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A beginner's guide to the 2016 VMworld conference in Las Vegas

Your first conference can be overwhelming, especially if it's one as major as VMworld 2016 -- the key to surviving is creating a solid game plan.

VMworld 2016 is a big conference and if it's your first time at a big conference -- especially one in a city as expansive as Las Vegas -- it can be daunting. Here are a few tips covering a wide range of topics, including everything from choosing which sessions to attend to getting the full Las Vegas experience, to help you make the most out of your first VMworld conference.

Look after yourself

The first and perhaps most essential part of enjoying your VMworld conference experience is making sure you take care of yourself. With sessions running from the early hours of the morning well into the night, spread out over the course of five days, VMworld can be exhausting. That's why it's important to treat it as a marathon rather than a sprint.

Use your time spent standing in line to talk to people around you. I've made quite a few friends just by starting up a conversation while standing in line. You never know when the opportunity to network or learn something new will present itself.

Opportunities to sleep will be few and far between, so I recommend getting a few good nights of sleep in prior to your flight to ensure you arrive rested. As I said before, Las Vegas is expansive, and you'll be doing a great deal of walking, so be sure to pack a comfortable pair of shoes. I'd even go so far as to recommend bringing two, in case you want to alternate. Personally, I opt for a well-worn pair of Dr. Martens with some fresh insoles for extra comfort.

Food and hydration is also crucial. Las Vegas is situated in the desert and the heat can get intense. You can never drink too much water, especially if you're consuming alcohol. The VMworld conference offers a variety of free snacks, from granola bars to fresh fruit. Take advantage of this by stocking up on snacks and keeping them handy in your bag for moments when your energy is flagging.

Speaking of bags, try to carry the smallest bag you can. The smaller the bag, the less you have to carry, and the less fatigued you'll feel. Ditch your laptop, if you can, in favor of a much lighter phone or tablet. Don't forget to pack a battery pack or cable to keep your electronics charged. It's best to charge up your devices before you leave the hotel in the morning and again before you head out for the evening, but should you run out of juice, there are usually charging stations available at the conference venue.

Make the most out of sessions

It can be tempting to skip out on sessions since they're recorded, but let's be honest here -- you're never going to watch the recordings. It's better to physically attend sessions, but be savvy about which sessions you choose and make sure not to overload your schedule. Certain sessions, like deep dives, are designed for people with two to three years' worth of specialization, while less technical sessions are better suited for beginners or those with a business focus.

When attending a session at the VMworld conference, be sure to ask questions. Some sessions will have Q&A portions, others will not. If your session does not have a Q&A portion but you have a burning question, approach the speaker after the session -- most will be more than happy to elaborate on their topic. If you find yourself attending a session that doesn't live up to your expectations, don't be afraid to leave. Time at VMworld is precious, so don't waste it on a session that isn't valuable to you. If you're uncertain about a session, sit near the back and end of a row and try not to disturb other people as you leave.

While sessions may be the main draw, the VMworld conference has so much more to offer. Try approaching vendors at the Solutions Exchange to learn about new products or strike up a conversation with a community contributor in the Hang Space to discuss a recent article or blog post they published.

It may sound strange, but lines are also a good place to meet people. There are a lot of lines at VMworld, for everything from taxis to registration and sessions to food. Use your time spent standing in line to talk to people around you. I've made quite a few friends just by starting up a conversation while standing in line. You never know when the opportunity to network or learn something new will present itself.

Vegas, baby

Las Vegas is a weird and wonderful place. I come from a small city in a fairly conservative country, so I find Vegas really strange and exciting. There's an endless amount of things to do, so it's best to have a general idea of what major sights and show you want to see before you arrive.

Naturally, you'll want to visit a casino or two, if only to get an appreciation for what Vegas is all about. You don't even have to lay a single bet, as the people watching alone is more than worth it. Just remember that the gaming floor is designed to keep you there as long as possible -- try to resist its siren song, as there is far more to be seen and done.

Vegas is also known for its long-running stage shows. If you aren't interested in attending evening sessions or one the VMworld conference afterparties, consider taking in a magic act, a performance of Cirque du Soleil or a show from performers such as Britney Spears, Billy Idol and Celine Dion.

There's a lot to do off of the Strip. Visit Fremont Street, home to the old Strip and 1970s-era casinos, including the El Dorado Club and Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, get out of Vegas entirely and take a day trip to the Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

As you can see, VMworld 2016 is set to be exciting from both a business and pleasure perspective. With these tips you should not only survive, but also, hopefully, enjoy your first major industry conference.

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This was last published in August 2016

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