Quick Start Guide to Cisco Live

Planning on attending your first Cisco Live? Or are you a Cisco Live veteran, but perhaps feeling a bit out of practice after the 2-year break from in-person events? Akin to my Cisco Live Survival Guide post, I hope this guide helps streamline the process leading up to Cisco Live. If you are looking for a more detailed guide, head over to that link. I’ve also included several direct links to the portions of the Cisco Live site below.

CIsco Live sign outside the conference in San Diego
Cisco Live sign in San Diego

The Cisco Live Conference

First, I’d like to talk briefly about the conference as a whole. If you take the time to schedule your sessions properly, this conference can be the most valuable training you will receive. The entire week is like a “choose your own adventure” book. If you want to learn as much as possible, you can hit the sessions hard and your brain will be melted by the end of the week. If you want to take it easier, you can spend time in the World of Solutions (vendor booth area) in place of some sessions to give yourself a break from learning.

Registration and Hotel

The earlier you register, the cheaper the conference is and the better chance you will have at getting a good hotel. Booking a hotel through the Cisco Live website is usually much cheaper than booking one on your own. In my experience, if the hotel you want is not listed when you register, keep checking the site each day. You don’t have to book your hotel at the same time you register for the conference. They will often add blocks of rooms to the popular hotels throughout the months leading up to the conference. For example, when the conference is in Las Vegas the ideal hotel is the Mandalay Bay, since that is where the conference is held. If the Mandalay Bay doesn’t show up in the list of available hotels, check back every day or two and there’s a good chance it will appear again within a week or two of your registration.

Book your flight

The main conference goes from Monday morning to Thursday early afternoon. I usually try to fly in on Sunday and fly out on Friday. If you want to fly out on Thursday, there is always a process at the conference to store your luggage somewhere during the day on Thursday.

Verify your Cisco Live Netvet status

If this is going to be your 4th Cisco Live in the last 5 years, you are considered a “Netvet.” There are some real benefits to becoming a Netvet, not the least of which is being able to schedule your sessions a week before the general public. You would expect that your status would be automatically applied to your registration, but my experience has shown otherwise. Every single year since I became a Netvet back in 2015, I have had to call and prove I am eligible. This is usually a simple process, but in some cases I have had to take a photo of my badge from last year showing the Netvet banner. It is worth verifying this, so that you don’t miss out on the benefits.

Waiting for session scheduling to open

Session scheduling usually opens up 6-8 weeks prior to the conference. Sometimes there is a bunch of fanfare when scheduling opens, and sometimes it is relatively quiet. While you should receive an email to the address you registered with, I’ve found there is no sure-fire way to be sure you are notified that scheduling is open. As a result, you will want to start checking the session scheduler on the Cisco Live website starting about 8 weeks prior to the event. You want to schedule your sessions early, so that they don’t fill up. The good sessions tend to fill up within a week or two of the scheduler opening up. This is another reason why it’s nice to become a Netvet (read above). While you wait for session scheduling to open (favorites)

In the weeks or months between the time you register and when the scheduler opens, there is something you can do to make your session scheduling much easier (and faster). I strongly encourage you to search through the session catalog and “favorite” anything that interests you. The session catalog is usually available months ahead of when scheduling open. If you do this, when the scheduler opens, you can scroll through the list of your favorite sessions and just click “Schedule” for each of them. You can fully populate your schedule for the entire conference in a matter of minutes.

Scheduling your free exam

Another thing you should do while waiting for the scheduler to open is schedule your free exam. Cisco Live allows every full conference pass holder to take a free Cisco exam on-site at their testing center during the week. This must be scheduled directly with Pearson Vue, and you don’t have to wait for the Cisco Live scheduler to open up in order to get your time slot. In fact, you will want to schedule this long in advance of scheduling open, to make sure you get a good time slot for your exam. I usually try to schedule mine on Sunday or Monday because I know my brain won’t be fried that early in the week.

Scheduling your Cisco Live breakout sessions

As mentioned in earlier sections, you will want to stay on top of when scheduling opens. If you are a Netvet, you will get to access the scheduler about a week before the general public.

If you “favorited” the sessions you are interested in, the entire scheduling process may only take you less than 5 minutes. There will likely be a few scheduling conflicts you will have to work out. Thankfully, many of the popular sessions are held at more than one time slot, so that you have a couple options in your schedule.

In addition to the breakout sessions, it is also helpful to schedule any other activities you are interested in. The general keynotes are in the scheduler (they usually start with GEN for the scheduler code), and you will want to schedule any of them that you are interested in. You can also schedule “personal” items in your scheduler. I usually schedule my free exam as a personal item in my schedule, so I don’t forget about it. Basically, you will live and die by this schedule for the week, and you want to have everything loaded in the scheduler so you only have one place to check for your next session.

During the conference

I list a plethora of tips for your time during the conference over at my Cisco Live Survival Guide. I encourage you to check them out, as this guide is primarily targeted on the time leading up to the conference.

After the conference

So you’ve reached the end of the week. Hopefully you were able to make the most of the conference, however your work is not done! Assuming you got a lot of value out of the conference, you will likely want to start lobbying with your boss to be able to attend next year. Getting approval from your company to attend Cisco Live is a struggle for almost everyone I know, because every organization usually has so many people that want to attend. I recommend writing up a list of the things you learned and using them as justification for attending next year.

Keep your badge, or at least keep a photo of your badge. This is not just for posterity purposes, but rather to help you in the event that you need to prove your Netvet status in the future. This has helped me out a number of times, and I highly recommend it.

On your flight home, take down some notes on things that you would do to make the conference more enjoyable next year. Maybe you realized you want a smaller/lighter backpack, or you need a bigger battery pack. Keep track of this somewhere you’ll be able to find it next year.

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