As I sat in my hotel room waiting for my flight home, I had some time to reflect back on my first CES experience. CES for me was as amazing as I ever imagined it would be. More than anything though, it also prepared me for my trip back in 2012. I thought I might write something up that would give you an idea of what it was like and how to prepare yourself. Now that the show is open to the industry as well as the vendors, bloggers, and manufacturers, some simple preparation can maximize your time and coverage at the show. Here is a list of helpful tips and ideas that I’ll surely be following the next go around.
1. Plan your trip ahead of time. The cabbies and locals all agreed that CES was probably the biggest show of the year in Vegas. Hotels are booked solid and prices are higher across the board. Plan your trip as early as possible and find yourself a nice hotel to stay in. Dan was nice enough to share his room with me at the Cosmopolitan, which was probably the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. Book your flight and hotel as early as possible to maximize savings and stay somewhere nice. It really makes a difference at the end of the day.
2. Pack light. As with all travel, I almost never take a check bag if I can avoid it. Pack lightly for the show, this will optimize your travel time and let you get around easier. Dan and Larry took the no baggage challenge and spent a week at the show living off only what they could carry in their Scottevest clothing. I had a small carry on and a backpack, and realized that even though I liked having a new shirt everyday, I simply did not need that much gear. With the amount of stuff you pick up at the show, you can use the extra room for the flight home instead of spending big bucks to ship it out at the show. Pack comfortably, but pack for speed and mobility.
3. Plan out your time. There is simply too much to see and not enough time. The show floor is absolutely huge and the amount of people puts you at near gridlock when trying to get around. If you are a blogger, set up your interviews as early as possible and try to make a day without any appointments. I got to sit in on a few vendor appointments with Dan and Judie. Getting one on one with some great marketing people and checking out the products hands on without anyone else around to interrupt. Have your questions and comments ready for them before you get there, time is money and they never seem to have enough.
4. Know the layout. Get familiar with the layout of both Vegas and the show. By the time the show is announced there are plenty of vendor maps and of course a near unlimited amount of maps detailing the strip. Getting around in Vegas usually consists of waiting in long cab lines or for the bus. CES has a few buses that run the strip to get you to and from the show. Travel time should be counted in, as sometimes it can take an hour just to get from hotel to hotel or from your hotel to the show. There were some vendors that I did not get to see. I failed to study the layout of the convention center and plan who I really wanted to see. You may not be able to hit all the booths, but at least check out who is going and make lists for yourself who is in each hall. That way you can at least hit the key booths without having to walk between each place a few times.
5. What to bring. Carrying around a Nikon SLR was gave me some pretty great shots during the show. But the added weight became annoying after a while. I brought a small point and shoot for the last day of show and was able to snap a few good shots while not having the weight of the SLR. A good pair of cargo pants or Scottevest clothing is essential at CES. You can never have enough pockets to carry all your gadgets and gear. Make sure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes and comfortable clothing. Your feet are going to get a serious workout. Plus you’re likely to pick up a bunch of swag at the show that eventually gets heavy to carry, too. Bring some business cards. Most vendors have info and giveaways but want you to drop them a card. Even if you’re not in the industry, get 50 cards made up with your info; you never know what you could win.
6. Meals. There were a few days I simply forgot to eat. With all that was happening, time just didn’t allow for food. Make sure you stop and refuel with a few meals a day. With all the running around your body needs to keep hydrated and you must have something in your stomach. You’re likely gonna be drinking a few adult beverages later at night so it helps to be ready. Food in Las Vegas is about 3X the normal price. Whether you grab some hot dogs at the show or hit the hotel buffet, you’re gonna spend some cash to eat, so you must prepare for it. Bring a box of granola bars with you to carry around. You can eat while you walk and won’t be tempted to spend $25 for a crappy McDonald’s meal or $10 slice of pizza. Some booths have water and small snacks, so grab them while you can. That’s what they are there for. Take advantage of it whenever you can, as food can end up costing a serious amount of money when you remember that you’re hungry.
7. Buddy Teams. Nothing like having a team or a wingman when you’re out to complete a mission. Whether you’re there as a consumer or in the industry, CES should be done with some help. Having a buddy keeps you together when you’re in the thick of it. Often you run out of time with whatever you’re doing there, so it helps to have someone else to break off and cover more content, or at least help you carry things around. I shadowed Dan for most of my time here and took care of most of the pictures and video shooting. Dan was able to focus when speaking with the vendors, while I snapped the shots and asked a few questions from another standpoint. It’s easier to a good time too when you’re with friends, so make sure you bring your accomplice with you. It’s much more fun have people to hang out with on the strip after the show each night.
8. Equipment. I touched briefly before on what you need to bring along with you to maximize your geek experience. A good camera with HD video capability is pretty much a must for any writer or blogger, and a good device to put your notes on is crucial. Dan, Larry and Judie all brought a Galaxy Tab with them for the show. Since I paired up with Dan most of the time, I saw it in action during interviews, meetings, and for all personal communication. The camera on the tab is not that great, but it’s good enough to grab a quick snapshot and write few notes with. A dictation program like Nuance Dragon also works well when you don’t have a keyboard handy to write a few sentences. Dan was actually able to snap a pic, dictate some words, and put up a quick post on the site all while walking from hall to hall. So in about 3-5 minutes a post was written, edited, and posted through in WordPress — all thanks to the Galaxy Tab.
9. Have fun. I spoke to a few fellow writers who told me that their experience at CES sucked. They hit the shows hard all day and spent the rest of the night trying to organize all the info and writing posts. Fortunately for me, I had the time of my life. We worked hard and played hard the whole trip, and by choice pretty much got no sleep. Gear Diary has an awesome team, and those who were not at CES took our info and turned it into some pretty great posts. CES is a great experience, but above all you need to take some time and see all the new stuff for yourself without an agenda behind it. I got to see a ton of places in Vegas, party with the team and friends, and get some real work done, too. It really was all I had hoped and more.
10. Financially prepare. Depending on your arrangements with your company or blog, you may or may not be paid for your work. Vegas is expensive, that’s not really anything new. But if you’re handling it all yourself, make sure you use a discount site to book your travel and hotel. In Vegas, you’re treated like a million bucks, but of course at a cost. You pay the doorman, cab queue line guy, cab driver, bell station, room service, etc. Everywhere you go someone has their hand out. A buck here and there adds up. Use the CES shuttles to and from the hotel, as they are free and run regularly. Cab rides are gonna happen, just plan in your budget for a few rides each day. Food is very expensive, so plan for that too. You can get away without spending a fortune, but with dinner, some drinks, gambling, shows, etc…you can spend a lot. Plan ahead for the cost.
This is a quick reflection of the parts that I do remember. Everything went so fast (except for the airport), and it’s hard enough to keep up with anything in Vegas. I had such a great time there this year and cannot wait to go back in 2012. Be rest assured I will be ready next year and more well equipped for my journey. I can’t tell you how much it matters to have a great support team in place while you’re there in the trenches and back behind the lines. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be there by yourself, so plan early and make sure you have someone with you. Judie had Kevin as her Cameraman/Grunt Laborer, and Dan had me. Most of all I got to see some great new stuff and had fun while doing. Only a year left, so get planning!