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Surviving @Dreamforce for the last 10 years

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Home » Blog » Surviving @Dreamforce for the last 10 years

I consider myself a Dreamforce veteran – a repeat offender. I was founder and CEO of Nimbus who were a Salesforce customer in 2000 when Salesforce had just 2 people in their London office and there were Leads, Accounts and Contact objects. We were one of the 3 featured customers at the London event where there  were 100 delegates with Marc beating the “no software” drum. We were early evangelists. Since then I have spoken at multiple Dreamforce events and been close to Salesforce for nearly 15 years.

DF14 : wasted opportunity?

I am now living in San Francisco running Q9Elements – a process knowledge software company – that is a Salesforce partner. So I felt I had a pretty good idea how to maximize my time at Dreamforce2014. But I was not really ready for what I found on Monday morning in 2014: 150,000 attendees and 1,400 sessions, 400 sponsors, customer case studies from the world’s top brands and some top speakers. In fact it is probably the largest software user conference ever. The scale is staggering. The energy was palpable.

But post-event I reflected on the experience and it was best described as wasted opportunity. Some of it is due to the organisation and scale of the event which I blogged about, but we have no control over that.  So achieving what you want from the significant investment in attending Dreamforce it is all about YOUR planning and preparation, hence this blog.

DF15: Survive & thrive

Even the most extrovert will find DF15 a little overwhelming. But worse that that, the scale of the event means it is easy to completely fail to achieve anything meaningful.  So here are some simple survival tips.

Planning; “failing to plan is planning to fail”

  • objectives: What are you trying to achieve; research, education, contacts?  Don’t set too high a bar. It is only a few days and you will be maxed out for the entire time.
  • hotel and transport: Every city hotel jacks up their prices so you will probably need to find a hotel which is a distance away. The BART (underground) is very efficient and runs late so you can stay a reasonable distance outside the city center.  The last ferries across to the north bay (Tiburon and Marin) are 9:30pm so not ideal for that late party and the Gala and Uber/taxis can be extortionate. Last year I heard one trip cost $450 to Marin!!!
  • sessions: With so many sessions on offer you shouldn’t wait until you get to Dreamforce to decide. Also the sessions are in different hotels/venues which will require a walk between them, so expecting to be able to get into back-to-back sessions is impossible. Add in the fact that the most popular sessions get overbooked, you need to get register and get there early. Don’t try and do too many. Some/most will be available on video after the event.
  • expo: There are free tickets given to attendees for the expo and keynotes. So the expo will be very busy, with lots of people there just to “collect free swag”. If there are specific vendors you want to talk to, contact them in advance and arrange a meeting. That way you can guarantee to get what you need and they will thank you.
  • parties: A number of the vendors are hosting parties. Which ones do you or must you go to? Those that are suddenly deemed to be the “cool” or “in” parties will be massively over-subscribed and you probably won’t get in even if you have pre-registered. Last year some of the parties had lines stretching around the block to get in. Having said that, standing in line is a great way to network.
  • work back at the office: Try and make sure that you are not trying to hold down the day job at the same time. You will not make the most of DF15 and you will compromise the day job.


  • only 2 types of luggage: hand luggage and lost luggage. Travel light so you do not need to check luggage and risk it being lost by the airline, adding extra levels of stress.
  • clothes and shoes; Dress code varies massively from t-shirts and jeans to business attire – but there are no suits. You’ll need to wear something comfortable, but which also makes you feel strong, confident and self-assured. And you will need shoes which will not be painful after 12 hours standing around and walking miles between venues.
  • technology; You are probably going to use your phone for accessing the conference app, maps and email, so do you have an external USB charger as you will not be able to find a wall outlet. How are you taking notes? If it is a laptop, then will it have enough charge, and what will you do with it at the party? There are never enough outlets for people to charge laptops and phones.
  • headache remedy: It is inevitable you will end up with a buzzing headache; 12 hours on your feet, constantly talking to people, air-conditioning and partying.  What do you use or need?


  • getting your pass; This was a zoo last year with a 30-45 min line at 7am on Monday morning. So register on Sunday evening if you can, or get up VERY early on Monday.
  • sessions; Register for the sessions you want to get into, but still get their early.
  • parties; Get yourself on the VIP list to guarantee to get in.

Pacing yourself

  • take breaks; This is a marathon at sprint speed. But pace yourself. Don’t try and do or see too much. Give yourself some time between sessions to be able to think, absorb and reflect on what you’ve just heard. If you leave it til later all the sessions will blur into each other.
  • energy; What do you need to do to keep your energy up? Make sure you arrive refreshed. Make sure you sleep enough. Try to avoid the massive amounts of junk food that is on offer.
  • snacks; What snacks help you stay alert and energised? 14 cups of coffee, 2 cans of Coke and 4 chocolate chip cookies is probably NOT the right answer!!!
  • safe place; Find yourself somewhere that you can go to to sit, think, re-energize. You may need somewhere to escape the madding crowd. The W Hotel opposite the conference venue is busy, but try upstairs.


  • 15 rules for networking; Here are 15 pointers to help you improve radically:
  1. Know why you’re there.  Is it for the social side, to develop sales or to raise your profile?  Then ask the question “Can I achieve that here?”
  2. Set low expectations – aim to get NO MORE THAN 5 business cards or useful / relevant contacts.
  3. Treat every interaction as a “Conversation of Possibilities”. Go with an open mind, not a targeted sales pitch.
  4. Check seating plan for any dinner you are attending. Sod’s Law of Networking, says that you are likely to be sitting next to the person you spent time talking to prior to the dinner, wasting an opportunity.
  5. Leave residual energy  – give more than you take.  Good Karma as @guykawasaki would say.
  6. Be interested in them, ask open questions.
  7. If you have badges for an event put it on right lapel so when you shake hands that is where their eyes go.
  8. Getting rid of someone; introduce to someone else, or say “I need to move on”, or go to the bathroom.
  9. If you know nobody in the room; Take your time and look around, look at groups for opening, join but don’t stop the conversation, introduce yourself in a FEW SHORT WORDS – make an impression.
  10. Speak to speakers; At the end of sessions go and ask the speakers a question. They are expecting it. They may seem daunting, but they are just people.
  11. If anyone is within 3 feet, strike up a conversation.
  12. Prepare talking points; Think beforehand what some icebreakers or topics of conversation you could use. Use open questions starting with who, what, when, why, how.   Don’t start conversations with questions that can be answered by a simple Yes or No, or simple statements – e.g “I see you are from Dell
  13. If you want them to take your card, ask for theirs.
  14. Take a pen to write notes on the back of their card.
  15. Follow-up .. do what you said you would.  SO FEW PEOPLE DO.  This one simple act will make you stand out.

Enjoy the experience, don’t focus on the results.  Finally – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the princes.

Scared? It’s ok

  • you can be lonely in a group of 150,000: If you are there on your own it can feel very, very lonely. Everyone else seems to talking to someone and having a great time.  The way to change that is to start a conversation with someone.
  • not every conversation will flow: Sometime it just doesn’t work. They are tired. They are shy. They are scared. So close it off and move on. Next….
  • it’s ok to leave: If you are tired, feel massively out of place, are struggling to engage, then leave. But only once you have tried.

A great Dreamforce experience depends on who you are

There are several different groups who attend Dreamforce; existing customers, potential customers, potential partners (consulting and app builders), existing partners, analysts, exhibitors.

What makes a great event is very different for each group. But one thing they have in common is that Dreamforce is not a cheap experience. The ticket price, travel, cost of hotels with their inflated prices, and the time spent away from the office all adds up. But as an exhibitor you need to factor in the cost of sponsorship, swag and stand workers. With free expo passes for anyone, the exhibitors needed to qualify out those who were simply looking for free pens, bags and other swag from genuine potential customers. In fact one exhibitor, Domo an analytics platform, was offering $120 headphones to anyone who attended a 30 min demo.

Therefore careful planning and a strategy to survive DF15 is the best way to get a positive ROI.  Have fun. See you there and come up and say “Hello”.

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