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Black Hat For Beginners: 4 Tips

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But for newbies, these helpful hints will make sure you get the most out of the Black Hat USA experience.

When I went to Black Hat USA for the first time last year, not only had I not ever been to any big conferences but I also had never been to Las Vegas. Black Hat veterans can probably imagine my culture shock as I tried to quickly acclimate to the information overload. If you haven’t been, hopefully you can learn from my experience.

Tip 1: Know where the restroom is before you need it. Not only is this a good rule in general, but I think it applies heavily to Black Hat. The conference area turns into a labyrinth when you only have a few minutes until your next talk and huge crowds of people are milling around. Last year I seemed to find all of the women’s rooms that were temporarily men’s rooms -- after I’d had four cups of coffee and had to wander the halls looking for other locations. Maps are your friends.

Tip 2: “Get yourself invited to as many parties as possible.” That’s quoted because those were specific directions from my manager. I initially laughed out loud. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the social events really are a great place to meet people and find interesting conversation. You might also find unique arrays of food and drink used by the hosts to attract attendees. Some vendors will give out tokens or passes to their events at the expo hall, but for others you’ll want to watch the Black Hat webcasts and emails for information!

Tip 3: Conversely, skip events if it’s what is best for you. I’m pretty extraverted, so my initial goal was to be out as much as possible to see all of the people, displays, and demonstrations. If you’re more introverted this may come naturally, but I realized I occasionally had to push myself to go back to my room and rest. The dry air, long days, and late nights can take a serious toll. One night I opted to make it an early evening with a hearty dinner, which helped a lot on the next day when I could forgo the headache medicine and actually stay awake through talks.

Tip 4: Take notes. If you’re picking up business cards or vendor documents, keep a pen handy and write down a summary of who you talked to and what you discussed. You may think you’ll remember those topics (I did, too), but I’m here to tell you from experience that you will not. Those memories will stay in Vegas, but when you want to follow up with that one person about that neat product you talked about at that fun party, your notes will be very helpful. It’s also a good idea to keep track of what talks you attended and any stand-out information to read more about later.

Black Hat USA is next month. Register here.

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