As I said earlier, getting around the floor has gotten more difficult as the show has grown. There are several theories as to the best method to see everything. Personally, I have certain manufacturers I see on the first day. These are the manufacturers of equipment I currently own; I'm looking for product updates to see what the newest version looks like and what they have that might directly integrate with hardware/software I currently have from them. I'm also renewing the face to face connections of friends and getting a general sense of the show. The other days I'm moving through items that I have seen advertised and made a list of that I'd like to put my hands on and see what the hype is about.
I've also seen people come with a mapped out plan for the entire trip that will take them through the show on a strict schedule. There's nothing wrong with having a plan either. The NAB has a great online tool to help you plan your visit. If you're not sure how to approach getting around the show, pick a method and use it. It will take you time to develop your own method. Worst case is next year you try something new!
Don't be afraid if you break something. I've always felt that if the manufacturers brings it to the floor and lets me play with it, it had better work. I've broken a few items over the years. Software has bugs, hardware doesn't have quite all the functions the final production version will have and the sales people aren't completely trained on how it's supposed to work anyway. Push buttons, flip switches, turn knobs and turn things on and off. See what happens, after all, you're evaluating a product that you may want to purchase in the future. You have a right to try it out. I will add the disclaimer here that I am NOT advocating trying to break things. Just don't be afraid of trying things out. Sooner or later you'll have your own story of something you tried at the show and it failed. (These are the fun stories that you will share with fellow engineers over dinners after the show closes for the evening.)
From a vendor's standpoint, this is a chance for them to get our input on their new products. It's ok to offer constructive criticism; after all, you're the one that might be purchasing it in the future. If you'd like to see a feature, ask for it. Just be prepared to give a detailed description of what you're looking for and why and to explain how it would apply to your needs. Asking for a red switch is pointless unless there's a distinct reason for why you need it there and why it needs to be red.
At least once during your stay, eat in the cafeteria in the convention center. Around lunch time it's always packed. Tables are scarce. Try to sit next to someone you don't know, if they seem like they might be open to it. Introduce yourself and ask how the show is going for them. Engage them in conversation about what they have seen and what they have been impressed with at the show and then add it to your list of things to see.
It should go without saying but it needs to be said anyway: Keep your eyes open. Look at name badges. Like I said, you never know who you might run into. Put names with faces and call them by name if you get a chance to introduce yourself. Keep your badge with your name showing so I know who you are.
Seek out other engineers from your company. If you belong to a group, find out who all is going before you leave home. See if you can plan on meeting them at the show. Having someone with your similar point of reference as to how your group works makes you and them an instant connection. If you're on your own, don't fear that's not bad either. By the end of the show, you will have made a few new friends. Next year is a new year and a new show, seek those new friends out and see if you can spend a few hours walking the floor together.
Don't forget, this is Las Vegas, go out and see the city and have some fun along the way. There will be dinners, hospitality suites and parties both small and large that will include vendors, other engineers and possibly spouses of all the above. Deals are made and business is conducted at all times of the day and where it's done is not limited to the convention center. Again, don't forget to get to know the people you're with, learn something about them outside of work. Often spouses and significant others attend the show and will be at the dinners or out for fun after the show. Don't be afraid to get to know them either.
Have a great show! I'll see you there!
Kramer is director of engineering for Reach Media/Tom Joyner Morning Show, Dallas.