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ISTE 2015 – ISTE Survival Tips

June 29, 2015


This series of posts is from the ISTE 2015 conference, and they reflect my notes from various sessions. – Todd

Tips for Surviving ISTE Successfully

This year it seems like I met more first time ISTE attendees than ever before. And plenty of veterans. However newbies and veterans alike, we all have something to learn. Here are my (sometimes tongue in cheek) tips for everyone to have a successful ISTE conference.


Above everything else, be a volunteer. You can do as little as a single two hour shift. This will make your conference! During your two hours you will learn more about ISTE conference because you’ll be talking to literally possibly thousands of people. I think the best job ever is to be an Ask Me person – everyone will ask you questions from where is the restroom, to where is this session, to how do I charge my device. You will learn so much, you will meet so many people. Many folks have told me the highlight of their conference is their volunteer shift. Do it. Do not wait. Even if you are reading this in the middle of the ISTE 2015 conference, go to the volunteer check-in and ask if you can help. They will put you to work, AND you’ll even get a free shirt!

Print labels

Every year I say I’m going to do this, and this year, I finally did! In your welcome bag you’ll get a huge “coupon” book of draw entries for the expo floor. Additionally many, many times you’ll be asked to fill out a form. If you pre-print a couple of pages of labels (I use the Avery 5160) with your full name, organization, work address, phone # and e-mail, then you just peel and stick, and voila! You are done! One year my wonderful and amazing wife spent over an hour filling out each and every coupon so I could enter draws. This year, after printing labels, it took us about 90 seconds to do it. And if you’ve forgotten, well, your fingers will be sore!

Charge your Device

Egad! Some people are worse than their children! Bring your device fully charged, AND, bring your cables or a backup battery! Nothing is more frustrating than running out of juice when you’re supposed to meet someone, and can’t text them! Or you are trying to take a picture or notes, and suddenly – you are in the dark ages. There are plenty of places to charge your device, but never exactly when you need it.

Walk down the right hand side

Okay folks, this one is like super annoying. When you are walking down the exceedingly crowded aisleways, use common courtesy – walk down the right side. You are sharing a building with 20,000 other people. If everyone is doing their own thing, you’ll never get anyway. Be polite, walk down the right, not the left. If you are having trouble differentiating right and left, please check out this link.

Don’t stop in the middle of the flow of traffic

Arggh! This one is even more frustrating! If you’re going to stop somewhere, don’t stop abruptly in the middle of traffic, OR in the middle of a major intersection. There is always at least one or two bottleneck locations, and Philadelphia is no different. There is an intersection right outside of the Keynote Hall, and it will be crazy busy, all the time. This is not a good place to stop and chat with friends, or arrange to meet people. Choose another place.

Bring Liquid Refreshment

You will be talking and walking and listening, and you’re going to get thirsty. There is rarely enough places to get something to drink without standing in line for an hour. But there are always water fountains or other water sources. Bring a full water bottle to start, and re-fill it as necessary. If you are a coffee drinker, try and pick up a coffee before you get to the convention centre – it will be way cheaper, and you won’t wait forever for it. Stay hydrated. Nuff said.

Bring a snack

Oh my goodness, have you ever thought of the logistics involved in providing food services for 20,000 people? It’s just not possible. There will never be a way for this to happen at an ISTE conference. Yes, there are always a number of local establishments outside the conference centre, sometimes nearby, sometimes blocks away. But everyone will want to eat at the same time. Best thing to do is bring a few snacks – I always have a few granola bars in my pack, and they hit the spot. I’ll try and wait until later to have anything more substantial – like around 2:00 PM-ish, when the crowds are a little more manageable. Or better yet, snack all day, and join a bunch of your friends for an awesome supper-visit.

Be early

Sessions at ISTE are always packed. If there is a session you really want to see, try to be there 20 minutes early minimum. Maybe even more. It is just about impossible to do back to back sessions all day long. And sure enough, the one you really want to see, will be so full, they’ve closed the door. Try to add some nice breaks between sessions, or even intersperse sessions with visits to the Expo Hall – there is tonnes to learn there too. They even run plenty of mini sessions there too!


Bring one that has your electronics, water bottle, and some granola bars. But make sure you’ve got room for all the really neat swag that you’ll pick up, as well as product information, t-shirts, you name it. I even through a bag into the backpack, because usually by the end of the day (if I have been in the Expo Hall), both bags will have substantial content. Don’t forget to sort through it before you pack your suitcase for the return airplane flight – you may have a very heavy bag!

Good shoes

You will be on your feet all day long. Usually I arrive at the conference around 7:30 AM, and leave at the end of the day. You really really want comfortable shoes. Maybe you want to make a fashion statement and wear some gorgeous shoes, but they are awful to walk in – resist the urge. Get comfortable shoes that you can stand in all day long, and you will never regret it.

Keynote Presentations

Keynotes are awesome times! There is usually an incredible live band, lots of great learning, and I have enjoyed every ISTE Keynote that I’ve been to! Remember, you will be sharing the room with 7,500 of your closest friends, and they will be sitting shoulder to shoulder with you. Try not to bring large bags with you, or your lunch – you will be annoying to all of your neighbours. This is a great time to get there early (like at least an hour) and visit with your friends and neighbours in line and in your seat. Take great notes, and have an open mind. Even if the keynote speaker doesn’t at first glance seem relevant, you can learn something from anyone. By the way, getting out is a bit of a process, so feel free to sit back and visit for a few more minutes, update your blog, or text some friends. Waiting even an extra 10 minutes, you’ll probably still get out at the same time, but you won’t have spent 10 minutes in the cattle chute. PS if you don’t like big crowds, the keynotes are always simulcast in various playgrounds and lounges around the buildings. You can get a comfy seat with others and watch the keynote in style – no line ups.

Talk to Everyone

Finally – talk to everyone! Stray away from your small group and branch out to meet new people. You will be amazed at the friends you will make! I have many friends that I only see once per year, and I can’t wait for the next ISTE to catch up with them again. You’ll get invited to many functions, you’ll be able to tag along if you are by yourself, and you’ll enrich your own experience and those around by being a friend.

Okay, that’s a long post, but perhaps a few of these tips may make your (and those around you), have an even better ISTE Conference experience!



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