As much as I dislike words like ‘takeaway’, it seems the easiest way to describe something worth, uh… taking away from the event. So here, in no particular order (and without implying any synergistic connection or claims of empowerment), are the primary things I learned in Indianapolis this week.

I learned, from a company much bigger than mine (and probably yours) that it’s possible to be totally self-absorbed while having no self-awareness. I thought it was impossible. I was wrong.

I also learned (from the same enlightening dude) that if you’re hoping to build your own credibility and likability, it’s not a good idea to do so at the expense of everyone else on the stage. And the people in the audience. And everyone else on the planet. The result? You come off sounding like an ass and people Tweet suggestions that you change your self-imposed title to “Digital Douchebag.” (Which, in case you didn’t know, is never a good thing.)

I learned that Michael J. Fox is bigger than life, better than most of us combined, and one of the most inspirational people living and breathing. His courage, humility, and obvious love for his wife and family were on display so strongly that you couldn’t help but love him. He offered a personal perspective on what many of us would consider a tragedy that was both surprising and genuine: “I tell people Parkinson’s is a gift,” he said. “The gift that keeps on taking, but a gift just the same.” And you know what? He meant it. This guy is a rock star.

I learned that while we all understand that our customers are individuals, we really need to begin treating them that way. We need to spend more time on improving strategy and execution, instead of taking the easy way out. We need to get significant buy-in from everyone who has a stake in our success, and then patiently explain how sending the right message to the right person in the right channel will benefit everyone.

I learned a lot from Charlene Li, in spite of her slide deck. Her intelligence and smooth delivery made her shine onstage; her PowerPoint presentation, not so much.

I learned that content is king and nothing works as well as blogging for lead generation. Not surprisingly, blogging more often (creating more content) works better than writing less frequently.

I learned “How to Save a Life.”

I learned that not testing at all is lazy, A/B testing is a good start, but Taguchi testing is like a rocket scientist married a physicist, had a baby and fed it nothing but steroids and Red Bull. Truly fascinating stuff.

Midnight lobby snacks at Exact Target's Connections 2012

Plan for success, prepare for everything. Very well executed Connections 2012.

I sat at lunch on Tuesday pondering the magnitude of this event. It was along the lines of putting together ten weddings a day for four days. And then adding a couple of extravagant parties for good measure. Still, I found I was continually surprised but the attention to detail put forth by Amanda Leet and her team. Examples: I returned to the JW Marriott late one night to find that they had left snacks of popcorn and cupcakes in the lobby (orange, of course.) They fearlessly planned an outdoor concert in Indiana in October, and were prepared with ponchos for rain and scarves and earmuffs for cold. To reward their planning, neither turned out to be necessary. The lesson? Plan to succeed, but prepare for absolutely everything.

I realized on Wednesday that there are “talkers” and there are “doers” in this great big, beautiful world of ours. When you attend an event like this, the talkers will expand your thinking and the doers will expand your doing.

Finally, I learned that hydration was the one thing missing in my Survival Guide. I learned this the hard way at 6a on Wednesday morning when I blacked out while standing in the bathroom. Twice. By the time I was done bouncing my head off hard surfaces, the bathroom looked like a crime scene and my face wasn’t much better. Knowing that I was due to take the stage that afternoon to discuss Healthcare and Services marketing, I considered — while still lying on on my back in the tub — backing out. But then I heard the voice of Michael Fox with his uncannily perfect comedic timing saying, “A woman gave birth in a tree. What have you got?”

I was on the stage that afternoon, cut and bruised and aching, completely hydrated. After all, you get out what you put in. And at Connections, they expect you to give it all you’ve got.