April 9, 2007
Sunday / Early Monday – Sunny but cold.
This is why I always try to travel a day early. It is seven in the morning on Sunday and I am already facing delays. I am in secure zone of the tiny Victoria International Airport waiting for a maintenance team to be flow in from Vancouver to service the 737. This is part of what living outside a major urban center is all about. Life really is a bit slower out here on the perimeters and this morning, island life is slowly living up to its well earned reputation. What is the biggest difference between my little town and a granola bar? There is more cohesion between the nuts and flakes in the granola bar than there is in my town. That’s what.
Chill out Jim. I shouldn’t complain. I am heading to the most interesting city on the planet to take part in one of the largest and most influential tech events on the planet. I am heading to Search Engine Strategies New York and I have a special sort of love for SES events and, of course, those who attend them. My iPod is fully charged and fully loaded, the airline is providing free coffee and donuts and a group of gorgeous blondes just sat down two rows in front of me. Come to think of it, perhaps the rest of this entry can wait a few minutes.
Nope. Fate intercedes, likely saving me minutes of excruciating embarrassment. The Doors song (show me the way to the next…) “Whiskey Bar” started as I punctuated the last paragraph. It reminds me of some of the adventures awaiting me. The Whiskey Bar in the basement of the W hotel in Times Square is actually one of my first stops tonight.
For those familiar with Search Engine Strategies Conferences will know, there are actually three sorts of conferences running concurrently at SES.
Sessions and Classes
There are the scheduled sessions running five at a time on the second floor of the enormous Midtown Hilton. This is what everyone thinks of when they think SES, as well they should. The sessions run the gamut from basic to advanced level and are led by legendary names in the search marketing industry. One does not walk away from a SES session without learning a number of new things. I’ll write more about the sessions later, likely after experiencing a couple of them.
A second conference happens in meeting rooms, hotels and restaurants around Midtown. Many of us will meet with (or make) various business partners this week. In an industry such as ours, seizing any opportunity for face-time is important when a team works from remote locations.
The Legend of the Last Call
The third sort of conference is the one folks only hear a little about, the bars, cars and parties. One has to be careful writing about the after-hours events. Like Las Vegas, what happens at the parties stays at the parties. Suffice it say the parties provide the heart and soul of SES, especially for weary writers wrecking their bodies and minds traveling across the continent covering these things. This year, I have been granted the unexpected privilege of taking a WebmasterRadio microphone to a few of the parties. This is a bigger deal than it might seem at first read. I interpret the invitation as a sign of trust from my colleagues. Well then…
So I am supposed to be airborne by now but I am not. I am watching the 737 being filled by with fuel from a truck that looks far too small to carry enough petrol to keep a plane aloft for several hours. There are also a number of maintenance people crawling over and through the plane. I am not sure how to interpret that fact but I am trying my best to ignore the pre-flight anxiety every flyer feels before boarding a plane. Nevertheless, I can’t help but notice that all the maintenance people look as if they are twenty years younger than I am. At least the pilots, who just strolled past, look even older than me. I hope they are not senile. One has to assume they know what they are doing, one has to….
Since we have this unscheduled time together, let’s go over conference necessities for a bit.
The number one priority is two pairs of comfortable shoes and twice as many socks as one really needs. Anyone attending SES is going to be spending a lot of time on their feet. Expensive shoes are worth every penny if they keep your feet happy for the 14 – 16 hour working day associated with a tech conference. One can’t put a price on foot comfort, especially when meeting hundreds or even perhaps thousands of new people each day. Being comfortable can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful outcomes.
The next priority is to ensure one is wired. A laptop, digital recorder and digital camera will each play an important role in making SES an event you will be able to remember. All electronic goods and aids are present and fully charged. Even if one isn’t “covering” the event like I am, recording devices are necessities. Has anyone warned you about the volume of information about to be downloaded and shared? Similarly, a good digital camera is important, if only to capture images for Flickr and of course memory’s sake.
As I said before, my iPod is loaded and charged. I hope my seatmate doesn’t mind a barrage of 80’s music punctuated with some hardcore punk. It’s hard to take oneself seriously as a person of business while listening to the Meat Puppets or the Dead Kennedys but if traveling must be done, my music must be at least as abrasive as the experience of travel is. Somehow that helps.
If it Happens Again I am Leaving
It happened again. For the second time in four months, my plane depressurized and was forced to make an emergency landing. Somewhere over the Rockies, everything went weird. Cabin pressure fell rapidly as the backup system struggled to keep up. The experience wasn’t as terrifying as my other recent air-raising incident but, as the plane was diverted to Vancouver (sixty miles from where we started), I am seriously questioning the wisdom of my chosen profession. Three hours later, our airplane is “fixed” (same plane) and we are off again. I have severely missed my connection in Toronto and my first interview which was scheduled for Sunday night. Sorry Joe.
I guess that brings us to necessary item number three, nerves of steel. SES is not for the feint hearted. Hanging out with the very best brains from the search marketing sector isn’t necessarily intimidating but it can be a bit scary sometimes. The levels of knowledge and skills present can be a bit overwhelming, even for veterans of such events. The first time I was approached by Danny Sullivan, I recall freezing. Similarly, every time I meet Christine Churchill, all sense and reason exits, leaving me standing like a deer in extremely bright headlights. After a few minutes, one realizes that Danny, Christine and everyone else are possibly the nicest folks in tech that is, if one can survive those first few minutes without hyperventilating.
Finding the strength to face your idols is one thing. Finding the energy to make it through an entire day is another. Eat and rest well friends. A full working week of intelligent mayhem waits. Dedicated learning in the daytime leads to dedicated debauchery at night. There is a lot to do. This is where prioritizing comes into play. What is more important to you, attending the sessions or attending the parties? Though I have scientifically proven it is possible to do both, the effort comes at a heavy toll on both body and mind. What the heck, there is plenty of time for sleep 40 – 50 years from now. Have fun while you can.
And I guess that brings us to the last point for the day. Have fun while you can. For those who make it to SES, you are here for a reason. Appreciate and revel in it. Search Engine Strategies is the premier conference for search marketers. New York is one of the premier cities on the planet. Anyone who makes it here finds themselves hanging out with the best in our business. Enjoy.
Author: Jim Hedger is the Executive Editor of Jayde-Online publications Sitepronews.com and SEO-News.com/. Known as one of the most prolific writers and journalists covering the search marketing scene, Jim also hosts The Alternative on WebmasterRadio.fm/. He is currently in New York covering SES NY.