by Jon Bucud, CTA, San Diego CUGC Leader
Welcome to May, it’s officially Citrix Synergy month! So your organization is sending you to Citrix Synergy, but you’re already dreading being in a large space with an exponential number of unfamiliar faces. You’re having visions of paralyzing social-anxiety, awkward interactions with others and everlasting doubt of what to do next? Well, I hope I can help you make it through what could very well be the best week of your Citrix journey.
To start, here’s a little background on myself. I’ve been attending Synergy for the better part of a decade, initially as a post-sales engineer for a Citrix Platinum Partner and now as a customer. As an introvert myself, I struggled with the day-to-day interactions, all the while my pre-sales counterparts masterfully displayed such prowess in—trivialities such as maintaining direct eye contact, carrying small talk, accepting awkward silence, and getting a feel for timing of conversation. Like many of us in our line of work, I’d sooner be faced with the seemingly insurmountable task dumped into my lap, then have to deal with the social-anxiety of navigating idle chit-chat with strangers. As with any other engineering challenge, we just need to take a step back, evaluate the situation, formulate a plan, and execute! I highly suggest going over Neil Spellings’ ultimate guides for best tips and tricks to surviving the conference as well as checking out the Citrix Synergy Paths to Success.
Ultimately, you will want to identify why you’re attending, what you hope to achieve by attending, and what you feel you need to take back to your organization. I’m sure we all have learning goals, so I’ll focus primarily on getting through the social aspects of the conference.
Synergy, like most tech conferences, is comprised of five major parts:
- Sessions (think Keynote), super sessions, and tech breakout sessions
- Synergy Park (home of the Social and Community Hubs) the Interactive Learning zone where you’ll find the Citrix User Group Community (CUGC)
- Solutions Expo where you’ll have direct access to vendors and solution providers
- After-hours and extracurricular events
- Meal breaks
Hands up if you can identify which is my favorite.
Do you think it’s the sessions? For an introvert, they’re definitely the most palatable component of any conference. Nothing beats finding a seat in the back, flipping open the laptop (to take notes, right?), and listening to someone nerd out on the topic du jour. Make sure to check out the session catalog at https://www.citrixsynergy.com and fill your schedule with wall-to-wall sessions. That being said, just because a session is on your schedule, does not mean you have to attend it. If anything, your session schedule should be your contingency plan and not your be-all and end-all plan at Synergy. It is vitally important that you do not suffer from fear of missing out on sessions.
You’ll find solace in knowing that 90% of the sessions—excluding select NDA material—should be available to you online at https://live.citrixsynergy.com/2019/presentations.php after the conference.
Of course, you knew that! Since you’re not attending just to sit in on breakout sessions. Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re attending to learn from, network with, and interact with your peers; the Citrix Community!
My favorite part of Synergy, or any tech conference for that matter, is the meal breaks. Yes, the round tables that seat a dozen other introverts, who are also a nervous wreck, are where I’ve forged the most meaningful connections with people. If this all sounds petrifying and impossible, I highly suggest making your way to the Lunch Table Tech Chats. They’re informal discussions where you’re guaranteed to have a subject matter expert leading the table discussion. There is no need to sign up, just arrive early as they fill up FAST! If someone else wants to take the reins at the table, that’s great as well, but remember to be a good listener; that means putting your phone away, being cognizant of your own non-verbal communication, asking probing questions and most importantly, not interrupting. The table as a whole will feel more appreciated when others can either offer poignant feedback or have genuine curiosity expressed in them.
If you can’t make it to a Lunch Table Tech Chat, remember there are likely many people that feel just like you do in social situations. Keep the small talk to a minimum, prepare a quick introduction of who you are, where you’re from, and what you do specifically. A typical go-to starter can be as simple as, “What sessions are you looking forward to?”, “What do you hope to take away from the conference”, or “How many Chuck Norris references do you think Dan Feller will slip into his slide deck this year?” Word of advice: automatically add any session by Daniel Feller to your schedule.
Don’t be afraid to break the ice and immediately pivot to something highly technical. Chances are, the people at your table are highly technical or work with/lead highly technical people. On a technical topic, we’ll be in our comfort zone and the crushing weight should be off our shoulders.
Before leaving the table, make sure you’re prepared to network and follow-up. Try personalize the act of swapping business cards by writing a quick note on the back that will reference your conversation; eg. SAML SSO at Weds Lunch, or even better connect on LinkedIn and include the note there, if you don’t have business cards or LinkedIn, download the Citrix Events app and swap QR codes in the “Connect with Others” section.
Ok, so lunch is over, and the odds are you’re emotionally and maybe even a bit physically drained. Keep in mind, it’s OK to take a break. Why not head on down to Synergy Park where the aforementioned Social and Community Hubs are located? Don’t let the “social” name fool you, it doesn’t have to be social. Did I mention they have arcade games setup throughout the area? You’ll also find the ever-popular Lego minifigure station there.
Both are prime spots to break the ice with your peers with an easy “So, what do you do? Aside from crush my all-time Galaga score that is?!” The Community Hub in Synergy Park is also where you can get connected with your local CUGC chapter.
Feel free to take a load off on a couch, beanbag, barstool, or other super comfortable seat, which the Synergy staff have graciously equipped with outlets and USB chargers, and recharge your phone, mind and body. Keep an ear open though because you’ll be within earshot some of the best that Synergy can offer: Fireside Chats, Meet the Experts Theaters, and Match.Geek sessions.
The Fireside Chats are spectacular because you get to skip the formalities of small talk. You’ll have the chance to sit in a small intimate setting with Citrix SMEs, customers, CTP, and CTAs alike in a panel-type discussion on highly relevant topics. Since you’ll immediately dive into technical content, you should feel right at home. These sessions are Q&A driven so I encourage you be prepared to pose questions and definitely make mental notes of who you can follow-up with after the session breaks. In my experience, I’ve found presenters and attendees of the Fireside Chats are highly receptive to the community and love to give back (read as: nerd out).
Meet the Experts Theaters are a great opportunity to take in dynamic content that you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. You’ll hear from experts and customers go over how they overcame real world challenges by leveraging your favorite Citrix technologies. These events are not as interactive but are still much more open to Q&A then breakout sessions which tend to only take a handful of questions.
If you’re looking for more of a one-on-one setting, be sure to sign up for a Match.Geek appointment ahead of time. You’ll be afforded the opportunity to sit across the table with the cream-of-the-crop industry expert of your choice. Consider these thirty minutes invaluable. I cannot say it enough—you’ll want to be prepared to pepper them with questions such as “How can I fine-tune my seemingly edge-case scenario that has been plaguing my Citrix environment?”, “What have you done so far?”, or “Are your challenges ever technical or organizationally cultural?”
Before you set foot into the Solutions Expo, you’ll want to have a plan (notice a pattern here?) and have a line of questions prepared. Is there currently a challenge in your environment that you want to resolve? Or is there something in your organization’s long-term plans that you heard a product can help you with? Maybe it was a product that you just learned about from someone you just met? Be honest and upfront about what your needs are, what you’re trying to accomplish, and what challenges you’ve faced so you can breeze your way around the expo floor. Otherwise, feel free to walk the floor and listen to others pose questions. Remember to be a good listener, so don’t interrupt but do feel free to share your experiences, if appropriate, and your contact information (network, network, network).
Regarding the after parties or extracurricular events, don’t feel bad if you don’t make it to every event. I can’t stress this enough—I highly suggest attending an evening event or two. Whether it’s with your local Citrix team, a VAR or solutions provider sponsored event, or the official Final Night Party, it’s much better to dip your toe in the pool than regret not going out. If nothing else, the evening events provide excellent people watching opportunities. Remember, as introverts at a tech conference, we’re likely in the majority, and whether you drink alcohol or not, an even greater majority will have a bit of liquid courage in them as well.
Finally, please, please, please, have a good time. As awkward as you can feel, or as paralyzing as social anxiety can be, remember you’re attending for a purpose: for the betterment of your career and to take back nuggets of information that will empower you and your organization to reach new heights. If only by an inkling, I do hope you can be a little more comfortable doing so having made it this far. I know it’s difficult, but even to this day, I have to constantly remind myself that what we as engineers do on a daily basis is difficult too, and just as solving such problems can be rewarding, the feeling of breaking through “other barriers” can be as well.
Here’s to a great Citrix Synergy 2019.
Follow me on Twitter @zyphaz
Neil Spellings’ Ultimate Synergy Guide
Tobias Kreidl’s CUGC Members Presenting at Synergy 2019
Lunch Table Tech Chats
Match.Geek sign up