The first time I attended RSA in 2005, fear and anxiety threatened to consume me. I feared the flights, the crowds and the prospect of failing professionally.
Fast-forward to 2016: I’m a veteran infosec journalist who has been to too many conferences to count. I can’t say that I’m done with fear and anxiety, but I’ve brought it largely under control.
I’ve met a lot of people who suffer the same debilitating anxiety I used to experience over conferences, especially RSA. I’ve watched them worry endlessly over which evening events they needed to attend. I’ve seen them recoil at the waves of humanity wafting through the Moscone Center. I’ve seen them succumb to the temptation to drink every last drop of the free booze at vendor parties.
To some, this all sounds too dramatic. These are not life-or-death situations. But that’s the thing about fear and anxiety: They make situations look scarier than they really are.
This stuff isn’t specific to infosec, either. People go through this in any industry. But infosec is my industry, and I want to direct this at my peers.
Here my tips for surviving RSAC 2016:
- Vendor keynotes aren’t mandatory. For a new attendee, the keynote sessions can be big and scary. The crush of humanity crowding around waiting for entry can be overwhelming, especially on the morning of the first day. If you’re absolutely dying to hear what the opening keynotes are about, you gotta suck it up. But veteran attendees have learned that it’s rarely, if ever, worth it. Find some industry pals and go have a good chat over coffee instead.
- Don’t let the exhibit floors get to you. People working the booths will hound you aggressively to see their slide deck or hear the pitch. If you’re not careful you could easily get sucked into things that aren’t going to help you. The loud displays can induce major headaches. Skip the Monday-night opening of the floor; it’s the loudest time to go. For the rest of the days, wait a couple hours after the opening before going in. Things are usually calmer by then.
- You don’t have to venture out at night. There’s always a huge expectation that an attendee must go to all the vendor parties in the evenings. If the day has been too much and you need to be at full strength for the next day, there’s nothing wrong with retiring to your room for the evening.
- Focus on the reason you’re here. Looking to forge a new business partnership? Or maybe you’re there for education? Then just focus on those things. The keynotes are chaotic, but a lot of good talks happen in smaller rooms throughout Moscone. If your number-one goal is to make a deal, collaborate on some research or strike a partnership with another entity, then focus on making those things happen and ditch the rest.
I know it’s easier to talk about how best to proceed than it is to do it. Nevertheless, I hope you find some of this helpful.