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20 secrets for maximizing your Inman Connect San Francisco experience

Conference hacks to meet more people, gain more value and have more fun

Inman Connect in San Francisco is one of my favorite weeks of the summer. Let me share a few conference road warrior tips that I’ve learned from the best over the years.

They just might make your trip more pleasant, and help you get a bit more out of the conference:

1. Register right now

Register for #ICSF 2017 (use promo code “Sam” for $200 off)

2. Digitally prepare

Download the app.

6 ways empowered agents embrace disruption to drive success
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3. Start networking

Join the Inman Coast to Coast Facebook Group to start networking.

4. Book airfare

OAK and SFO airports are about equidistant from the hotel.

5. Make hotel reservations

The conference is at the San Francisco Hilton Union Square where you can book your room.

6. Pack 

ICSF is a full week. Pack your neck pillow for travel. I recommend the really dorky one with the clip in front. It looks like an involuntary restraint device, but it’s worth its weight in gold.

The city can be chilly at night, even in summer. The conference rooms can be cold. Pack layers. Pack something fancy for the Innovator Bash.

Pack gym clothes — really. A brisk walk or run in the San Francisco air will do wonders for your mental and physical stamina over the long week. As a side benefit, you won’t feel bad about eating all of the crab cakes at ListHub’s shindig.

Pack business cards. People still use them. They’re also a physical Band-Aid for the places where conference brain cells sometimes disappear.

San Francisco is not cheap. If you are (hand raised!), pack a one-quart Ziploc bag with an assortment of three-ounce libations in your carry-on. It may come in handy.

7. Schedule your events

All kinds of companies sponsor events and parties, some of which are “come one, come all,” while others are very small. Ask your vendors for tickets beforehand if they’ll be hosting. Check in with the main sponsors of the conference.

Try to make as many events as possible, as the networking opportunities are outstanding. You can sleep when you get home.

8. Karaoke

Put it on your to-do list. It’s a rite of passage. I’ll back you up.

9. Set meetings beforehand

Don’t follow your nose around for the week. Meetings are half the value. Who do you want to meet: vendors, executives, brokers, agents, consultants? You might miss them passing in the halls during the week. Get them on the calendar for 15 minutes, and make sure you connect.

Accept invites from folks you don’t know well. You can have lunch and dinner with your friends from home when you’re at home.

10. Fly like a pro

Did you get assigned a bad seat? At the gate counter, nicely, with a smile, say the name of the person you’re speaking to, and ask if any seats have opened up. You’re in sales, you know how this works. Seats magically appear.

Get some noise canceling headphones. Or, for the more economically minded (this is becoming a theme), download a white noise/static app, and blast it through your ear buds. Snap on your neck pillow, and close your eyes.

Sometimes you get stuck next to a particularly invasive seatmate. Getting upset helps no one. Apply one of those three-ounce sleep aid elixirs to your situation. Breathe deeply. It’s only a few hours. You can do it if I can.

That's my tray

(That’s not your tray, friend)

The lines for airline restrooms often get long. Here’s a little known fact: Those restrooms up in first class aren’t only for first class passengers. They’re also for coach passengers who are faster than flight attendants.

11. Speed your arrival in San Francisco

You’re going to want to get through the airport quickly because there’s still a significant car or train ride ahead. Don’t go to the first restroom you see. That line’s always longest when you’re deplaning. Head to the restrooms near the middle of the terminal.

Before you exit through security, grab some water and a snack from the shortest shop line.

12. Get from the airport to the hotel

Catch a BART train or Uber/Lyft into the city. For added excitement (or because we already established that you’re cheap), you can Uber Pool and share a car with a stranger.

If you’re in a car, plan on traffic being horrendous. If it’s not, count yourself as lucky.

On the ride, join your hotel’s rewards program. Check in early on the hotel’s app. You’ll probably have access to a much shorter line when you arrive and upgrades are more likely.

13. Prepare for the city

San Francisco is a big city. There are some great tourist activities and beautiful locations. There are also some seedy areas, and your conference name badge around your neck screams “My wallet pocket wants your hand in it.”

Be aware, and don’t head out at night on your own without knowing where you’re going.

14. Efficiently attend sessions

Make sure you’re there for the opening sessions. The energy in the room is amazing, and the speakers are always outstanding. Don’t be surprised when the talks aren’t all about real estate. Some of the best are completely out of left field.

Great afternoon tracks often overlap. Team up with someone; divide and conquer the dueling sessions. Compare notes later.

Make time to visit Startup Alley, and see which products might help your business. There are a lot of booths to visit. Go easy on these folks. They’re often techies who are new to sales, they’re pitching all day long, and some of them just might make your job easier.

15. Lobbycon (it can be a verb or a noun)

Every time you need a break from sessions, take it in the lobby. Lobbycon is like the Bilderberg of real estate, except that we peons are allowed to mingle with the industry icons.

Overwhelmed by the crowd? Find an Inman Ambassador, and ask for an introduction to whomever you’d like to speak with.

Don’t shy away from the vendors — they’re not always selling. Some of the most interesting industry things I’ve learned at Inman have been through Lobbyconning with vendors.

16. Follow the Inman golden rule: ‘Don’t go big on the first night’

It’s exciting to be traveling in a world-class city, but the week is a marathon. The evening revelries will increase in number and scale by the day.

Have fun, but keep some powder dry for Thursday night. You’ve still got to do some business to write this trip off on your taxes.

17.  Take a zap nap

This is another secret I learned from the conference Jedi masters who came before me. If you get up in the morning for the Connect wakeup, go to nine sessions, three meetings, a dinner and two vendor parties, you’re going to be wiped out at least one day.

When you get tired at midday, try the zap nap: Set an alarm for 20-30 minutes, chug a cup of coffee and immediately take a nap before it kicks in. You’ll wake up charged and alert, and you’ll thank me for it later.

18. Experience closing day

Be ready for Friday. The content has gotten meatier every year. New Kids on the Block, a crowd favorite, showcases the brightest new startups.

The CEOs of some of real estate’s biggest brokerage companies, including Coldwell Banker’s Charlie Young and BHGRE’s Sherry Chris will be on stage.

Our Inman hackers will be debuting an app they’re building during Connect week.

19. Reconnect after Connect

When you get home, sleep in, then regroup. You will have collected lots of business cards during the week. Connect with these folks on social media. Send a thank you email to those you had a good conversation with.

Immediately start implementing one business improvement process that you took away from Connect. Make the value of your Connect week last.

20. Book ICNY for 2018

It usually starts at $500 or $600 the day ICSF ends. It’s the best deal you’ll get all year.

See you in San Francisco.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group, VP of Strategic Growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, and President of Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHomes.com and BellevueHomes.com.