Tips from an NAB Veteran: Make the Best Use of Your Time
COW Library : NAB Show : Walter Biscardi : Tips from an NAB Veteran: Make the Best Use of Your Time
The snow is finally starting to melt, well except in Boston, so that means it's time for the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention. I've gone so many times it's more like a family reunion than a trade show anymore. Here's my 2015 edition of "Tips from an NAB Veteran to make the best use of your time."
BRING YOUR BUSINESS CARDS AND PLENTY OF THEM!
More than anything else, this is the largest Networking event for creatives in the world. I have met so many wonderful people who I now call friends and whom I call upon for answers to my questions. Some I even collaborate with. So beyond just trying to maybe connect with someone to get a job, connect with people who can help you out when you have questions.
LIMITED TIME TO VISIT? COME LATER IN THE WEEK.
If you've already made your plans, it might be too late for this, but if you really want to get hands on with equipment and software in the booths and ask questions, Wednesday and Thursday are the best days. Monday and Tuesday the crowds are the largest. Especially Thursday the crowds are always much smaller giving you much better access to the booths.
If you are going to be there all week, my advice is to avoid the "big booths" Monday and make discoveries in the outlying smaller booths in all the halls. Especially lighting and audio always seem to have the smaller crowds and they make great areas to visit, especially Monday all day.
Also take in the outdoor exhibits between South and Central Hall where there are remote production trucks, satellite uplinks and other very cool displays. While you may never have the need for a remote production truck, just walking through one and seeing how they have managed to configure an entire production facility in a very small footprint can certainly give you some ideas for designing your own production space.
In Central Hall I always go in to check out what's the latest in microphones and field recording because when a show idea comes up, for whatever reason I start thinking about the microphones I saw and how we can use them. It was here that I first learned about Countryman Audio for example and have since started using their products.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE SHOW.
NAB does a great job providing free shuttle transportation to and from the show via many of the hotels along The Strip. Whether you stay in one of these hotels or not, as an attendee, you have access to these busses. So look at the NAB Bus Schedule and pick a hotel nearby to pick up the shuttle, be sure to have your convention badge on you as you generally have to show it to the bus driver to get on. Now in 2014 I did notice that traffic was MUCH worse getting to the show in the morning so I started hopping the Monorail in the morning. If you get a one week Monorail pass, it's a pretty good deal and I usually end up using it throughout the week to go to down to MGM / New York New York or all the way up near where Sahara used to be.
At the end of the day, I always take the Las Vegas Monorail from the show. Busses can get swamped at the end of the day and while the Monorail costs money, it tends to move more people faster out of the event. Even if looks like there are tons of people headed up to the monorail, they move you though pretty well onto the monorail to get out. I just hop off at the hotel the closest to mine on the way back. The best hotel for monorail service on the Strip is the Flamingo. It has the shortest walking distance from hotel rooms to the station of any of the monorail based hotels, less than 10 minutes to your room if you're on the monorail side of the hotel and about 12 minutes to your room on the other side. It's generally my "go-to" hotel for the show.
DRESS FOR COMFORT, ESPECIALLY YOUR FEET!
NAB is a big show. Let me rephrase that. NAB is a HUGE SHOW. As in thousands upon thousands of square feet of exhibition space. Let me say that again. NAB IS A MASSIVE SHOW! You may have been to big trade shows before, but imagine walking through and around 4 football stadiums (US or European) to see everything and that kind of gives you a sense of how large this thing is. In other words, you're going to be walking..... a lot...... forwards, backwards, up, down and all around.
It cannot be said enough that comfortable shoes are a MUST at this show. I wear running shoes that have fabric that breathes. Women.... how in the heck do you wear heels? I have no idea, yet I see you walking the show floor every year like it's something you have to do. No, you honestly don't. Same with the men wearing wingtip business shoes. Why? They are simply not comfortable to walk around 4 football fields or to even stand still for hours at a time. The NAB show floor is not the place to make a fashion statement so just relax. Remember your feet will swell up standing and walking all day long, keep the shoes comfortable!
For dress, I tend to go with comfortable jeans and t-shirts or short sleeved button down shirts. South Lower, where most of Post Production is housed, can get a little warm on Monday / Tuesday just because of the thousands of bodies in the hall. Check the weather forecasts before you come for nighttime temps, as oftentimes a light sweater or jacket is good at night when the temps drop. While 60 degrees might sound nice and warm with just a T-Shirt, with no sun and a 10-15 mph wind, that light jacket you brought along will feel much better.
Beyond the jeans, the only event I know of that really requires any sort of "dress code" is the annual AJA Party which is held in an exclusive nightclub usually and does require an invitation to attend. Other than that, it's generally just "come as you are."
PLAN AHEAD, CHECK OUT THE CHANGES, USE REFERENCE POINTS AND CHECK.
A big key is to plan ahead and then prioritize your plan. There is so much to see that it's easy to get overwhelmed at the show, it's literally the biggest toy box for all of to play in with everything we'd ever need to make great shows. All the stuff you read about on the internet and in magazines is on display. It's easy to get caught up spending way too much time on some really super cool toy that you don't need, can't afford, would never use, but it's just so freakin' cool and before you know it, two hours are gone.
So pick the toys you REALLY want to see, then prioritize them in order of what's the most important thing you need all the way down to those that would be fun to see, but it wouldn't matter if you missed them. You will accomplish much more and see those things that will make a difference for you in the next 12 months.
If you're thinking "Well I went last year so I know where everything is" think again. Most all the vendors are shuffled every year except the HUGE booths like Blackmagic Design. There have also been quite a few changes this year. A new Aerial Robotics and Drone Pavilion has been added. The New Media Expo is co-hosting in the North Hall for content creators, I'll definitely be checking this area out for my content. Check out the NAB Show website to do searches on all your favorite destinations using this handy Exhibitor Search page. Type in the name you're looking for and it will bring up the building and finally the booth location. The show floor oftentimes makes no logical sense. Booth numbers that go smoothly from number to number suddenly veer off into nonsense and you stand around saying "Well it should be right here, it's the next number in sequence."
If you have a smartphone or tablet you can access the My NAB Show tool. I've used their My NAB app for the past few years, but I'll try this tool set this time as I don't see the regular mobile app available on my phone. This should offer you a good map view and also allows you to put your entire show schedule into the app to keep track of what's going on.
Another great way to help with navigation on the show floor and to find your way back to location is to use reference points. Pick a banner, a booth, whatever that has a high sign that you can clearly see to use as a reference point to find your way around. I often use the AJA Video Systems booth, the Adobe Theater and one of the music libraries in South Lower as my reference points for example. I can visually see that point and if I know a booth I'm looking for is in the general area, I can use that to find it.
In particular, use these reference points to find the bathrooms. Small thing I know, but at least in South Hall, they are along the far left and right walls and finding these easily is a good thing. :)
STAY TUNED FOR THE SUNDAY ANNOUNCEMENTS.
Many companies presenting at NAB will either have press events or issue press releases on Sunday announcing their latest toys that will be on display in the exhibition halls. Websites such as CreativeCow.net have great news feeds that help you follow along with the almost dizzying array of releases.
Make notes of the releases that are of special interest to you so you'll know what that company is debuting, locate their booth number, and prepare some questions. Yeah, write your questions down or put them in your phone / tablet because you'll definitely forget what you were going to ask when you get to the booth. EVERYTHING sounds incredible in the press release, seeing it on the show floor and asking the right questions can get you a better picture of what the toy can and cannot do. Pay very close attention to what the product does NOW and what might come in a future release. There's a lot of difference between what's ready to go now and what "might" happen at a later date.
Most of the manufacturers on the show floor are very frank about what their products CAN'T do. They want to make sure the right information gets out and they want you to be a satisfied customer. So don't just take everything at face value, ask questions! And here's the best question to ask, "Is this shipping now and if not when will it ship?" Some companies have developed reputations of demonstrating really awesome stuff that's still not available when NAB comes around again. Heck some of it never gets released, hence the term "vaporware."
Here's my yearly reminder: You do not have to start lining up at 9:30am to be the very first one into the convention hall. Things do not start disappearing at 10:01am. Once again, last year, there was a huge mob of people just lining up outside the gates at South Hall waiting to sprint into the convention. Those of us working the booths call this "The running of the bulls." You don't win points for being first. Just relax, grab a cup of coffee or tea at the Starbucks and when the gates open, there will be plenty of room for everyone. The place holds something like 100,000 people, so relax, let the mob run in ahead you and then you can just meander in behind them.
A GREAT way to avoid the mobs on Monday morning is to walk directly to the back half of the convention hall first thing. It's always quiet back there Monday morning because folks get hung up at the huge booths up front . Lots of equipment and personnel available in the booth out back to get your hands on and questions answered. Then you can wander back up to the front after lunch.
Another great tip, walk the outside walls on the left and right side of the halls, especially South Hall. Walking down the middle is basically rush hour all day, every day, especially at the front of South Hall. So walk along the outer walls to get around the show floor more easily.
I've found some really cool widgets, software and tools for my work that I never would have found without just strolling "off the beaten path" as it were, such as my incredibly awesome Anthro edit consoles. For Post Production, the Plug-In Pavilion is always a great place to see what's out there for effects and time savers. There's also something called the Start-Up Pavilion with brand new products often debuting at the show from smaller companies. Always great to see what they have to share with us.
PACE YOURSELF, STAY HYDRATED.
Unless you are only in Vegas for one day (because your cheap boss wouldn't spring for at least two days) pace yourself, nothing is going anywhere for four days. It's not like those stupid day after Thanksgiving sales, there's nothing that's going to disappear except maybe some of the free swag that you'll probably throw away when you get home anyway.
Many of the larger booths have chairs, small theaters with presentations throughout the day which are great to just sit and take a break for a few minutes. Sit in on some of the presentations that are about the toys you are considering. Sure these are well planned 15 - 30 minute presentations, but watching them can give you a good sense of whether the toy is what you expected it to be. In addition, the presentations allow you to form questions to pose to the folks working these toys in the booth. And there's that sitting down for 15 - 30 minutes part that's a good thing for your feet.
And above all stay hydrated, drink lots of water. The air is very dry in Las Vegas and it's easy to get dehydrated with all the walking around you're going to be doing. Not just at the convention, walking around the streets of Vegas will wear you out if you don't stay hydrated. One of my first stops every year is to CVS pharmacy or small shop on the street to pick up a 6 pack of bottled water that I can refill as the week goes on.
Remember that Vegas also uses a lot of forced perspective, so things that appear to be right down the block are actually 1/2 mile or more away. For example what looks like a short walk from New York, New York Casino to Treasure Island is more like a 50 minute walk up the street.
Many manufacturers and groups have evening and after hours events. These are as simple as meet and greets to the world-renowed AJA VIP party. Some are free and some cost to attend. For the most part they're fun and these are generally the best place to simply hang and meet up with your peers. You'll find many of the bloggers, the writers, and folks who post on the various forums and tweet away all year long. And don't be shy at these events, just walk up and say hello.
Now the same suggestions for the main show, also apply to the evening events. Primarily, pace yourself. There are a LOT of evening events, pick and choose a few, if you don't make them all, so what? It's ok. And manage your intake of alcohol. Yes everyone likes to party and have a beer or two, but I'm amazed at the number of folks revert back to frat college days and get completely wasted to the point where you really don't even want to be around them. Remember, you are representing yourself at all times and it's best to remain coherent and professional when you're in public. As many of the beer companies remind us, "Drink Responsibly." And at most of these you're going to do a lot of standing, so again, wear comfortable shoes!
My absolute favorite event each year is the Media Motion Ball. It's a smaller gathering, costs a bit more money because they serve a very nice buffet sit down dinner and is more low key than some of the other larger gatherings. It's quieter so we can all chat and it's a very friendly atmosphere. The sponsor tables are also usually in the same room and are very approachable. Often you'll find the folks from the "big booths" like Blackmagic Design where you can meet more one on one with the product folks than out on the floor.
The biggest event for the Post Production industry is always the SuperMeet. Part carnival, part demonstration, always entertaining. Home of the one of the largest raffles in all of NAB. It's also a great place to find out if there are any Post Production User Groups in your area as they do a parade of user groups as part of the event. Personally I go for about the first 1/4 to 1/2 of the event spending more time out in the sponsor area as it's a great place for me to catch up with a lot of my friends and to meet many of you from the CreativeCow, my blog and Twitter.
For those of you arriving by Sunday, #PostChat will be hosting a casual meet up at 8pm. Check out their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter for details..
Most manufacturers and groups will have events posted on their websites or at the booths so check them out and decide if anything works for you. And if you don't want to go out and party, then don't, there are so many great restaurants and food joints all over town, go enjoy yourself at one of those.
I FORGOT MY HARD DRIVE, POWER CORD, ETC... AND PORTABLE CELL PHONE CHARGERS
The Fashion Show Mall (weird name I know) located near Treasure Island and the Wynn hotel has an Apple Store and other electronics stores that should have whatever you left behind or lost on your way to Las Vegas. Other good stores and a great food court in there as well.
Your Cell Phone will NOT last through the entire day. NAB Show days and nights are LONG! So bring a few back up batteries so you can recharge your phone during the day. There are many USB portable charger units around like these, I have three of them here and plan to bring all of them to have on me during the day. (Thanks to Dylan Reeve for the reminder on this tip)
By the way, bring a small power tap or power strip so you can recharge all that electronic gear you need at night.
BEYOND THE SHOW, MY SUGGESTIONS FOR FOOD AND FUN.
You're in Las Vegas, there are literally tons of things to do besides gambling. Quite honestly gambling bores me, I used to work in the largest casino in the world and slot machines and such never interested me. I do place one bet each year on the weekend NASCAR race, but beyond that, not much else. So here's some thoughts beyond the obvious gambling and drinking.
I can't over emphasize how good the restaurants are both on and off the Strip. Buca de Beppo is wonderful off the strip. Our favorite buffet has been the Spice Market Buffett in Planet Hollywood although the Bacchanal Buffet in Caesars Palace was just insanely good last year. Pricey, but amazing and it features ice cream from our good friends at High Road Craft.
The best grouping of restaurants in one hotel is the Venetian with Wolfgang Puck's Postrio being the standout, but there are a lot of great choices in that one hotel including the Grand Lux and an awesome Mexican Cantina. If you go downstairs in the Shoppes at Palazzos you'll find an absolutely killer Espressamente Illy coffee house / gelato shop. My favorite coffee in Vegas.
One fun thing that presents tons of photo opportunities is the Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum in the Venetian Hotel. What makes it so fun is that nothing is behind glass, it's all out so you can stand and pose with the wax people. It's silly fun with something like 54 celebrities or so to get your picture with in a walk at your own pace style.
Of the "big shows" in I've seen in Vegas, "O" at the Bellagio simply takes the cake for spectacle. I spent as much time enjoying the show as I did marveling at the staging and just trying to figure out what sort of a warped mind can actually create some of this. Simply stunning both creatively and technically. Mystere at Treasure Island is still my favorite Cirque show and although I've yet to make it, The Beatles Love at Mirage is supposed to be spectacular. Penn & Teller come out to the lobby after every show to meet and greet for any guest that wants to say hello.
THE SHOW IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT.
Simply put, NAB Show is what you make it. You're around somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 people for a few days. The way you make connections and the way you network is to walk up and say "hello." That's how I got to know so many people over the years. I've read their blogs, their articles, watched their companies grow, etc.... and when I saw them on the show floor, I just walked over and said "hello" and gave them my card.
Some folks I never heard from again. But those that did reach out have turned into some of the most valuable resources and best friends I could possibly ask for. Networking and meeting new people is the main reason I attend most years. Yeah, Vegas itself gets to be boring when you go every single year, but what keeps me coming back is simply getting the chance to see everyone in one place each year.
So don't be shy, don't be rude either, but if you want to say hello to folks, say hello. If you want to say hello to me, you can find me on the show floor, at the #PostChat event and definitely at the Media Motion Ball. I'll post my schedule in a separate blog when my schedule is finalized.
If you want to get a sense of how much fun NAB is, there's a series of #WallyCam videos on my website blog with a slew of my selfie videos from the show both last year and in 2013. This one with Marco Solorio is one of my favorites from last year. http://walterbiscardi.com/?s=wallycam
There you go, some tips and tricks from a veteran of the Las Vegas NAB Scene. Again: Bring lots and lots of business cards, shake a lot hands and make yourself some new friends you can call upon when need advice. Most importantly have fun. We'll see you there!