Joel Spolsky's Travel Survival Guide

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Website Bonus #1: Air Travel Tips
To avoid the risk of air travel delays, we used five tactics.

  1. We waited until September to start the tour. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, September sees 15% fewer air passengers than August. That may seem like a small difference, but thanks to queuing theory, it's actually significant enough to eliminate most of the lines at airports.
  2. We fly first class. This eliminates lines at check in, so we can show up at the airport later (and take earlier flights, leaving more margin for error). At many airports' security checkpoints, first class passengers can use priority lines. On the better airlines, our luggage comes out first. And if something goes wrong and a flight is cancelled, as a full-fare first class passenger, we'll have priority on the next flight out.
  3. We scheduled most of the travel in the early afternoon, when airports are relatively quiet. Most people want to take morning or evening flights, to avoid wasting the best part of the day, so airports seem to have something of a lull in the early afternoon. This worked well for the world tour schedule: we did most of our demos in the morning, then headed straight to the airport.
  4. We never booked a flight until we were sure there was at least one later nonstop flight that would get us where we were going. If our flight got cancelled, we would have had all afternoon and all evening for another flight. In a worst case scenario, we would have had until the next morning to find some way to get where we were going.
  5. Oh, and we refused to fly Northwest Airlines (NYSE:NWA), which routinely schedules more flights than they have the ability to operate.

So far, this seems to have solved the airline problems completely. In the first two weeks of the tour, we didn't have a single delay of more than an hour, and the longest line I waited in was about 10 minutes for security at Seattle airport.

Website Bonus #2: Presentation Tips
Here are a few of my tips for good demos:

  • Ban PowerPoint. People don't want to hear bullet points about all the wonderful benefits of your wonderful software. They want to see it work. They're smart enough to figure out how it would benefit them.
  • The people watching your demo watch TV, they go to football games, and most of the things that they watch are very professionally done and have very high production values. If you don't live up to those values, you'll look bad in comparison. I try to watch video of myself to learn how to be a better presenter--recently I realized that it looks surprisingly sloppy when I just let the microphone wire dangle randomly instead of hiding it in my jacket. We have a carefully chosen soundtrack of music (we got a license from BMI to play music in public) to play before and after the demo. All our graphics are professionally done. We even wore polo shirts with a custom embroidered kiwi where the alligator should be.
  • It's OK to tell jokes. Your audience wants you to be successful. As long as you have 50 or more people in the room, they'll laugh at your jokes, no matter how pathetic they are.
  • When someone in the audience asks a question, nobody else can hear them. Always repeat their question for the rest of audience before you answer it.

Website Bonus #3: Road Gear
In my carryon luggage:

  • My laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad X61s… the smallest, lightest, most powerful, and most reliable laptop I could find.
  • To get on the Internet wherever I go, I have a Samsung Blackjack phone on AT&T (NYSE:T). This supports GSM, so it works abroad, and HSDPA, for high-speed internet access. In airports and hotels, instead of paying to use a WiFi access point, I wirelessly connect the laptop to the phone using Bluetooth and get high speed Internet access using my phone's unlimited data plan (this is called "tethering").
  • The projector I use is the NEC NP60 (about $1250). It's the brightest superlight projector you're going to find--3.5 pounds and 3000 lumens, which is bright enough for 200 people to read clearly, and it does everything automatically. Everything. Focusing, straightening the picture, even cooling down the bulb when you turn it off. If it made cappuccino, Starbucks would be in trouble.
  • Because the laptop is usually too far away from the projector for a standard VGA cable, I carry these little gizmos called baluns which let me use a standard CAT-5 LAN cable instead of a VGA cable. I've found that a 25 foot LAN cable is plenty, but the baluns let you go much further if you need to.
  • I also carry my own lavaliere microphones with transmitters and receivers (Sennheiser Evolution G2s) and took the time to learn how to adjust them properly before I left. I can use one of the transmitter/receiver pairs to connect my laptop sound into the hotel's sound system for playing the intro music.
  • We decided not to bring our own speakers and amplifiers. Most lecture halls have them built in, and they're just too heavy to schlep around.

As checked luggage:

  • We had Lands' End Business Outfitters make us up a bunch of piquém polo shirts, just like the famous alligator shirts, with the FogBugz kiwi mascot where the alligator would go, so I have a stack of those in my luggage.
  • We had our printer make up two big professional vertical banners with the FogBugz logo: one for the stage, and one that we put outside the meeting room so people know they've come to the right place. They're about 7 feet tall, and they go a long way to making Fog Creek look, oddly, legit. It's a weird feeling after years of being a scrappy upstart.

Shipped straight to each hotel via UPS (NYSE:UPS):

  • 12-page 4-color brochures for each attendee
  • Logo pads and pens for each attendee
  • A couple of 25' extension cords, for the projector and the laptop
  • A roll of duct tape to tape wires down on the carpet
  • A couple of hundred "Hello, my name is…" stickers and sharpies so attendees can socialize before and after the event.
Last updated: Dec 1, 2007




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