First time attending CES? Heads up, it can be more than a little overwhelming! This convention is not just a trade show, but an incredible opportunity for education, business development, and networking. Here is how to maximize your time at CES, avoid the BS, and get the most for your money:
Budget Your Time: Remember What You Are Here For.
CES is a massive event, with exhibits, panels, and events all the way down the Las Vegas strip. If you have ever spent any time in Vegas, you know that it is a city filled with distractions! From the moment you step onto the strip, you will find yourself surrounded by flashing lights, bumping club music, and scantily clad performers. It is easy to get caught up in the energy of the strip, and forget what you are here for, so it is crucial that you budget your time properly in advance. If you plan on really doing Vegas while you are there for CES, I suggest you plan on arriving a couple of days before the convention, or staying a few days after. That way you are not tempted to skip out on events and networking opportunities that could further your goals, in favor of tourist activities.
You want to be sure that you don’t miss the events and sessions you are most interested in because you have exhausted yourself by 3pm. That said, CES events begin in the morning, as early as 8am, and the private parties can go well into the night, often ending in an afterparty at a bar or a club. That makes for a very long day! You cannot possibly see everything, and at some point, you will need a break. Let yourself take that break! Stop somewhere for lunch, or go back to your hotel for a nap. That way you can face the 2nd phase of your day feeling refreshed!
So, make sure to take note of which exhibits, sessions, and events are a MUST SEE for you and your business. That way you can plan for breaks accordingly. If you spend all of your time on exhibits that are outside of your industry, you may not have the energy to attend events and sessions that could lead to you building your financial empire. Maybe you have an interest in cars, so you WANT to see the latest in vehicular technology, but is that where you really NEED to be if it is not relevant to your industry? Perhaps not. Focus on building your empire, not the shiny objects you want to buy once you have built it. It is crucial that you not spend too much time in one place. There are a lot of connections to be made and ideas to be had, so if one building is not inspiring you, or you are not meeting the right type of people, move on! CES is massive, so don’t get discouraged; it is nearly impossible not to find something that is relevant to you.
Know Where You Need to Be: Look up the Exhibit Map Ahead of Time.
Once you have handled your registration, I recommend checking out the CES Exhibitor Directory on their website. These helpful interactive maps will help you figure out where you need to go. There will be multiple large buildings filled with exhibits, so you may need to take a shuttle, a car, or walk a significant distance to get to the next exhibit on your must-see list. This will be important to know before you plan your day. That exhibit directory is a crucial planning tool! Know what you are looking for, find it on the Exhibitor Directory, and plan your route! The directory is very easy to use. In addition to the interactive maps, you can use their search tool to help you find the specific exhibits you are looking for.
It's Okay to Skip the Keynotes.
Unlike other CES events, the keynote presentations are recorded and you can watch them later. So, unless the talk is very specific to your industry, I say, skip the keynotes and watch them at your leisure. That is not to say that the keynotes are not worthwhile. I learned a lot from the keynote I attended! Because I work for the Western Ag Reporter, a prominent agricultural publication, one of my primary focuses going into CES 2023 was agricultural technology. Therefore, I did attend the John Deere keynote, so I could create some content. Since I had a media badge, I was able to sit up front. But this room is massive, so don’t expect to get great photos or videos of the keynote speakers unless you are there with a special badge.
Be Open to the After Parties – This is Where Real Connections Are Made.
There are many private parties and events which are not on the CES schedule. Previous and prominent attendees are often invited to these parties in advance, so if it is your first time, you will need to make some new friends to get invited! You may hear about a CES party and arrive at the hotel, only to find that there does not seem to be an event, and the hotel employees have no idea what you are talking about. You have likely heard about a private event. The hotel employees will not be able to help you. Typically, invitees are given a phone number to call, and the event host will bring you up to the suite. If you want to get in, you will need to be invited by someone else who has been invited. So be open to talking to people, put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to ask what people are doing tonight. You may get invited to a private party in an exhibitor’s suite, a private dinner, or a nightclub outing!
These events are often where relationships are solidified and ideas discussed. However, I strongly urge you to be cautious. Try to go with a friend or a colleague you trust. This way, you can watch out for each other and ensure that you are safe, and that nobody is drinking too much. It may be tempting to lean into the party feel that these private events can take on, but it is important that you stay sharp. There are a lot of wonderful people attending CES, but there will always be those who try to take advantage of you, or want to get you alone for the wrong reasons. That’s not to mention the abundance of casino operators, sex workers, and nightclub professionals trying to bait you into drunkenly spending all of your money while you are on the strip.
Can’t find an afterparty? Not a problem! I recommend you go out, while wearing your CES badge. You should expect so see these badges all over the strip, even outside of designated CES events! You may meet someone in the lobby at your hotel, at a bar, or in the VIP section in the club. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversation. If someone is giving you signals that they want to end the conversation, it really isn’t a big deal; don’t take it personally! Over 100,000 people attend this convention. You will at least manage to collect a few business cards and have some quality conversations. I know it can be intimidating, but the networking opportunities here are insane, so do yourself a favor and talk to the person next to you!
Book Your Hotel Early & Arrive Early - It's Worth Staying on the Strip if You Can Afford It.
A lot of people come into town for CES, so it is wise to book your travel and hotel accommodations as soon as possible if you want to get a good deal. This is particularly true if you want to stay at a mid-range or high-end resort, as these get booked up quickly, and pricing will surge. Yes, there are countless accommodation options in Vegas, but if it is in your budget, I strongly suggest staying somewhere on the strip, ideally in one of the resorts that is hosting CES events. This will save you a lot of time and money in travel! All of the CES events take place on the strip, which is about 4 miles long. Thankfully, there are a lot of free trams, buses, and shuttles available at the various hotels and convention center buildings hosting CES events. These free services, as well as the affordable Las Vegas monorail system will be crucial in helping you to get around efficiently. Consider where you need to be and how you will get there when booking your accommodations. You may think you are saving money by staying off-strip, but once you add up all of the money you will end up spending on car services, you may find that you would have saved more money by putting yourself in an area that is more walkable, and has more public transportation.
Arriving in Las Vegas before CES starts could get you a complimentary upgrade, or allow you to make changes to your booking more easily. Most people arrive the day before CES begins, and the lines to check in are out the door. So, if you are there a couple of days early, you will have a much smoother time checking in, or making any necessary changes to your reservation. My colleague and I arrived a few days prior to when the events started, and checking in at Treasure Island was a breeze! We even got a complimentary upgrade, to a room on the 32nd floor, overlooking the strip. If there isn’t much of a line when you check in, there is a good chance you could ask for an upgrade!
Pack the Right Stuff – Comfort is Key
You are most likely going to be spending A LOT of time on your feet, so comfortable shoes are an absolute must. I mean it; leave the heels at home! They will just take up space in your bag. The convention center and the resort spaces are huge, and not particularly close together. Even if you take a car to each destination, you will be walking and standing a significant amount of time once you are inside the building. So, make sure you have the appropriate footwear, and prepare for blisters if you don’t! As for the rest of your outfit, it’s really up to you! From what I saw at CES 2023 most people were relatively casual, as that is commonplace in the tech industry. That is not to say that nobody dressed up. I made sure to pack my favorite blazer and a few dresses, myself. Your outfit does send a message, so consider what you want to say with that. Do you want to be the buttoned up professional in the suit, the quirky trendsetter in the funky shirt, or laid-back business casual? That all depends on who you are, how you feel comfortable, what you are trying to get out of CES, and what types of people you are hoping to meet.
Don’t Be That Guy - Seeing Through the B.S.
Let me reiterate this; there are a lot of exceptional people at CES. But like any group of people, there are going to be some that you would be better off to avoid. There is a lot of posturing done on the convention circuit, and some people will try to convince you that they have more to offer you than they do, or they seem to go on and on bragging about their business and their life, without stopping to ask you about yours. People do this for different reasons. Some are simply insecure in themselves or their business, so they try to over explain or brag. Others will outright try to manipulate you, for nefarious business or personal reasons. In either case, these are the people that you want to avoid. I have said before that desperation smells. You can sense when someone is trying too hard to make a pitch, so NEVER be that guy.
Instead, try to focus on making real connections, rather than pitching to just anyone who will give you the time of day. You don't need to walk up to someone with a mission in mind. You will get much better responses by simply asking them genuine questions. You don't need to overthink it. Something as basic as “how are you enjoying the convention” or “What company are you here with?” will go a long way. These are easy questions that you can use to segue into business conversation, but this is NOT the time to pitch. If you, or they are not interested in continuing the conversation, simply move on. Additionally, just because someone is not in your industry, do not discount them as a viable connection. You never know who they are connected with or what else they are involved in, so if you have a good conversation with someone outside your industry, ask for a business card, or their LinkedIn!
CES is a fantastic place to learn about new technologies, how they may impact your industry, and what you can do to apply those technologies to work in your favor. There is a lot to explore, in a relatively short amount of time, so be sure to plan accordingly to get the most out of your time at CES!