those things happen and if you’ll find an open store when they do.

12. Carry a small bottle of water and an energy bar

Unless you’re lucky, most conferences are far from the centre of the city.

You’re never sure you’ll find drinking water and proper food at the venue. There may have a problem with the food supplier, you can get stuck in an elevator, or the vending machine can be broken.

Always carry a small bottle of water (I have a Starbucks thermos of Earl Grey) and something to eat. Avoid chocolate as it can melt during the day. It should be enough until you get back to your hotel.

13. Don’t carry confidential or copyrighted pirated material

Before boarding, delete that BlueRay RIP of Frozen you planned to watch in flight and your confidential company material even if your hard drive is encrypted. Upload your important data somewhere you can access online using strong cryptography starting with copies of your passport and plane tickets.

Don’t rely on encryption locally. Someone who has something to hide always looks suspect even though it’s perfectly legal stuff.

14. If you meet a woman at a tech conference

If you meet a woman at a tech conference, consider she’s a normal human being and act accordingly.

That’s all for today. I’ll probably update this post from time to time. Since then, let’s meet tomorrow at LeWeb if you want.

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