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The annual RSA Conference held each Spring in San Francisco’s Moscone Center is one of the most well-known and longest-running cybersecurity conferences held in the US. With companion events in Asia and the Middle East, RSA is a massive endeavor that hosts as many as 40,000 attendees from all over the world. The theme for this year’s event, which will be held the first week of March, is “Better”—and it promises to take a hard look at whether the state of cybersecurity is truly improving. So whether you’re a White Hat, a Black Hat, a vendor, a C-level executive or security operations staff, RSA has something for everyone.

That said, if you’re new to the RSA grind, be forewarned: you don’t just “go” to the RSA Conference. Many RSA newbies show up at the Moscone Center without a real plan and spend a harried few days wearing themselves out and missing at least half the action. To help you get the most out of the conference, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned participant, I offer the following suggestions.

Don’t Just Go to the Expo

While the Expo is undoubtedly RSA’s bread and circus, it’s not the only game in town. Like an iceberg, the true depth of any conference is the sheer amount of content available. So don’t just hit the Expo and think you’ve “done” RSA.

Most C-level executive attendees have mapped out their schedules long before they arrive in San Francisco. They already know what vendors they’re interested in, and if they spend any time at all at the Expo it’s because the people they want to talk to are on the floor. But more and more, veteran security vendors, particularly the smaller ones, are conducting their real business at RSA outside of the Expo. In fact, the hotels surrounding the conference center, along with their attached bars and restaurants, are where many deals truly get done. So be sure to ask around and find out what’s happening after conference hours or at other locations.

Optimize Your Schedule

Divide your time where it makes the most sense. Smart planning can ensure that you’re able to attend sessions that matter to you while also saving some time for the Expo and rubbing elbows with other security professionals. You may be of the opinion that meeting and greeting is a waste of time, but it can be some of the most productive and personally beneficial time you’ll ever spend. If you do it right, you can meet with clients, finalize partnerships, establish your credibility as a thought leader, or any combination of all of these. RSA is kind of like the Walmart of cybersecurity: it has something for everyone, ranging from innovative solutions for small business to large enterprise solutions. It’s also a place where the best and most successful in the industry gather to conduct business. Take full advantage of it.

Be Expo Smart

The Expo is perhaps the biggest draw for a growing segment of the RSA crowd. Small and large vendors alike come to RSA to put on a show. Expect slick production and top-tier marketing from everyone involved, including some pretty neat swag. But come ready to walk. Moscone Center incorporates three separate convention halls that are spread across as many San Francisco city blocks. All told, there are more than 80 acres of RSA to explore. By the time you’re done running to vendors, attending breakout sessions in the conference area, and trying, often desperately, to find food, you’re going to be tired. So pace yourself. Men and women alike should bring extra shoes, and swap them out at least once a day to alleviate the pressure on the inevitable blisters that you’ll get. (I speak from experience.) Fitness tracker junkies can expect 15,000–20,000 step days on average, and most attendees find themselves hungry, footsore, and harried as they crisscross the venue trying to pack in as much content as possible.

When in Doubt

  • If there’s free food, EAT IT. You’re going to get hungry and food isn’t always available. Also, if you go to one of the many mixers at the hotels in the evenings, you’ll discover that they rarely provide food. And no, mixed drinks with fruit AREN’T FOOD.
  • Drink a lot of water. Bring your own bottle and refill it at every opportunity.
  • Don’t go crazy collecting swag. Some of it’s neat, and even useful, but the more you pick up, the more you’re carrying for the rest of the day.
  • If your mission is primarily to hang out in the Expo, go for the Expo Plus pass vs. a full conference pass. You’ll save a ton of money and, for most attendees, particularly those in sales and marketing, you’ll be getting the most bang for your buck.

All in all, RSA is an amazing experience. With proper planning and some common sense, you can accomplish a lot and go home with a boatload of new contacts. Plus, Moscone Center is right in the center of San Francisco, which itself is one of the premier destination cities anywhere in the world. Between the convention, the local sights, and the Golden Gate Bridge, there is more than enough to see and experience to last lifetime … (or at least until next year!)

The Katzcy team will be at RSA for the entire week. We'll be helping our clients organize their events, hosting business meetings in our suite, and speaking. We'd love to meet with you, too! Click here to book a meeting with us during RSA.