The Top 8 Things I Learned at My First CES
1. You won’t see everything, so don’t even try.
“But what if I..” Nope. “Not even if…” Forget it. “What about…” Not even then. Listen, people told me that CES was big, and I believed them. But even with that big-ness in mind, I didn’t fathom the sheer amount of stuff that would be crammed into every nook and cranny of a massively large space. It’s kinda like the Smithsonian in that way. If you spent 5 minutes looking at everything, you’d be there for weeks. And CES lasts only one week. Let me put it another way: It was like being in one of those money grab booths they have for contests, except with information instead of dollars blowing about. I ran myself ragged trying to snag as much as I could, and only now am I truly processing everything I stuffed into my thought-pockets. And I just stuck to looking at things on my beat (headphones, small speakers, amps, etc). Did I see TVs? Gadgets? Peripherals? Uh sure… as I whizzed by trying to make a meeting or press conference. If you’re going to tackle CES, you need to have goals and focus. Otherwise you will descend into madness.
2. Your Body Will Suffer.
First of all, CES is a germ-fest. Even with my regime of hand-sanitizer, lots of water, and chewable vitamin C, I still left Vegas fighting off a cold. My male colleagues also liked to point out the men who, upon leaving the restroom, had not washed their hands. And it’s a lot more frequent than I’d hoped to hear. Ew.
Secondly, plan on losing your voice. You’re gonna be talking constantly, yelling over loud music, and inhaling second-hand smoke every time you venture off the show floor. My voice-over agents were less than pleased with me.
Third, you’ll be walking a lot, so choose your footwear wisely. Overall, I’m pretty active, so I actually enjoyed the time on my feet. That said, most days I stuck to some comfortable ankle boots. I am not one of those women who can do heels all day. I tried to don heels for dinner one night, and it was not pretty when I got back (or should I say limped back) to the hotel. If you are not active, start training about a month before CES, as you’ll be walking 5-7 miles a day. I’m not making that up. All that walking is good because I like to work out every day. I even brought gym clothes and hotel-based routines with me. When I expressed my fitness intentions to my more seasoned colleagues, they laughed in my face. Now I know why.
Why? Because you’ll be so busy that you’re not even going to sleep much. I had to be up at 6:45am to be clean and ready to catch the monorail so that I could be on the show floor by 9am. I’d be talking, meeting, playing with products at the LVCC or Venetian until 5pm, when I’d head back to my hotel to un-smear my makeup. (Notice there wasn’t a lunch in there: I carried granola bars.) Then I’d hop a cab or walk or both to a dinner meeting, usually at 7pm. That would last till I had to meet for drinks with another client at around 10:30 or 11pm. At midnight, I’d head back to my room and use the crap-tastic Wi-Fi to write up everything I’d seen that day. That got me to about 2 or 3am every night. Rinse and repeat for a week.
3. Speaking of Wi-Fi—There Isn’t Any.
Oh the irony. There is no site-wide Wi-Fi at CES. There is some in the press rooms, but then you’re not on the show floor seeing things. In my mind, any time not spent actually interacting at CES is time wasted. (I mean, if I wanted to stare at my computer screen for info, I could just have read all the press releases.) And don’t count on getting connected at your hotel. I spent $35 on hotel-based Wi-Fi that stopped working literally every five minutes. Wait a full minute to reconnect for five minutes back up, and then down again. Vegas is just not equipped for the internet onslaught. I burned through my entire month of phone data plan in a week. Next year, I’m investing in a personal hot-spot.
4. Inbox Abuse: So. Much. Spam.
Holy moly, did I get the emails. Hundreds a day. CES gives your email address to various exhibiting companies when you register to attend, and I think every single one emailed me. Every so often, I had to do a culling of the herd just to be able to keep my inbox’s unread email number out of the triple digits. Filters help, yes, but there are some gems that I was glad I caught in the textual cacophony. Be prepared. Attack your inbox with regular diligence or you’ll drown.
5. People Love the Business Cards.
It’s a tech show, right? There I was, with my naive idea of everyone being savvy and me texting/emailing my contact info. Or, better yet, tapping my phone to another phone while transferring our data like NFC rolodex herpes. But no. All people wanted were the paper business cards. Want to get into a press event? You need to give a business card. Want to register for a symposium? Business card. “Hi, I’m…” Business card. And now I am going to have to spend a whole day inputting all that dead-tree data into my digital phonebook. Why? I have no clue. The point is, bring your business cards.
6. Sexism Isn’t Dead Yet.
As a regular attendee of the Los Angeles Auto show, I thought the concept of “booth babe” had gone the way of the dinosaur. Yes, there are attractive people representing at the auto shows nowadays, but they are more spokesmodel than “eye-candy.” They know facts about the product; they educate and answer questions. Surely the tech industry is as evolved as the auto industry. I mean, women have huge buying power and participate in the technology conversation just as much as men, right? Apparently, many of the exhibitors at CES hadn’t gotten the memo. A lot of this is a conversation I plan to have in another article, but suffice it to say there were a lot of women paid to be nothing but an object draped on a TV (or headphones, or gaming console, or… iPhone case). And a disturbing number of CEOs that thought a woman’s total interest in technology hinges on whether it’s pink or shaped like a purse. It made me alternate between sad and angry, and wasn’t something I expected from my CES experience.
7. Nothing is as Close as it Appears.
This rule applies to the LVCC as well as Vegas itself. In Vegas, the flat landscape makes everything look close by. Don’t be fooled. Even if you take a cab to the address in which your final destination is located, you’ll need to walk 10-15 minutes to the heart of a casino to get there. Allow extra time. As for the LVCC: If you look at the show floor map, North Hall looks like it’s right near Central and South Hall. Ha! Try to navigate across the entire LVCC, and it will take you at least 15-20 minutes if you don’t stop to look at anything. I say at least, because you will also have to dodge ambling, gaping, walking-in-a-row-four-across-while-obliviously-dragging-wheeled-briefcases people. Add in that factor, and it will take 45 minutes. I found the best way to navigate this scenario was to put on my headphones, play the music from Oceans 12’s laser dodging scene and see it as an obstacle course. Challenge accepted!
8. It’s Unlike Anything Else.
Despite sore feet, complete exhaustion, and a good case of the plague, I’d do it all over again. Where else can you see the latest technology before it’s available on the market and meet the engineer who created it? Where else can you shoot the breeze with the product designer about their visual inspiration while holding their creation in your hands? And where else can you prattle on about sampling rates, frequency range, and build quality without everyone around you glazing over? There’s nothing in the world like it. So if you’re ready to nerd out, get your flu shot and take the plunge. Or, stay healthy and I’ll be happy to tell you all about it.