Posey's Tips & Tricks

An Insider's Guide to TechEd, Part 1

Brien provides some helpful hints on how to get the most out of TechEd's attendee party and vendor freebies.

With Microsoft TechEd coming up next month I have been getting bombarded by e-mails from people who are planning on attending for the first time and want to know what to expect. Since I have attended most TechEds since the mid-90s, I feel like I've got a pretty good handle on what goes on. That being the case, I wanted to use my blog posts this month to help out some of the people who might be new to TechEd.

The Attendee Party
Without a doubt the most popular event at TechEd every year is the attendee party. This party is traditionally held on a Thursday night in a venue that Microsoft has reserved specifically for the event. Microsoft has held TechEd in Orlando more often than any other city and usually ends up reserving either Universal Studios or Universal Studios Islands of Adventure for the party (although I do remember the party being at Sea World once).

In the past when Microsoft has held the attendee party at an amusement park attendees are given free reign of the park. You can ride all of the rides, and the food in all of the park's restaurants is free. Additionally, the party is usually also open bar.

Admission to the attendee party is included in the cost of attending TechEd. Normally Microsoft also makes some provision for guest passes as well. The cost for a guest pass is roughly about $125. Granted, a guest pass to the attendee party actually costs more than if you were to go to Islands of Adventure on your own for a day. Never mind the fact that if you went during the parks regular operating hours you would have more time to enjoy the park then you would during the TechEd party. The reason why attendee party guest passes cost more than a regular general admission ticket has to do with the free food, booze and transportation to and from designated hotels.

I'm sure that some of you who plan on attending TechEd for the first time might be wondering whether the attendee party is always held at an amusement park. The answer is no. As far as I can remember the attendee party has always been held at an amusement park when TechEd has been in Orlando (I also remember going to an amusement park for a TechEd party in Los Angeles). In some of the other cities however, amusement parks simply aren't an option. Last year in Atlanta for instance, the TechEd party was held at the Georgia Aquarium/Coca-Cola World. The year before that TechEd was in New Orleans and the attendee party was held in the warehouse where they build Mardi Gras floats. Other years the attendee party has been held in sports stadiums such as Boston's Fenway Park or the Superdome in New Orleans.

The Pre–Party Festivities
Each year TechEd unofficially ends on a Thursday (although there are sometimes a few sessions on Friday). That's the reason why the attendee party is traditionally held on a Thursday night. TechEd usually become something of a circus on the day of the attendee party.

One of the main attractions for the conference is the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall gives attendees the chance to talk to hundreds of vendors all under one roof. Throughout the week the vendors employ a number of different techniques to try to lure attendees to their booth. Normally this involves free swag such as T-shirts or hats. However, many of the vendors also give away a high-end grand prize at the end of the week. In previous years grand prizes have been anything from exotic sports cars and motorcycles to surfboards. The one cardinal rule for winning the grand prizes is that you must be present to win. The grand prize drawings always take place on Thursday afternoon just before everyone leaves the conference.

If you are serious about wanting to win one of the grand prizes, be sure to hang on to all of the raffle tickets that you are given throughout the week. The tickets can be surprisingly easy to lose. It is also a good idea to mark the name of the vendor on the back of the ticket so that you can keep track of which ticket is for which raffle.

Another thing to keep in mind about all of the free swag from the vendors is that most vendors will insist on scanning your conference badge before giving you things like hats and T-shirts. When your badges scanned, your information is given to the vendor as a sales lead. As such, you may be bombarded by spam and phone calls once you return home.

I am honestly not sure if this is still a problem or not. For a while I had actually stopped trying to get freebies from vendors just because I didn't want to have to deal with the phone calls. Eventually Microsoft made some changes so unwanted phone calls aren't really a problem anymore. I usually attend TechEd using a press pass, so I'm not sure if the same changes apply to general attendees are not.

Another bit of advice that I would give is to pack a lot lighter than you normally would for being gone a week. There are so many freebies given out at TechEd that you will need the extra capacity in your suitcase just to bring everything home. I usually only bring a few shirts with me because I know that I can score enough free T-shirts at TechEd to more than meet my clothing needs for the week.

That reminds me of another pointer: Many of the vendors who pass out free T-shirts or hats actually pay attention to who is wearing those freebies throughout the conference. You can often win additional prizes if you are spotted wearing the various vendors T-shirts or hats. This doesn't just apply to the conference, but also to the attendee party and some of the other after-hours events. In fact, I once won $100 just because one of the vendors spotted me wearing their shirts at the attendee party.

Obviously parties and free swag can be a lot of fun, but there is a very serious side to TechEd as well. I'm going to discuss the more serious aspects of the event in my next blog post.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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