This is part 4 of the series of tips that I’ve prepared for those attending the PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. In part 1, I talked about preparation for travel, accommodation and communication.  Part 2 talks about what to bring to the summit. Part 3 walks you thru the preparation before you hit the road. This blog post talks about networking and scheduling your summit sessions. Since it’s already less than a week before the summit, I decided to publish this for those who will be coming to the summit a bit early. Feel free to add to the list by posting in the comments section if you can think of anything else.

Networking before the Event

Networking and meeting people should be a part of your goal as an attendee. As SQL Server professionals, we feel alone sometimes when resolving issues or even implementing a solution. Knowing that there is someone out there who feels the same pain and agony (and sometimes victories) as we do is comforting.

But meeting other SQL Server professionals should not just happen at the event. Social media has opened doors of opportunities to meet people virtually before meeting them in person. Below are some of the tips that you can use to get started.

Connect with the Attendees

Do you remember being asked for your Twitter and LinkedIn profile when you registered for the summit? PASS has dedicated a page to let other attendees know who is coming. Be a white-hat stalker (hey, I do this before jumping in on sales calls.) Check out the Who’s Attending page to find out their Twitter and LinkedIn profile. Find out where they’re from and what their interests are. What are they talking about on Twitter? What is their job role? How long have they been working with SQL Server? These are just some of the things that you need to know to get the conversation started. Also check if your profile is there. If not, make sure you update your profile so people can find out about you.

Introduce yourself early on by joining the conversation on Twitter. Use the #SQLFirstTimers, #Summit13 and #SQLPASS hashtags on Twitter.  By the time you meet them at the summit, it’ll be like an alumni homecoming.

Connect with the Speakers

By now, you’ve probably seen the summit schedule and you have an idea what sessions you’ll be attending. Find out who the speaker will be for that session and learn more about him or her. The more you know about the speaker, the better questions you can ask during or after the session. Better yet, introduce yourself to the speaker even before the summit. Don’t you know that speakers announce their presentation weeks in advance on social media? And they do monitor their followers. They’re thrilled to know that someone is already planning to attend their presentation that they worked hard and prepared for. Interact with them before the summit. Share their tweets or LinkedIn/Facebook updates to your contacts. And, who knows, you might be able to stir up an idea that the speaker can include in their presentation.

Connect with other First Timers

In 2011, PASS introduced the Big Brothers/Sisters program to enhance the experience of first time attendees. I wished that they have done this back in 2007 so I could take advantage of the experiences of a PASS Summit alumni. If this is your first time attending the summit, you will be included in the First Timers program and assigned to a PASS Summit alumni. Don’t be afraid to ask him or her about the other folks in your First Timers group. I know that they are sworn to secrecy with the non-disclosure agreement that they signed but since you will be meeting the other folks in your group anyway at the First Timers Orientation Meeting on 15-Oct-2013, you might as well get to know them in advance. You can all meet up prior to attending the orientation meeting so you can go as a group.

Connect with other Party Goers

I can’t help it, I keep mentioning the parties.

Seriously, when you sign up for the parties, you’ll probably see an EventBrite page for registration. It will list folks you know who are attending as well, depending on the social media settings of the site. Get in touch with them and maybe even arrange how to go to the party venue. If the venue is a few blocks away from the convention center, it wouldn’t hurt having a chat with somebody who speaks T-SQL. You’ll be surprised how those party conversations sometimes end up being a game changer for either your career or your organization. Zappos CEO Tony Hseh takes advantage of party conversations to engage customers and partners with their awesome company culture.

Take Notes

Don’t you wish you’ve got 64GB of memory to store all of the valuable information that you come across with? Apparently, we don’t have memory chips embedded in our brain. That’s why note taking is still a very important skill. I’ve mentioned about bringing business cards at the summit to hand out to the people that you meet. But before you even meet them in person, jot down what you’ve known about them thru their social media profile. It helps drive meaningful conversations. You could write down their hobbies, where they are from, or even their musical inclinations. Trust me when I say that these become the foundation of meaningful relationships that you’ll build at the summit. I hang out with the SQL Server experts who are not only very good at clustering but also enjoy writing music and slapping their bass guitars and keyboards. The stories that you’ll share will become the bond that brings you closer (OK, I better stop right here before I get too emotional.)

Scheduling Session Attendance

Whether you’re a database administrator, a developer or a BI professional, the PASS Summit has something in store for you to learn about SQL Server. Attendees will certainly pick the sessions that they will attend to and schedule accordingly. While most will just pick from the available sessions, keeping these tips in mind will help you maximize your attendance at the summit.

Define Your Goals

It’s probably a cliché since we all have them: New Year’s resolutions, career objectives, personal development, etc. But we can never underestimate the power of having goals. Without them, we’d be like beating against the wind or traveling without a destination. What are your primary reasons for attending the PASS Summit? List them out, maybe just a handful of them to make sure you achieve those goals. Be as specific as you possibly can. If your goal is to learn as much as you can to become a better BI professional who maximizes Excel and Excel Services in SharePoint for information delivery, then plan to attend sessions that help you achieve that goal. Notice how specific I was in defining that goal. It helps me zoom in to what I really need to do to achieve it. Your organization might have a different expectation as to why they want you to attend the summit. Define those as well and make sure that you meet them before going back to work. SQL Server MVP and Microsoft Certified Master Brent Ozar (Twitter | blog) takes this a step further and using this as a ticket to your next summit attendance.

Create a Schedule

The PASS Summit schedule is already available. Based on your defined goals, list out the different sessions that you intend to attend. Prioritize the schedule based on timing and criticality. Timing because there may be sessions that plan to see but are running at the same time. Criticality because you have a pressing production issue that needs to be resolved and attending one particular session can secure you a 5-minute conversation with the speaker to help you address the issue. Better yet, you might want to pay the SQL Server Clinic a visit and have one of the CSS engineers fix it for you. If you have a smartphone, check out the Guidebook mobile application that the PASS Summit team has provided. I’ve already downloaded it on my iPhone and started creating my schedule. It’s a great tool to help schedule your selected sessions and alert you when the next session is about to start.

Plan to Buy the Session Recordings

Let’s admit it. Until human cloning is yet to be invented, you are a limited resource. And you certainly can’t be at all the sessions you want even if you’ve carefully selected or prioritized your list. Make sure you buy the session recordings for future reference. I still view some of the recorded sessions from the 2007 and 2008 summits when I have time (I am still gauging how much I’ve improved in my presentation skills throughout the years) or when a specific session will help me further resolve an issue. While you may not be working with HDInsight in your current job, who’s to say that you won’t next year. Preparation is key and having the session recordings is part of your preparation to become a better SQL Server professional.