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Planning for RSA Conference? How to optimize your experience

Attending the RSA Conference (RSAC) for the first time can be a somewhat daunting experience. As anyone who has attended a past event will confirm, there is a veritable wealth of opportunity packed into a few days in the heart of one of the world’s most exciting cities! So how do you optimize your time to maximize your benefit? 

First, RSAC is designed to cover the interests of many different IT Security specialties. Peruse the track descriptions and you will find sessions for cryptography, application security, hackers & threats, law, policy and government, privacy, sponsor special topics, technology ops, and so on. So, your first task is to decide which set or sets of tracks and sessions you want as your focus. But don’t be myopic in this regard. Think about other topics you might want to explore to broaden your learning, your network, and the ultimate value of the event to you. 

A detailed program is posted on the RSAC site containing full descriptions of every session and topic, a list of speakers and their credentials, and all the extracurricular activities that attendees can join. This is your play-by-play guide to the action, which has been curated over months by the seasoned team of RSAC organizers, so take the time to review it carefully. 

Attendance increases every year, and many sessions have limited space. This year, for the first time, RSAC offers a useful “Reserve a Seat” tool, which registered attendees can use to reserve a seat at almost any session. You should reserve early for sessions that are particularly compelling to you. Sessions of limited size, such as Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and Learning Labs, tend to fill very fast. Those two offerings in particular give you a unique opportunity for small group interaction or learning experience with your peers on a topic that may directly impact your organization. 

In addition to Reserve a Seat, RSAC provides several other tools for navigating the conference effectively. Registered attendees can (and based on my experience, should) use the RSAC web site to build a personal conference agenda, called “My Agenda.” On the site, there is a “Path Directory” tool where you can explore and select agendas that are prebuilt specifically for Executive, Management, Technical attendees, as well as one for Newcomers. There is also an RSAC mobile app, available for both iOS and Android, which allows you mobile access to conference resources. The app provides a copy of the conference program, blog posts, videos and other resources. It also hosts the personal agenda you built with “My Agenda”. 

NOW FOR SPECIFICS:

Key to a successful and satisfying conference is building your own personal agenda. Once you have access to the RSAC program, commit a few hours to reviewing the many offerings and start to build your personal agenda, which you can then print out. I suggest you make two passes through the program, as follows: 

FIRST PASS –– REVIEW:

  • Reserve a seat for P2P and Learning Lab sessions
  • Mark your agenda with big crowd events: keynotes, social events, Sandbox events
  • Look for the “star-ribbon” icon, which indicates the most highly-rated speakers
  • Read through the speaker bios on the site
  • Use the “favorite” star icon to tag interesting sessions for your second pass review

SECOND PASS –– SELECTION:

  • For each time slot, reserve your FIRST-CHOICE session
  • Make a note of an ALTERNATE CHOICE session for each reserved session
  • Print out a copy of the personal agenda that you built and have it with you throughout the conference. 

Your conference time is precious, so be prepared to move to your alternate choice, depending upon space availability, if your first choice is not what you expect. 

ENGAGE!

I have found that one of the biggest values of attending a conference is NETWORKING. In advance of RSAC, reach out to your colleagues and network contacts to find out who is also attending, and set up opportunities to get together. But also, build in time for serendipitous connections with people you don’t already know, thereby expanding your network with new contacts. Set a goal each day to meet at least 5 new people. Bring business cards to exchange. RSAC has several programs specifically designed for networking: The Welcome Reception, CyBeer Ops craft beer tasting, leadership and industry group forums and receptions, 6 x 6 dinners, and the highly entertaining RSAC Bash

And do take time to walk the Expo floors, where 500+ information Security vendors showcasing their latest innovations and can serve as excellent resources. 

LOGISTICS:

  • Sessions are scattered about the several buildings of Moscone Center and the Marriott Marquis, with similar sessions grouped together; review the site map beforehand to orient yourself.
  • Moscone Center is in the heart of San Francisco, surrounded by restaurants and shops. Traffic is always challenging, so it may be difficult to run out for an activity, however brief, in the middle of the day without missing something important. Continental breakfast, beverages and snacks are provided on-site for your convenience. Have an energy bar with you just in case.
  • Take notes. 

ADDITIONAL TIPS:

  • Each registered attendee gets a backpack with conference materials, which may be picked up on check-in, including your Conference badge, printed Full Conference program, a quick reference version of the program, pen and notebook, and vendor materials.
  • Safeguard your badge, which you will need for access to everything. Replacements are available for $100.
  • The quick reference program is very handy for glancing at reminders.
  • Following most sessions, EXCEPT keynotes, speakers are available at the foot of the stage to meet and great. These are experts in their field, so take advantage of this opportunity to connect with them.
  • You can view real-time video of Keynote sessions at The Viewing Point, which offers a comfortable lounge setting.
  • If possible, I recommend arriving in San Francisco at least one day early so that you can acclimate a bit before RSAC actually begins. You can do one of the many available bus or private tours around San Francisco, which I describe as having “everything for everyone,” to jump-start your Bay Area vibe.
  • Finally, a word, well, three words, about follow-up. DON’T FORGET IT! It’s always amazing to me how a great connection I made a few months ago can slip my mind. Have your email ready for an immediate follow-up to all those connections you made, and send it as soon as you get home. Then, you have officially inserted that new connection into your network. 

IN SUMMARY:

Attending the RSA Conference is a unique, intense, inspirational and edifying experience! It is second to none as an industry-wide global learning and networking opportunity, with attendees who make the journey from all over the world. As hard as it is for all of us to ignore interruptions and ever-bleeping phones, RSAC is truly an investment you make for your organization that can strengthen your comprehensive knowledge in this rapidly changing industry, as well as sharpening your competitive edge. So, try to really be in the moment, and you are guaranteed to bring substantial value back home with you to disseminate to your colleagues and co-workers. 

Most importantly, enjoy yourself and this extraordinary opportunity! See you there!

Posted on January 29, 2017

Kenneth Morrison

by Kenneth Morrison

Principal, Morrison Consulting

Conference:
USA 2017

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