So you’ve bought your registration, booked your flight, and you’re preparing for four days in San Francisco. But are you ready, really ready, for what DreamForce 2014 has in store? The business disrupting panels? The opportunity to rub elbows with industry giants at the most exciting event of the year?

Here are the basic facts of DreamForce. Over the course of four days, in a single square mile in San Francisco, there will be:

  • Well over 100,000 professionals who work in the SalesForce ecosystem
  • More than 1,400 sessions led by industry-leading professionals
  • SalesForce Product Keynotes by some of the smartest people you’ve ever been in a room with
  • Neil Young, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and

The bald facts of DreamForce are pretty startling—especially those show SalesForce to be on Neil Young’s radar—and you’ll need a strong plan to really make the best of it.

1. Know what you’re doing at DreamForce 2014

This probably seems simple enough, right? “I’m there because I want to be a part of the future of the SalesForce ecosystem” or “I’m there because staying on top of my industry is a way to help my career plan” or, sometimes, “I’m there because my boss made me.” But, whatever the reason, know it. Otherwise, it’s like walking into the grocery store without a list. And sure, no one minds coming home with a pizza, half a watermelon, and a six pack of artisan root beer at the time, but the next day, when there’s nothing for breakfast but pizza crusts and watermelon rinds… you know how that goes. Articulating your goals for DreamForce 2014 are key to ensuring that you actually get out of it what you want to.

2. Review the Sessions Carefully

It’s easy at big conferences to get seduced by flashy names or presenters. “Oh, Kevin Costner is leading a session on dynamic integrated synergies. I’m there…” But let’s be real, that’s a panel in which an old man talks about nothing for an hour, at best. At worst, he’ll try to sell you a newly remastered Blu-Ray of Waterworld. Sure, there are some people you have to hear speak—I’d listen to Neil Young read a phone book myself—but paying close attention to session descriptions makes it much easier to reach your goals. Even titles can be misleading. I once went to a panel called “The Future of Blogging” because d’uh, and it turned out to be an hour-long sales pitch for a suite of analytic tools. It was the worst.

3. Make Any Fancy Plans Now

There’s a bunch of really fun stuff to do, eat, and enjoy in San Francisco (we’ll cover that in depth in Part II of “Dreamforce 2014 Preppers”), but you need to be super honest with yourself. Over 100,000 people are flocking to the center of a huge city, and space will be tight. If you want to go to a sweet restaurant or hidden night spot you saw on Travel Channel or read about on Eater, you better make reservations before you set foot on the west coast. Same goes for big group dinners. Do it now or prepare to catch up with old friends over Big Macs.

4. Work On Your Social Skills

For some, it can be difficult not to be completely awkward in a group of strangers, and the idea of 100,000+ strangers at DreamForce 2014 is enough to keep them awake for nights on end. Not to fear! The fortunate aspect of any industry conference is that all attendees have said industry in common. And while asking someone “What part of the SalesForce ecosystem are you” might not normally seem like a sensible way to make friends, here, it is! Everyone in attendance (except Neil Young) is there to geek out over the future of SalesForce software, so join in the fun. Just remember: You’re beautiful, talented, and people really like you.”

5. Pack Smart

Yes, you’ll be out in a big city with people you’ve either just met or rarely see; yes you’ll enjoy fine dining, fancy networking parties, and a boatload of fun. Just don’t forget that you have to walk, like, a lot. Like 3-5 miles per day. Plan for that, and the eventuality that, yes, in California it’s pretty cold at night and you’ll need a coat, and, finally, plan for the fact that you’re not going to one long cocktail party/networking event but are really, truly going to work for a few days in another city. Be sensible and kind to your body. Or, prepare for not preparing with Advil, cold medicine, foot bandages, and good health insurance.

6. The Tools You Need

Any professional needs his or her special set of tools to perform the job at hand. However, when 100,000 people get in a room together, most of our modern tools fail. This will definitely be one of those times when there’s not enough Internet to go around, so go ahead and adjust your expectations about what you’ll need to be successful. Get a pen and paper. I know it seems archaic (downright Paleozoic even), but lead on tree-pulp is going to be your best bet for capturing information here. You can use EverNote (because there’s not much that beast can’t handle), but because typing on a phone or tablet is typing on a phone or tablet, it might be a good time to starting working toward the resurgence of cursive handwriting as a mode of communication. You’ll also obviously want a boatload of business cards because, as you introduce yourself to more and more fish in the SalesForce sea, you’ll want some bait to reel in the keepers… (I’m sorry for that analogy but not sorry enough to take it out), and an excellent business card scanner so you don’t have to try and keep up with all that paper and can solidify new connections immediately through a number of channels.

I know this is a lot to keep up with and that, between the plans, the tools, practicing your social skills, and the fact that you have to find a coat that matches the outfit you’ve been saving for months, something’s bound to get lost in the mix, so I’ve created a handy DreamForce 2014 worksheet. Write a few sentences, check a few boxes, and ensure you’re prepared for the biggest conference of the year. See you soon for Part II.