Planning your Trip to TechEd Europe 2014

 Peter Bryant is a freelance IT Consultant in the UK. Peter will be making his 23rd appearance at TechEd this year!! He has collected a lot of TechEd memorabilia over the years from hats to suntan lotion. 

For many TechEd attendees (many more than you might expect) this is the first time. The overwhelming list of sessions can be a nightmare to consider, and hard to come up with a good plan. In years gone by the internet did not intrude into planning and we had a book to read of all the sessions to read through, later on there was the onsite network with its own scheduling system. But in recent times, you can now plan your week well in advance. But what’s the best way to do it? More than 1, but here’s my method that has worked well for me…

Firstly I think there are some ground rules:

  • The week is possibly your biggest training investment of the year – so you need to make some good decisions
  • It’s not just about the Breakout sessions – don’t forget the Hands on and Instructor led labs; there’s a lot to be gained from these sessions too.
  • Also – don’t forget the exhibition hall – there might be some very useful contacts to make there (although you can get there during lunch and the hospitality sessions)
  • If you have a favourite speaker (or more – like I do!), then it’s not unreasonable to make sure you get to one of their sessions during the week, even if it is slightly tangential to your goals for the week.

So, what’s my method?

I’ve followed the same algorithm for many years now, and it seems to work. It’s a given, that until you get to the first few minutes of a session you cannot be sure that it is going to work for you. So you have to be prepared. Before I get to Barcelona I use the session builder to do the following:

  • Search by my favourite speakers and add their sessions to my schedule
  • Search for specific areas of interest and add those sessions to the schedule
  • Go through each track and browse the session list, and select anything of interest. Add them to the schedule.

At the end of it, you have a diary for the week that looks like this: Not good! But as Douglas Adams put it, Don’t Panic!

Oh P.S. During the run up to the conference, do keep a look out for new sessions as there isn't a selection feature for new sessions. 

This is the normal profile for me some time before going out. By using the export to Outlook facility, I put a copy into my calendar so that it synchronises between my phone and other devices (useful if you have no network connection at any time during the week).

 From here on, it’s about fine tuning. You should bear in mind that as the week goes on, sessions you thought might be useful can be deleted from your diary, and make life a bit simpler. And equally new ones or recommended ones might be added in. As you hear about products you may decide future sessions on them aren’t necessary. So this list will naturally be whittled down a bit.

I don’t know whether this year we will be able to get access to PowerPoint decks before the presentations, but if you can a good rule of thumb (for me) is the more slides, the less “extra” you will get beyond their content. My ideal session is a handful of slides, lots of demos and lots of unscripted advice. If you select a session with 45 slides, you are pretty unlikely to hear much more than is on the slides – and therefore reviewing the session at Channel9 after the conference is likely to be more effective. Remember – each timeslot has cost you about €100, so sitting and listening to someone reading their slides is not a good use of that money!

My goal for the conference is to have the following structure to my week:

  • For “today’s” sessions I have a choice of 2 or 3 breakouts
  • For “tomorrow’s” sessions I have a choice of about 5 or 6 per timeslot
  • Beyond tomorrow, still the madness of 8 or more per timeslot.

My recommendation is:

  •  As you approach the next time slot, decide on your first choice, but make sure you know where your fall back choice (or 2 choices) are to be presented. Remember – sessions can be full, or you might realise by slide 3 that this session is not for you!
  • It is sensible to know the geography of the conference venue and have a sense of how far (and in what direction!) you need to dash, if, a few minutes into the session you do decide to go to a fall-back choice.
  • During the course of today – in the quieter moments (yeah, right!), whittle down the following day’s schedule to 2 or 3 per slot.
  • Ignore anything beyond tomorrow.

Finally, again, don’t forget the labs, and don’t forget the exhibit hall!


Have you been to TechEd Europe before? Do you have any advice for making the most of the time you are there? Let us know in the comments section below or via @TechNetUK