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Navigating CES

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The Super Bowl, World Series and World Cup final pale in comparison to the number of people who attend and the scale of what takes place during International CES.

This year's event, running Jan. 6-10, will have about 150,000 attendees expected to visit 2,300 exhibitors spread across almost 2 million square feet of display space during a four-day period. So a person needs a game plan if he or she expects to accomplish anything.

I have attended every CES since 1995, and over the years I have developed a methodology to ensure I can get from point A to point B to make my meetings on time or to simply get back to my hotel at the end of the day.

The three major obstacles to overcome are the crowds, lack of transportation at key times and the scale of the environment.

The Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) is massive. It is divided into three primary halls, North, Central and South and this does not include the large tent area in the adjoining parking lots and the space being used in the Venetian and Renaissance hotels.

One might think that all this space would help spread out the crowd. Nope. It is almost impossible to make your way from the North to South Halls in less than 20 minutes, particularly during the very busy first two days of the show.

The show floor is packed wall to wall with people slowly meandering around the exhibits. This scene always reminds of the Star Trek episode "The Mark of Gideon" where Capt. Kirk is tricked into coming to an overcrowded planet where he will spread disease to kill off some of the excess population. There are a few views seen through a window of people packed together, shuffling down the street.

That is CES.

OK, so you are slowly walking behind three people, all dragging along roller bags that they intend to fill in with freebie tchotchkes. Refrain from strangling them. You may gently kick their bag a few times. They will not get out-of-the-way or go faster, but it is healthy to vent.

The trick is to walk outside the convention hall. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but January in Las Vegas is pretty pleasant with temperatures in the 50s. The sidewalk along the front of the LVCC can get you from one end to the other in about 10 minutes.

Speaking of walking: In the final episode of Cheers, mailman Cliff Claven says that the secret to life is wearing comfortable shoes. Take Cliff's advice. Putting on high heels or a brand-new pair of dress shoes is a rookie mistake. You are going to walk miles, so at least make your feet happy.

Knowing your location and your destination is crucial. The show floor is a labyrinth, and even though all the aisles are numbered, it's hard to pinpoint your location. There are maps available and the CEA, producer of CES, has created an app to help you get around. I recommend using both.

Transportation is the next hurdle.

The problem is not a lack of transport, but that the system gets bogged down, usually when you need it the most. The CEA rents hundreds of buses and runs a great schedule to all the big hotels and convention areas free of charge -- they line up directly in front of the LVCC. However, at the end of the day, when tens of thousands of people want to leave, the lines are massive.

It's the same for the taxi cab line. Las Vegas has thousands of cabs, but an hour-long wait is not out of the question, especially at the LVCC and the Las Vegas Hotel.

The third choice is the monorail. There is a stop at the LVCC, and it goes up to the strip with stops near most of the large hotels. It's a fun trip and at $5 is cheap. Lines also develop here.

So my suggestion is very Vegas: Wait out the traffic storm in a bar or casino. Walk over to the Las Vegas Hotel, formerly the Hilton, and wait an hour. The lines die down pretty quick.

If time is of the essence, make sure to leave the LVCC by 3:30.

If you are at CES on business and are setting up booth meetings on the show floor, my general rule of thumb is not to make more than one appointment per hour. It is almost impossible to move that quickly around the building.

Expect it to be very noisy. A quiet conversation is not going to happen on the show floor, but you can find a few quiet spots on the second level near the meeting rooms.

Overall, at first glance, CES is entirely overwhelming, but it would not have reached this level of success without it being a fully functional event. So don't be intimidated -- just dive right in.

Doug Olenick is the Web Editor/Sr. Editor for Computer Technology at TWICE Magazine. He has covered the CE and computer industry since 1995.

TWICE is the official daily magazine for International CES. www.twice.com.

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