Ah, lucky number seven.

As I head to San Francisco next week for my seventh trip to Dreamforce, the annual conference hosted by Salesforce.com, I pretty much know what to expect. But if you’re going for the first time, you might not.

I could tell you that Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff will warm up the crowd before his big keynote with a surprise live performance by an aged band that you’ll know well, followed by a ridiculous costumed appearance by co-founder Parker Harris. Or that if you keep your eyes open you’ll spot Tony Robbins near the expo show floor at some point. I could tell you that Dreamforce is the world’s largest single-vendor conference for any industry, or that you probably shouldn’t plan to rent a car to get around San Francisco during this conference.

Parker Harris wth Marc Benioff - Salesforce co-founders
Parker Harris on stage in a ridiculous outfit – a Dreamforce tradition.

Instead, I’ll tell you something useful. Dreamforce is about more than one vendor’s annual products update. As much as Salesforce has built up the largest customer base of any cloud software firm, it’s also managed to build a huge community of like-minded B2B technology professionals. Visit the Cloud Expo floor and you’ll find just about any sales and marketing technology solution you could imagine wanting (or not wanting at all). Go to the parties and you’ll meet industry veterans that have started multiple B2B companies and worked in executive positions at the largest technology vendors in the world.

As you’re trying to do all this, you’ll be competing with the absurd crowds trying to do the same. Salesforce says that 170,000 attendees are expected at this year’s event, which is far beyond the capacity of its host building, the Moscone Centre.

Get in for free

At this point if you don’t have a Dreamforce ticket, your only option is to get this Expo+ free pass. But of course, if you haven’t booked a flight and hotel room in San Francisco yet, you’re also out of luck. So if you’re not local to the Bay area, keep this one in mind for next year. You can register for the Expo+ free pass here.

Aside from access to the Cloud Expo – which again, contains more vendors that you can shake a branded USB stick at – you also get access to the entertaining Dreampark area. This is a faux-green space with bean bags, couches, and live music stages that takes over Howard Street, the normally busy road between Moscone North and South buildings. Honestly, this free pass gives you a good chunk of the Dreamforce experience and unlocks a lot of networking possibilities.

Plus, just having access to wander around the expo floor means you’ll likely find invitations to some extra-curricular activities…

Last year there were so many Dreamforce attendees, a cruise ship was rented out to house some of them.
Last year there were so many Dreamforce attendees, a cruise ship was rented out to house some of them. Of course, I visited it.

Find the best parties

Most Dreamforce attendees easily discover the Salesforce Events app that is critical for organizing your sessions schedule. But the secret, and real killer app, is Partyforce from DoubleDutch. Created by a software vendor that makes a live engagements platform – i.e. layering a digital experience on top of a physical trade show or event – this app is the key to discovering all the best parties you want to attend and connecting with the other people hosting them or going to them. There were 139 parties listed on the app last year, and 11,000 users checking them out.

A word of caution – just because it’s listed on Partyforce doesn’t necessarily mean you are invited. Some parties are limited to who the vendors invite and are managed by a list. Salesforce is a host of several parties itself, some of which are open to conference sponsors of a certain level. (A higher sponsorship level doesn’t always mean it’s the best party, the general consensus last year was that the “silver” level sponsor party was more exciting that the “gold” level party.)

If you attend sessions hosted by vendors, talk to various booths at the cloud expo, and work your network, you should easily snag a few invitations to ensure your night doesn’t go to waste. During the height of Dreamforce, it can actually be hard to find any downtown San Francisco location that is not booked up to host a private party by some software company.

This is the fifth straight year that Partyforce will be available at Dreamforce and it has some new features in store for its users. According to the company blog, that includes “Tinder like people discovery,” as well as personalized recommendation cards, and programmatic persona mapping (whatever that is.)

Network like Benioff

The Salesforce CEO is always showing off the power of his network during Dreamforce, and name dropping powerful connections that he has in the technology industry and beyond. Betting odds that he’ll be spotted hanging out with Stevie Wonder or Will.I.Am during Dreamforce are good. So how does he do it? Well, he often talks about how he runs his business from his smartphone, so I assume it’s masterful use of social networking apps.

Beyond following the #DF16 hashtag on Twitter, which will be like trying to drink from a firehose, you’ll want to drill down into the Chatter apps provided through the conference organizer website and Events app. This is where you’ll find more organized groups of Dreamforce attendees – some that have been planning their conference itinerary for months through this portal – and can engage in real conversations. As mentioned, the Partyforce app provides another Chatter venue to connect with peers.

Dreamforce is coming… brace yourself

Your week at this conference will be a boon to your professional career if done right. But it will also be exhausting. Here are some final tips to help you get around the conference, around the city, and endure the week in general:

  • Download and register accounts with Lyft in addition to Uber. Both ridesharing services are available in San Francisco and you’ll need all the options you can get to find a cab. If your hotel is in the general vicinity of the Moscone Centre, it’s best to walk out a couple of blocks instead of waiting on your cabbie to negotiate the closed streets and mess of traffic that’s in the core.
  • Take advantage of the PediCabs – the guys that bicycle with a trailer attached to them. These are free because they are sponsored by vendors during the event, and provide an alternative to a cab or walking several blocks.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to do a lot of walking.
  • Don’t use the backpack you get at the conference – it will look like everyone else’s and it’ll be at risk of getting taken accidentally by another person. Bring your own bag.
  • Have power banks ready to recharge all your mobile devices. If you don’t have any, you can probably find some on the Cloud Expo floor being given away as promotional items.
  • Don’t plan to buy coffee at the Starbucks on 4th street – the lineup’s too long.
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