Navigating CES in Las Vegas is no different. With show number three now on my schedule, here are some essential tips and proven advice for folks thinking about heading out to the neon mirage in the Nevada desert this week.
1. REGISTER EARLY
Everybody knows that CES, despite it's name, is closed to "consumers". Unless you're directly involved with the company that makes or sells a product, you won't get in. Press attendees do get free admission but it requires that you register in advance and get your submission confirmed. You do need to meet certain criteria for registering as press, but I've found that tech bloggers are still welcomed by the show's organizers, as they have been in years prior.
Registering early also enables you to book your accommodation in advance, as hotels working with the event publish special CES room rates. You don't want to leave this to the last minute, as many hotels totally sell out, or if they have vacancies, will charge at their daily (highest) rate. CES will also charge press attendees a hefty fee for registering after their deadline, or if you show up onsite as a walk-in.
2. PACK COMFORTABLE FOOTWEAR
Every convention requires walking, but the sheer size of CES takes that to marathon levels. I find myself easily covering as much as 12 miles on just the first day alone, so it is critical that the number one item on your list has to be a comfortable pair of shoes you can walk all day in. My secret weapon is a pair of all-black laced tennis shoes with padded upper and thick rubber sole. I bought mine for $20 at my local sports shop. These shoes provide the same comfort as a cross-trainer, yet have the appearance and support of a regular shoe.
I cannot emphasize enough the need to have comfortable footwear, as making a wrong choice here will not only ruin your show but leave your feet in screaming pain. In addition to making sure I have comfortable shoes, I also pack a pair of silicon gel sole inserts that provide further padding and comfort. The combination results in footwear that will allow me to walk or stand all day long, without leaving my feet sore and tired at the end of each day.
3. HYDRATE & LIP BALM
Water should be the first thing to pack in your bag as you head for the show floor, and a bottle or two of bottled water will keep you from dehydrating inside the dry climate-controlled environment. I like to throw in a can of diet soda as well for lunch. Buying bottled water once you're there is expensive, and finding it takes away from your limited time.
In a similar fashion, a stick of lip balm will also save your lips from cracking and help defend against the cold wind once you get outside. I've found the air in Vegas is very dry, you will feel it on your lips and your skin, so come prepared with a stick of lip balm and use frequently throughout the day.
4. ARRIVE THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE
Logic would suggest that you arrive the day before the event begins, but with CES the smart move is to come the day before even that. Sure, it'll cost you an extra night's stay, but the benefits are well worth it.
For one thing, you avoid the crowd and long lines, both at the airport, taxi stand and at your hotel. For those driving, it also means you can enjoy an empty interstate as opposed to following taillights at 55. Most importantly though, it enables you to get going for the week-long show rested, rather than spend that critical day-before still traveling.
Many events actually begin before the show floor opens, such as the CES unveiled event held for press attendees two days prior. Arriving early also enables me to pick up my badge, badge holder and complimentary press bag well in advance too, and avoid having to spend time standing in a line for those.
5. CAMP DOWN CLOSE BY
CES is huge! With the amount of walking and time required to cover all four major exhibit halls, I would totally recommend staying at a hotel as close to the convention center as possible so that you can get there on foot. CES does provide complimentary shuttles to many properties on the strip, but riding the bus takes a long time since traffic is backed up heavily around the convention center and includes stops at multiple locations.
In contrast, bunking down within eye-shot of the entrance allows you to walk back and forth without requiring a shuttle, taxi or use of a rental car. It'll take less time to make the commute and you don't need to waste time standing in line for a ride. It does mean more walking, but the time saved in your commute is well worth the extra effort.
Another trick for those driving to Vegas (or splurging on a rental car) is to stay at a hotel away from the action but drive to and park at a hotel close by, walking the rest of the way. Parking at the convention center is impossible, but all hotels in Vegas offer free parking, so the short walk the rest of the way will be manageable. Again, you will need to deal with traffic, but if it can save you $100+/night over the price of a nearby hotel, choosing your accommodations a few miles out can definitely be worth it.
6. SKI MASK OPTIONAL
January gets cold in Vegas. Typical temperatures hit the 50's during the day and 40's at night, with the wind making it feel another 10 degrees colder. A warm winter jacket is very much necessary, especially to shield you from the desert wind. For those venturing out in the evening to see the lights and walk the strip, a hat is also something I would recommend packing, especially if visiting from a warmer climate.
You needn't worry about having to carry your stuff with you, as the convention center does provide a coat check service. Finding it for first-timers, though, isn't easy, as it took me a good 30 minutes on my first visit. You'll find one located along the center concourse near the main exhibit hall, and another located downstairs in the South Hall at the Fedex counter by the Starbucks.
7. SATISFY YOUR APPETITE
Food and drink are available in the convention center, but they are expensive and the choices are limited at best. Press attendees do get a free boxed lunch, but nothing to write home about. Never mind that the lines are long and excruciatingly slow if you want to grab a burger and fries or fancy that double-tall sugar-free non-fat soy decaf java-chip frappuccino.
I like to throw in my bag a piece of fruit and a granola bar, enough to tame any cravings and provide a small energy boost during the day. I also make sure to have a four-pack of bottled coffee - handy for that in-room morning caffeine shot, throwing in your bag for later, or those times when the in-room coffee maker tastes like tar.
Be prepared to eat your lunch standing, as like at other convention centers, seating space is far too limited. Even in the VIP press lounge, finding a table is a first-come first-serve game of chance. My best advice is to get in line half an hour before serving begins.
8. BRING LOTS OF BUSINESS CARDS
As trivial as that sounds, I found myself handing out far more business cards last time than I realistically anticipated. I also found it rather unprofessional of exhibitors making the effort to attend CES yet not have business cards available when asked to provide one. Conventions present a great opportunity to do some serious networking as they bring all the key players together under one roof. Yet not having enough business cards to distribute can make establishing new contacts very difficult, if not impossible. Do you really want to risk missing out on the next potential killer deal because you couldn't get that key person's info, or provide them your own? I know I don't.
Electronic badge scanners have been prevalent for many years at conventions, and I actually used to work for the firm that handles the devices. They offer a great way to collect information from each attendee stopping by a booth, and the resulting contacts database saved in a CSV Excel file format can easily be scanned back at the office for potential sales leads and follow-up. The problem arises when these devices fail to work or scan properly - exhibitors miss out on important information, and potential customers expecting follow-up never get contacted. In comparison, I have found exchanging business cards has never failed me, and the more you distribute, the odds of generating a lead or getting a return contact will be that much higher.
9. CONSOLIDATE YOUR GEAR BAG
Being that we're talking about a consumer electronics show geared towards tech-gadget geeks, it's only fair that I share my experience of what I bring along. There's no need to overload with a smartphone, laptop, multiple slates, camcorder, AC adapters or bring an army of accessories/cables along in a 20 lb roller case to cover the event. Just a smart selection of items that complement each other will be plenty to keep you online and the show covered.
My first item is a mobile hotspot, since even if you do find wifi at the convention center or your hotel, it may be heavily congested, unsecured, slow and expensive. A mobile hotspot not only gets you around those issues, but will let you work outside wifi range, and with the right data plan, give you unlimited access for uploading all your photos and bandwidth-intensive video clips.
It also lets me work my smartphone to the extreme, keeping tabs on all my emails/messages while I'm snapping pictures. My compact XP8000 battery keeps both smartphone and mobile hotspot running while I'm walking the floor. Once done for the day, I can easily wrap up the days events in comfort with my svelte netbook back in my hotel room. An overnight charge makes sure all my essential items are ready to go the next morning for another grueling 15-hour day.
10. DON'T FORGET TO HAVE FUN!!!
CES may be all work, but this is Las Vegas we're talking about. It's a city built on visitors coming and returning, and the more the better. I was surprised to learn that Vegas actually has more hotel rooms than New York and Los Angeles combined. Of course, the last thing you want to do is sit in your hotel room.
Vegas is like Disneyland for adults. One of the reasons I make the trek to CES is just to see the sights of sin city and have a few days of fun. It's a great opportunity to not only relax after a day of hard networking and gadget searching, but get away from work and have a night full of excitement. Venues along the strip are constantly changing, with always something new to attract visitors and make them return. Vegas offers everything, from nightclubs to resorts, casinos, shopping, dining, evening shows, extreme thrill rides, helicopter tours, and will even throw a porn convention the same week as CES. You really have no excuse not to relax, unwind and enjoy yourself or have a crazy night out with friends.
Just make sure not to party too hard - you don't want to wake up the next morning with a hangover... in a different city!