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Welcome to our first GeoNet Behind the Scenes blog for the 2018 Esri User Conference! Over the weeks leading up to User Conference, I will be giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the planning of the world’s largest GIS conference. And, hopefully, as I share these posts, you can get a better idea of what it takes to plan the conference, and how to make your User Conference experience as beneficial as possible.


This week we are going to share some fun facts about the UC Agenda! This year we have:

  • 345 Technical Workshops
  • 234 Demo Theater Presentations
  • 192 User Presentations
  • 57 Expo Spotlight Talks and
  • 73 Special Interest Group Meetings (and counting)


That means there will be over 800 hours of unique content (not to mention the repeated sessions)


New This Year

We received some really great attendee feedback from last year’s post-conference survey about navigating the sessions. We made some improvements to this year’s agenda to make it easier to attend the sessions that you are interested in. First, we have lined up the schedules for our Technical Workshops, User Presentations, and Demo Theater Presentations, to avoid having people leave halfway through one session to try to catch another. There will be 30-minute breaks between sessions to give you plenty of time to make it across the convention center (though hopefully not that far) to your next session. We have also reserved the last time slot of the day (4:00 pm – 5:00 pm) for repeated technical workshops so you can be sure to fit those sessions into your busy schedules.


What went into all of this planning?

Sessions on sticky notes on a grid of room timesFirst, let’s talk about the User Presentations. We had our Call for Presentations back in the fall where users could submit their abstracts about the cool work they did with Esri software. We brought in our Esri experts with various industry backgrounds to review the nearly 900 submissions that we received. They made their selections and paired up abstracts based on subject, technology, and, industry to create sessions. Once they had this information, they passed it on to our team for scheduling.


Our Technical Workshops and Demo Theater Presentations came straight from our 32 Esri topic leads. They got together with their teams to decide which subjects would be most valuable for our attendees and which staff would be the best fit for the presentation. These sessions range from introductory level to advanced users, and from standard practices to newly released software.


Once we have all of the content for the sessions, we have to schedule them. We take each unique session, and all repeats of that session and write it on a sticky note. Then we place each sticky note on a grid of every available room and time slot for the entire convention center. We move the sticky notes around until we have the most logical arrangement of sessions. Imaging each session as a piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle with no guide picture.


All-in-all it takes our team about five months to create, review, and schedule our 1,102 total sessions. Once the pieces are in place; we have the agenda.

Tips from the Team:


  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • If you can, change shoes mid-day
  • Bring your own water bottle
  • Download the agenda app and favorite the sessions you plan to attend
  • Have a few backup sessions to attend


For Discussion

With so many sessions in the agenda to choose from, how do you go about planning for your User Conference schedule?