I've attended or worked at most major Microsoft shows over the past few years and am often asked "Which show is best and why?" Having just returned from attending a terrific week-long show (TechReady - it's for internal MS employees only), I've been thinking a bit about this.  First here's my non-inclusive list of shows

  • Covergence - 3/11 in San Diego - if Dynamics is your thing, this is the show for you
  • Mix - 4/30 in Las Vegas - this one is for Web developers and Web designers - it's also the best "party" of any show.  Also, it's one of the few Microsoft shows which has a relatively large amount of non-MS presentations, i.e. EBay, etc.
  • MEDC - 4/30 in Las Vegas - all things Mobile development - this year it's being held at the same time and place as Mix.  Where else can you actually have robot car races and claim that you are working?
  • BI Conference - 5/9 in Seattle - new this year, focusing on data warehousing (or business intelligence) using SQL Server, Analysis Services, etc... 
  • TechED - 6/4 in Orlando - this is big kahuna, everyone and everything is here.  If you've never been - pace yourself.  For first timers, exhaustion by the third day is quite common.
  • WWP - 7/10 in Denver - this is one (World Wide Partner) that I've not attended, I hear that this is more sales than tech focused 
  • PDC - 10/2 in Los Angeles - want to see the future?  Attend this one.  Here you'll see hard-core developer presentations on current products as well as a first glimpse of stuff coming down the road.  PDC is only held when there is something new to talk about, which has translated into NOT every year.  Lately it's been held every other year.

Now I know you may be saying, "Hey, where's <insert your favorite show name here>?"  And, to be fair, I haven't attended every conference there is.  I've heard good things about WinHec, FlashForward, SQL Pass and others.

Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of shows:

  1. Read about it before you go - plan what you'll attend based on your interest in topic and speaker
  2. Sign up for sessions in advance - conference planners add repeat sessions based on this information, so that increases the possibility that you'll actually be able to attend more things that you are interested in
  3. Adjust when you get there - things change, speakers cancel, you may not be as interested in something as you thought you were, if bored in a session, leave, go do something else
  4. Pace yourself - I've seen lots of people literally sleeping (and not because of boring sessions) by the third day
  5. Bump into new people - sit with peple you don't know at meals, introduce yourself, I've met a large number of very interesting people that way
  6. Listen - in the halls, at parties, etc.  this is one of the most valuable things about any conference.  People say what they really think while they are walking between sessions (and none of that gets recorded on the post conference DVD!)
  7. Follow the blue shirts - particularly at PDC.  Microsoft employees know which sessions and speakers are most interesting.  If you see a group of blue shirts heading over to a session, you might want to check that session out too.
  8. Try out the hands on labs - and while you are there, talk to the proctors.  Ask them which labs they like best
  9. Do evaluations - conference planers really do make adjustments based on attendee feedback - plus you can win prizes
  10. Don't carry a laptop - just use the CommNet area to check email.  It's a great place to hear what people actually think.  Also if you don't have a laptop, you'll be less inclined to not pay attention during sessions.

I'd be interested to know which conferences you like best, why and what tips you have for getting the most from a technical conference. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, if I could pick only one show, I'd attend PDC every time.  Why?  The show's focus on the future.  Attending this show may not make the most business sense for everyone, but, if you can manage it, and, if you are a curious person, then you'll really enjoy it.