Confessions of a Dreamforce Newbie
Author:Samantha Benedict
Date:October 13th, 2016

Dreamforce, the golden child of Salesforce, the Super Bowl of tech conferences, was my first conference.  Ever. The only thing I knew for certain was half the streets get shut down, people with blue badges walk five people wide down the sidewalk preventing you from getting anywhere in a timely fashion, and there is a bitchin’ concert every year.  So, when I unexpectedly scored a ticket, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Enter, Dreamforce guru Marisa Lopez. Being that this was Marisa’s 10th Dreamforce, she is the Obi-Wan to my Luke, the Miyagi to my Kid. 

So, with wide eyes and probably one too many cups of coffee, I started on my first Dreamforce adventure.  This is what I learned:

#TooManyPeople - Everyone told me there would be a lot of people.  I don’t think I really understood until I went to get my badge.  I walked into Moscone West on Monday afternoon, took one look around, shook my head, and left.  I was instantly overwhelmed and ran back to my Obi-Wan with fear in my eyes.  I eventually got used to the masses meandering in droves and even got in other people’s way by the end of Day 1.

#WakeMeNever - By Day 2, I fell asleep sitting up.  Enough said.

#Wait,Where? - This thing is freakin’ massive. I thought it was all in the Moscone buildings.  Nope! Sadly I learned this the hard way when I was heading to a session and went to the wrong building.  Twice. This of course led to me doing that scary heel-toe race walking. Some of the hotels hosting sessions are sprinkled around downtown San Francisco and the meandering masses in between the buildings will prevent even the most experienced of weavers to be late.

#CryingLiver - I was warned, and warned, Dreamforce is a big party.   Being 25, I dusted off my shoulder, thinking “I’ve got this”.  Wow was I under prepared. There are about a million parties we were expected to make an appearance at.  I quickly realized, this was a marathon, not a sprint.  By the end of Day 1, I was three margaritas in, on roller skates, dancing to disco, and frankly a little terrified.  I am proud to announce, I managed to get away with a single bruise and most of my dignity.

#LittleFishBIGPond - Trying to stand out as a small company in this enormous Salesforce universe was probably my biggest challenge to date.  There are booths everywhere, flashy swag, and a million other people just like you. (Okay, so there are only 170,000 people. For real.) How the heck are you going to stand out amongst all of these shiny people?  We took a couple approaches:
No booth! - We didn’t have to try and rope someone into manning the booth the entire conference preventing them from going to all the sessions they wanted to. We were more free to mingle and run around without having the dreaded invisible ball and chain on our ankles. This allowed us to meet more people, exchange more cards, and make better connections.
Getting the right attention - In an event where everyone implements Salesforce, it can be difficult for anyone to think your company is special.  This year we broke into VR development.  We were able to raise eyebrows every time we talked about how we wanted to use VR for social good. It was amazing to see how excited everyone was to talk about the emerging technology and how it could be implemented in new ways.
Useful swag - It is an unwritten rule that you have to have swag at one of these things.  However, when you come home from a conference with a 47 pens and bag full of breath mints, are you really going to call the company that stuck you with it? Probably not. Most likely you will end up throwing them away entirely.  We decided to make useful swag this year.  Small and simple journals with our logo.  I ended up seeing people actually use them! My little marketing heart was happy.

#FullBrain - There were sessions for everything!  I found sessions for technical talks, gender wage gaps, equality, and marketing.  I am sure there was  a session for underwater basket weaving somewhere in there.  I saw sessions I am sure I will remember for the rest of my life.  I was listening to a panel session when I had a moment of pure awe.  I was in the same room as Lilly Ledbetter! Being surrounded by such inspirational people for the entire week motivates you on a level I didn’t fully understand until I experienced it.

#TechyDisneyland- It is insanely easy to get bogged down in talks and networking, but indulging in the details of Dreamforce can really make all the difference.  This conference is stressful and busy.  It is important to have a great time while you are doing it. My Obi-Wan and I made a Dreamforce bucket list at the beginning of the week and completed all but one of the tasks. We rode in a pedicab, took ridiculous pictures, sat in tents and hammocks, and collected pins. Our only loss was the inability to get one of the staff members to give us one of their ranger hats.  

I went into Dreamforce pretty cranky about having to go. I left exhausted and still a little cranky. However, it can be incredibly fun if you let it. I crammed more information into my brain than I ever thought possible in a single week.  I met people I will engage with professionally for years and finally got to put faces to email addresses. I made a Dreamforce BFF and was able to sit in the same room as incredibly inspiring people.  I left with more swag than any one person actually needs, a new and less traditional marketing strategy, and the drive to pull it off.  I never thought I would say this, but I am looking forward to Dreamforce 2017.