10 Ways to Get the Most Out of RSA 2020

By Susanne Gurman

Posted on Feb 19, 2020

RSA is nearly here and with 10 years’ experience attending this event, I encourage you to check out my top 10 tips for getting the most out of your conference experience!

Even for the most experienced of tradeshow goers, RSA can get overwhelming. The show’s continued growth now expands into multiple buildings of the Moscone Center and neighboring hotels. Overlapping events/sessions/classes take place from dawn straight through to the wee hours of the night. All this and more makes this jam-packed week dizzying. Add to it the sheer noise levels generated in the exhibit halls, the massive crowds everywhere, San Francisco’s declining state, and the pressure of fitting 4 weeks’ worth of business into 5 days would make anyone subject to anxiety and/or panic attacks. Here are the 10 smartest things to do to keep your sanity while at RSA.

1. Make a plan.

Be sure to prioritize your days and schedule in accordance with the goals you have in attending RSA. Figure out as much as you can about what is going on before you get on-site so you can look at the conference from a "big picture" perspective and time things out correctly. This is an expansive conference that, if not planned properly, could leave you feeling enervated or result in a trip that resembles more of a Vegas vacation than a security conference.

  • Keep the time zone change in mind – far too many times have I seen missed opportunities due to this issue. Those who don’t reside in the Pacific Time Zone always seem to have issues with calendars syncing correctly. I see many folks who accept, say, a 1:00 PM PT meeting only to show up for it at 10:00 AM. It’s an ongoing struggle that I haven’t found a solution for.
  • Be prepared with business cards and grab business cards of colleagues who are not able to attend.
  • Leave plenty of time to get from here to there – especially if, like me, this event is the “high school reunion” you want to attend to happenstance a degree of catch-up and connect with contacts/former colleagues/partners/etc.
  • Plan for 45 minutes to get your registration badge. Every year, this causes for massive delays due to the long lines on both day one and day two.

2. Don't stick to the plan.

One of my favorite lines in cinema is from character Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean when he says, “The code (of the Order of the Brethren) is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules.” And that is exactly what your plan should be, a guideline. Have your plan to keep you in check, ensuring that you are achieving what you set out to do, but don’t be afraid to soak in something that has piqued your interest while at the show – even if it didn't jump out at you on paper during your pre-show planning. For example, perhaps you walk by the "We the People: Democratizing" and find that it’s calling your inner liberalism. Go for it (Wendy Nather is the presenter for this session by the way and I highly recommend attending anything she presents.) Off the plan experiences can either make your trip or end up being one you’ll regret missing. However, to counter that point, if you’re in a session and it is not at all what you had hoped, don’t hesitate to step out and try a different session. Side note: Be sure to give feedback on both good and bad sessions so RSA can keep their sessions up to par.

  • In addition, new to RSA this year is their engagement zone, see here for more details.

3. Familiarize yourself with the landscape.

Prior to the conference, try to familiarize yourself with as much of the conference session locations, agenda, exhibitors, local neighborhoods, and weather. This will help you time out your day better. This is critical because the event is so big, a walk back to your hotel to get a more comfortable pair of shoes can cost you precious session time, trying to find the session room can cost you a seat, and so on. And there is little in life more miserable than trying to learn while late, standing, on tired feet, or wet because you forgot an umbrella. Some things to keep in mind that support the importance of this piece; There’s 667 exhibitors spread across 4 locations. Hundreds of sessions spanning 24 topics. Hotels hosting RSA attendees are far enough where it’s either a 20 minute walk or pending upon time of day, over 40 minute drive. You could have something on Minna Street, but the Yurba Buena Gardens divides the street into two, so which side is it on?

  • For times when it gets all too overwhelming, check out this blog about quiet places near the Moscone Center to either regroup or have a productive/uninterrupted conversation.
  • Carry an umbrella at all times – it is almost 100% guaranteed it will rain at least once during the conference.
  • Change your shoes every four hours (trust me on this one, it’s a real difference maker no matter how comfortable a shoe you’re wearing).

4. Learn both inside and outside the session room.

While everyone knows RSA does a great job at developing their conference sessions, there is so much to be learned outside of the session room as well. Be sure to introduce yourself to folks around you – after all, they ended up next to you because they have the same interest you have. Growing your professional network is one of the better, long term benefits of attending RSA. Be sure to check out new technology vendors in the exhibit hall. Reconnect with existing vendors. The exhibit hall has a lot to offer (free food, prizes, giveaways and solutions to your business problems), so find the technology and services that appeal to you, mark them on your tradeshow diagram, and be sure to stop at those booths on your tour through the hall.

  • Network at events
  • Say hello to the person sitting next to you in a session
  • Think how these folks could fit into your world. For example a new contributor for your blog or candidates for your cyber security team

5. Take chances.

This advice goes out to those in the industry who would rather spend time with computers than humans. You know who you are. You walk the tradeshow floor precisely in the middle of the aisle, not make eye contact with any booth staffers in fear of conversation. You grab giveaways only if the person handing them out appears to already be engaging in conversation.

If you can flip your perspective to see the exhibitor’s view of the tradeshow experience, you may feel more at ease with engaging in conversation with them. Exhibitors search the crowd for a kind face, someone they can have a meaningful conversation with and explain how they can help you and your organization. They are prepared based on how little or much you know about their offering or their particular expertise. From an exhibitor’s point of view, it’s easy to feel like a robot spending long hours staffing your booth, so it’s the real conversations that make the most memorable impressions. Exhibitors don’t just want to give you their pitch, that want to help you learn.

  • Have a meaningful conversation with exhibitors. You will learn a lot.

6. Ask the right questions.

While we’re on the topic of the tradeshow floor, there is one other thing you’ll likely notice when you’re walking the aisles: every booth seems to be saying the same thing. "Best of breed, next generation, cyber threat defense-in-depth visibility, real time actionable insights, etc.” Booth signage can only say so much before there’s too much to read and you don’t even try, so it’s important that you ask the right questions to get a good sense of what makes one service or technology different from another. Here are a few ideas:

  • What business problem do you solve?
  • Who do you consider to be your biggest competitors?
  • What makes you different?
  • Who are your customers? What industries rely on your solutions or services the most?

7. Take notes.

There is so much information to consume throughout the day, and with the myriad of options for unwinding at night, you don't want to rely on your memory for anything. Information overload, especially when coupled with lack of sleep, equals mush for brains. Take notes on the back of business cards you collect highlighting the conversation(s) had, make notes in the catalog program or on the exhibit hall map, or take notes on your device – whatever method works best for you, you'll no doubt be happy that you have something for reference long after the conference is over. You don’t want to be kicking yourself later because you can’t remember what company Bill Smith was from, even though you were certain at the time, the information would never leave your short term memory.

  • Keep a notebook, pen and phone charger on you at all times.

8. Be safe.

With San Francisco, like any major city, it's important to look out for your safety while there. Outside of the general data security travel risks (of which we're all aware being we’re all in “security” so I won’t go into those - insecure Wi-Fi networks, higher potential for device theft, prying eyes at airports or on planes, etc). San Francisco is a city that has seen a rising frustration over the past several years due to crime, cleanliness and homelessness, 4000 homeless people occupy the streets of San Francisco today. Coupled with the unfortunate reality of a new and dangerous virus spreading globally makes #8 probably the most important topic.

  • Local safety. Be aware of your surroundings and know where you’re going. Neighborhoods can vary dramatically block by block in the city – one wrong turn and within a short hundred feet you can find yourself in uncomfortable surroundings. Don’t leave valuables in plain sight and try not to walk the city streets alone at night. If I stop at all on the street, either to wait for a light or get my bearings, I am immediately approached. This is tough; I want to help anyone in need but it’s hard to help everyone. The good news is no one is overly aggressive. While actively soliciting for money and such, a simple “no” suffices and comes without confrontation. Unfortunately, between the ongoing gentrification of neighborhoods and even the recent mobilization of Border Patrol deploying agents to sanctuary cities like San Francisco, I don’t see crime decreasing unless local government decides to alter its current laws and their enforcement.
  • Global safety. The travel restrictions implemented by the U.S. Government on January 31, 2020 remain in effect and according to the CDC’s latest situation summary, the health risk from Coronavirus for the general American public is considered low at this time. RSA Conference has been communicating regularly about how they will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and the WHO and is in close communication with the City of San Francisco to monitor all new developments pertaining to the Coronavirus.
    To learn the health and safety measures RSA Conference is taking to mitigate health risks at the event, as well as more information, visit their RSAC Novel Coronavirus Update page. Also, monitor the CDC website for additional information, review and follow the WHO's Travel Advice as you make your way to San Francisco, as well as its recommendations for protecting yourself from an infection.

9. Plan to be heavier when you leave.

Whether it’s because of the large quantities of good food, the hundreds of free items you collected in the tradeshow hall, or a combination of both, it’s always wise to make sure you leave extra space in your luggage or bring an empty bag as well as comfortable travel clothes for your return home. This one kills me every year. I see folks with tons of items in their hands and no bag, or bags filled to the brim. With the luggage size and weight restrictions on most airlines, I wonder if those under $10 tchotchkes are worth the cost to bring them home. And then there’s the food. Every restaurant was filled to the brim with RSA goers and even with the very healthy options provided at nearly every restaurant in town, who can resist baked macaroni and cheese?

10. Have fun.

There are so many fun things to see and experience at the show, at the parties at night, and in the city! Be ready to step outside of your comfort zone and have some serious fun while you're there! An early thank you to all organizations providing fun events, toys, dinners and entertainment, etc. to ensure RSA continues to delight all senses and we can make the most out of our time there.

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