SAS Global Forum 2016 is the largest gathering of SAS users in the world, with more than 5,000 data scientists, analytic professionals and business leaders expected for this year’s event at The Venetian in Las Vegas, April 18-21. While many users make the event a part of their professional development plan each year, about half of attendees are experiencing the event for the first time. (Last year 56% of attendees were first-timers.)
With so many sessions, learning and networking opportunities, and activities, your first SAS Global Forum experience can be a little overwhelming. To help new attendees navigate their first conference experience, I asked several members of the SAS Global Users Group Executive Board this question: What advice would you give first-time attendees at SAS Global Forum?
Several great tips emerged.
Tip #1: Attend the First-Timers Session.
Several board members recommend the appropriately named First-Timers’ Session as a great place to start. “The First-Timers’ Session will provide you with a road map on how to navigate the conference,” says 1990 SAS Global Forum chair Tony L. Oña. Oña says the session is designed to give first-time attendees an overview of the conference, help them decide on what sessions to attend, and provide tips for getting the most out of their first conference experience. The session takes place on Monday, April 18 from 2:30-3:30pm.
Tip #2: Spend time in The Quad.
The Quad is a casual and interactive space that invites attendees to gather, mingle, share and learn from other SAS professionals. Independent Consultant and 2001 chair Frank Fry says The Quad is a great place to interact with SAS staff and partners. “Go to The Quad, ask questions of SAS staff or vendors and network.” The Quad offers software demos, business strategy sessions, theater presentations, games, and numerous networking opportunities. “Take advantage of all of the learning opportunities available in The Quad,” suggests 2011 Chair Debbie Buck. “And, try to attend all of the networking events and receptions held there.”
Tip #3: Make a plan.
Marje Fecht, 2014 chair, says there are so many talks, it can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan. “Plan your agenda before you arrive as you’ll be too busy to do this at the conference!" Board member and SAS Vice President of Publications Kathy Council has similar advice. “Don’t try to do everything in the first year. Settle on one or two areas that interest you and focus on hearing those presentations.”
Tip #4: Buddy up.
Council also advises you to try to find a friend. “Try to buddy up with a friend. Whether that person has been to a past SAS Global Forum or not, you’ll find the experience less overwhelming with a friend. And, finding someone to hang around with and attend papers with can make the experience more fun.” Last year’s SAS Global Forum chair Tyler Smith was even more prescriptive: “Attach to someone wearing a lot of badge ribbons and follow them around!”
Tip#5: Get involved.
While it can be overwhelming, Smith advises first-timers to dive right in. “Get involved. Go to everything.” Art Carpenter, 2003 conference chair, suggests volunteering as a great way to get involved. Even though you haven’t attended, you can still volunteer. “The conference is run by volunteers, so volunteer to help at the conference. You will be surprised by how much helping at the conference will increase your conference experience. It will give you easy non-threatening opportunities to meet conference leaders and other SAS users, and will give you additional insight about the conference.”
This year’s Global Forum Chair and Executive Board member Jennifer Waller shares her thoughts on volunteering in her blog Can you help?” Volunteer opportunities aplenty at SAS Global Forum 2016.
Tip #6: Network.
Finally, members of the board encourage first-time attendees to network. “Network with people,” says 2013 chair Rick Mitchell. “While it’s great to focus on the content of the conference, try to attend/participate in as many non-presentation activities as you can. There are so many people there with similar backgrounds to talk with, and there are so many others with different backgrounds that give you new perspectives and learning experiences that may change your life.”
So there’s a bit of advice for first-timers from the SAS Global Users Group Executive Board. If you’ve attended past SAS Global Forums, do you have any additional tips for first-time attendees? If so, feel free to contribute them in the comments below or begin a discussion in the SAS Global Forum 2016 community group.