Career, IT Pro, Microsoft Ignite

Guidelines for Building an Awesome Conference Schedule

With Microsoft Ignite less than two weeks away, I wanted to share with you some ideas for building your schedule for this (or any technical conference for that matter). Over the years, I’ve based my schedule building on some rules. By following some guidelines and knowing your goals, you’ll have a more successful conference experience with plenty of useful information to bring home and put to work.

Begin with the End in Mind

The number one rule is planning your schedule around a learning goal. You should know from an organizational or career standpoint what you need to get out of the week (and beyond) so use your learning objectives as a guide for determining the best sessions. I can rate my successful vs. non-successful conferences based on going in with specific learning needs. This rule should be your guide throughout the selection process along with the rest of the guidelines here

Leave room for Hallway Sessions

I ALWAYS reserve the right to bail out to a Hallway session at any time. If I have a chance to network with others in person, I’ll take those opportunities over a session anytime since I can watch most sessions later. NOTE: Your employer may not feel the same way about this so remember your goals for the conference.

Look for Great Speakers

When choosing sessions to attend in person (since I’m always double/triple booked), I like to look at the speaker. And speaker choice is going to come down to your goals (again) for the conference. Knowing I can view sessions later, I select speakers as I would a concert as I’m looking for a great in-person experience. I go with ones that are engaging and enjoyable to watch, though they may not be deep in the weeds technology wise. Others want a speaker who is going to blow their mind with technical details and rock-solid demos. Great speakers will always give you more than just the topic; They are masters at filling in the grey areas and providing hidden tips that make the entire presentation worth attending. Reviewing presenters bios and a little twitter research can go a long way. Even checking out their previous talks is a great way to select a solid presenter. Here’s a list I’ve compiled over the years of presenters who always deliver:

  • Mark Russinovich
  • Johan Arwidmark
  • Jeffrey Snover
  • Dave Kawula
  • Tony Redmond
  • Raymond Dux Sy
  • Paula Januskiewicz
  • Scott Hanselman
  • Stephen Rose
  • Niklas Akerlund

Check out all of the Microsoft Ignite speakers and their bios here.

Lots of Content in a Short Time Frame

Theater sessions are a great option to fill in small open blocks of time. They are great 20-minutes sessions packed with information and a nice break from the 45 & 75-minute session. Theater sessions are listed with a THR prefix in the session ID. Note: These tend to fill up quickly so make sure you plan accordingly and get there early. New for this year is that the theater sessions WILL be recorded so don’t worry if you can’t make one due to conflicts.

Networking is Just as Important as Knowledge

If you are looking to network with others on specific topics, check out the Community Meetup sessions. This is a different format with an interactive experience between attendees and the moderators. A number of these sessions are built around career and soft-skills topics along with technical topics. I do not believe these are recorded so you’ll want to attend if the topic interests you. Look for a prefix of MUP in the session ID. Also, through the Expert Directory, you can request a 1:1 meeting with experts at the conference to discuss topics more in-depth.

And make sure to leave blank space in your schedule to engage with vendors and experts in the Microsoft Showcase and Expo Hall. Many people I know attend Ignite because they can have a deep 1:1 conversation with 3rd-party vendors and Microsoft product group representatives. For many, those engagements pay for their trips in the information they can take back to their organizations.

Don’t fear being overbooked ON PAPER

Trust me, you WILL have the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) at Microsoft Ignite. There is simply too much to do and not enough time so don’t worry when you look at your schedule. I always double and triple book time frames, so I have a backup session. Also, it gives me a reference of the sessions I need to catch up on after the conference through the TechCommunity portal. When I am multiple booked, I’ll base my session choice on the speaker, if the content is of immediate use to me, and what is the best use of my time NOW given the other choices I have. Along with this, make sure you don’t burn yourself out. With all of the daily events and the night events, it’s a really long week so keep that in mind as you view your schedule.

Rinse and Repeat

During the conference, I revise my schedule daily depending on what I’m interested in at the time. Also, If something new/interesting gets announced in the Keynotes or other sessions, I may change things up for a deeper dive on a topic.

And Remember that almost all sessions are recorded!

As with most things, some of these will work for you, and some may not. Pick what works and go with it. Always remembering your goals AND you can always choose something else on the fly. Now that you have some guidelines, it’s time to build your schedule in Session Scheduler in MyIgnite. This can take some time to set aside an hour for this, and plan to revisit it as you refine your goals for Ignite.



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