Last year, about this time, I penned a brief primer intended to help people make the most of their trip to Indianapolis for Exact Target’s annual marketer-stravaganza, Connections. While initially intended for first-timers, it turned out to be helpful for veterans as well. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising: every year is so uniquely different from anything that’s come before, it’s like starting all over again.

So it’s in this spirit that we’re back with the next logical installment: The new, improved Connections 2013 Survival Guide. Here’s what you need to know:

Start Banking Some Sleep.
I don’t know if physiology really works this way, but you need to put some shuteye in the bank. I said it before and it’s still true: No matter how comfortable your bed is at the J.W. Marriott, just know that you won’t be spending much time in it. This conference is very nearly a 24-hour-a-day event, so you’ll need to bank some sleep before you get here. It’s probably best to sleep a lot between now and then. A nap is probably in order right now.

Pack Appropriately. In Other Words, Bring Everything.
Weather in Indiana is as unpredictable as the “next big idea” from your Social Media Guru. Late September typically means clear, beautiful blue skies, warm days and cool nights. But it might snow. Or hail. Or a tornado could roll through town and really wreck your day. Probably not, but it could happen. So pack whatever you think you might need to survive clear sunny days and tornados. And bring a sweater: regardless of what’s going on outside, you can almost guarantee that one of the rooms you’ll be in will be hovering around 23°.

[caption id="attachment_351" align="alignright" width="230"]Table top display of orange cupcakes at midnight Midnight tabletop display of orange cupcakes in the JW Marriott lobby[/caption]

Steak-n-Shake Doesn’t Take Reservations.
Not even for CEOs Scott Dorsey or Mark Benioff. They might if they knew who they were, but they don’t, so they won’t. This isn’t a big problem, though, because most of your meals are provided for by the crack event planning team at Exact Target (led by the ever-capable Amanda Leet.) It’s the 4am burgers that aren’t provided, unless you can get Dorsey to pick up the tab (which has been known to happen.) On the other hand, snacks seem to be available at all hours of the day and night. I seem to recall a table covered in orange cupcakes appearing in the lobby well after midnight.

Everything is New. Again.
The rumors are true: It’s bigger and better than ever: 6,000 marketers and more than 2,000 Exact Target employees from all over the world will be there. That’s 2,000 more attendees than last year. That number alone is larger than lots of other conferences in total. Most of the sessions will be moved to the Indianapolis Convention Center to properly handle the crowd. Be prepared for this is by planning your days in advance and spending some time completing your schedule before you arrive. You can make snap decisions on the spot to sit in on something else, but the logistics might be tricky, so you’re better off having some idea of what you’d like to see, do, and hear before you arrive.

Don’t Fall Victim to Agenda-Induced Hyperventilation
Speaking of planning ahead, have you looked at the agenda? Holy cow. If so, you may be hyperventilating right now. Relax. Breath deeply. No one expects you to attend everything, and it’s impossible anyway. The key here is to cherry pick: Find the top five things you feel you must attend each day, get them on your schedule, and be as faithful as possible. And then know that there’s a good chance at least four of them may be pre-empted by something else. Acceptance and flexibility is key.

I should also note here that’s it’s perfectly fine to vote with your feet. If you realize something doesn’t quite fit what you’re looking for, get up and find something else. No one is watching you. Well, actually, depending on where you’re sitting, almost everyone will be watching you, but no one will be offended. I promise.

Get the Connections App
It’s free, which is cool. It’s orange, which is to be expected. It’s excellent, which is a nice surprise. Featuring the full schedule of keynotes, break outs, and concerts, you can plan exactly where you want to be and when. Bios of the keynote speakers are handy and the musical groups provide a small audio snippet as a preview. (Personally, I’m pretty fired up about Imagine Dragons.) A key feature? The maps section, which will show you the layout of both the Convention Center and the JW Marriott. It’s like a concierge in your pocket. Download it from iTunes today.

Release Your Inner Hipster
Ready to give your brain a break? Head to the top of the escalators to relive your days as King of Donkey Kong in the arcade found in the Social Lounge. Leave your quarters in your pockets and belly up to classics like Galaga, Pac Man, and – of course – Donkey Kong. If that’s not your thing, pick a partner and stake your claim to one of the custom built, orange-felted billiards tables. It’ll be like being a hipster, only cool(er.)

Show Your Social Side
It’s not considered rude to share thoughts and insights via social media during sessions, unless they happen to be one-on-one sessions in the hallway. For example, let’s say you bump into Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Starbucks. Decorum suggests it’s better to say, “Sorry, Marc, I didn’t see you standing there” than to post a photo of the coffee you spilled on his shirt to Instagram.

But inside the sessions, feel free to share what you learn as you go. There will be two main hashtags in use throughout Connections: #ET13 will be the tag used for everything that happens while learning, and #CloudCrawl will be attached to everything that happens while… well, not learning. (Follow #CloudCrawl to stay up to date on party locations and access details.)

Finally: Don’t Miss a Keynote
Same as last year and every year before: Don’t miss the big stuff. Trust me on this one. You’ll regret it if you do.

What did I miss? Oh, right… Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Anything else? Feel free to share your tips, tricks, and and anything else in the comments.

(Ed. Note: Tim Kopp, CMO at Exact Target, recently posted his Top 10 Insider Tips for Connections 2013. Definitely worth reading!)

 

 

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