Tips from an Insider – Navigating the Annual Meeting

As a former Board Member, on behalf of COMMON, I want to thank you for choosing to attend the upcoming 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition at the amazing Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando. The fact that you are investing in yourself and your future by attending says a lot about you. COMMON is committed to ensuring your return on this investment by providing the best possible conference. Try and make sure you take advantage of everything the conference offers.

I’ve been attending COMMON conferences for what seems like decades, both as an attendee and as a volunteer. Here, I want to share tips that have resulted in great conference experiences.

  1. Dress comfortably for the conference and wear comfortable shoes. Bring a light jacket (or a long-sleeve shirt) as session rooms can be chilly at times. Remember, the typical dress code is business casual for the conference. You will do more walking than you realize, so I can’t stress comfortable shoes enough.
  2. COMMON will provide a backpack at registration that can be used to carry the items you need with you each day. If possible, register on Saturday so you can go back to your room, read everything inside the backpack and then fill it with some of the items below.
  3. Don’t forget your phone charger. You’ll find that your battery is drained by the end of each day. If you have a portable charging unit, they are great as well.
  4. Bring a few breakfast bars with you so you will always have a bite to eat if the day gets a little hectic or if you can’t find a quick lunch.
  5. Go online to and create your session grid before leaving for Orlando. This gives you plenty of time to map out which sessions are interesting to you. I always choose two sessions for each period so I have a primary and a backup session. Then, I can decide the day of the conference which sessions I am going to attend. Sometimes I make my decision by the speaker, by the topic or just what I feel like.
  6. Even if it’s not your first time to the Annual Meeting, stop by the First Timer’s Session on Saturday evening from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Trevor Perry leads this very informative session. You’ll get great nuggets of information to enhance your conference experience. It’s also a great way to start making friends that will explore Universal with you afterwards.
  7. Put your phone on vibrate during sessions so you will not be the person everyone looks at when the phone starts ringing, interrupting the speaker.
  8. Arrive to sessions 7 to 10 minutes early to find a good seat and to settle in before the speaker starts. This is also a great time to start a conversation with others since they are interested in learning about the same subject. You already know you have something in common. Also, once the speaker is prepared, it can be a great time to ask a question.
  9. Bring business cards with you to exchange contact information with your peers and experts. Plus, some vendors have raffles that you can throw your cards into.
  10. Take advantage of the Exposition and learn about the latest products and solutions in the industry. If you want to receive additional information, just have your badge scanned. It’s a quick and easy way to connect with exhibitors.
  11. Before going to the Exposition on Sunday and Monday nights, I like to go back to my room, drop off my backpack and then return to wander the expo. I find it easier to walk the expo without my bag, but the drawback is not having it available to put things into. Another option is to just lighten your bag in your room and then come back down. Perhaps leave your PC or tablet safely secured in the in-room safe.
  12. Try to get a good breakfast before Opening Session on Sunday morning where Jeff Carey, our President, will kick-off the conference promptly at 9:00 a.m. I recommend getting there no later than 8:45 a.m. to get a seat. Make sure you stop at the restroom beforehand as this session goes until 10:30 a.m. Lunch is not provided on Sunday, so those breakfast bars come in handy. Otherwise, you have 45 minutes to get a little something during the midday break. The Welcome Reception starts at 5:00 p.m. in the Exposition on Sunday and will include food and drinks. Come hungry and thirsty. There is enough there for dinner.
  13. On Monday and Tuesday, lunch is served in the Exposition. It’s a good lunch. Arrive early, eat quickly and then spend the remaining time walking the expo. Make a friend or two at your table and ask if they want to walk around the expo. They wanted to ask you the same thing but were too shy.
  14. After the sessions are done each day, don’t just go up to your room and stay there. Take part in the evening events. These are great opportunities to continue your learning by getting one-on-one time with the experts and your peers. It’s amazing how much you can learn by just talking to your fellow attendees. If you are a little shy, don’t worry. Everyone is friendly and just as shy. They want to talk with you just as much as you want to talk with them. Take the first step. Walk up, introduce yourself and tell them what you do. In fact, go to the Exposition on Monday night and meet up with people you saw in your sessions. Take advantage of the many restaurants and bars at Universal’s CityWalk afterwards with your new friends.
  15. Be sure to attend the CEF Closing Reception on Wednesday night. The evening starts with dinner at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. (Don’t forget to bring your island/beach inspired apparel to wear.) This will be followed by dessert, rides and entertainment in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Explore Hogsmeade and don’t forget to try some of the butterbeer (don’t worry it is non-alcoholic). We will be able to ride attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff without the daytime lines! While in Hogsmeade, don’t forget to stop at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, which will be open for your wizarding needs. Remember, the wand chooses the wizard. You will have a great night relaxing and having fun after four days of learning. It’s a memorable way to end the conference.
  16. The COMMON staff will wear shirts with the COMMON logo on them. If you have a question, they can help you. Just ask. The COMMON Board of Directors will have purple ribbons on their badge holders. Don’t hesitate to tell them what you need to make COMMON more effective for you.
  17. On Wednesday is the Meeting of the Members, held at 12:45 p.m. Get your lunch beforehand and then come listen to what your association is doing for you. This session is all about what COMMON is doing now and where it is going.
  18. Have a piece of paper available to jot down notes regarding things you learned at each session. When you get back to the office, talk with your management to show them what you learned and how it will help the company. This is your ticket to the 2018 Annual Meeting in San Antonio.

Remember, these are just a few of my own personal tips on how to get the most out of your investment and have a kick-ass conference. The goal is for you to learn new things, expand your horizon, meet new people and have fun.

Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in Orlando. Safe travels.

Pete Massiello

About the Author

Pete Massiello

Pete Massiello

Pete has been working with the AS/400, iSeries, IBM i since 1989, focusing on systems management and technical support. He has held numerous technical positions through out his career. Pete is the President of iTech Solutions Group, an IBM Premier Business Partner delivering solutions and services to IBM i shops throughout the world. He is a member of IBM’s certification test writing team, an IBM Certified Systems Expert with certifications in IBM i Design, Administration, LPAR, Virtualization, Implementation, and HMC management. Pete has a BS in Computer Science from Hofstra University, and an MBA from the University of New Haven. He was President of COMMON from 2010 to 2012, and again in 2014. He is a COMMON Hall of Fame speaker and a frequent speaker at user groups all over the world. In 2011, IBM established the Champions award for Power Systems. Pete was one of the first recipients. Recently, Pete was re-nominated as a Power Systems Champion in 2016.

Universal Orlando Resort™ – Party with Harry Potter

In May, the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition will be held at Universal Orlando Resort. The event venue is Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, located on Universal property. Our Closing Reception on the 10th of May will be held at Jimmy Buffett’s® Margaritaville® at Universal CityWalk, followed by entertainment in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade.

There are two Harry Potter themed sections in the two Universal parks. The Wizarding World is at Islands of Adventure, and London is at Universal Studios Florida. The Hogwart’s Express train connects the two but requires a Park-to-Park admission.

Closing Reception

Hogsmeade, where our event will be held, offers three main attractions. The rides are: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey where you can experience the halls, offices and classrooms of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Dragon Challenge, which includes two high-speed roller coaster experiences; and Flight of the Hippogriff, a more family-friendly coaster with the head of an eagle and body of a horse.

Other Attractions

If you have an opportunity to visit outside of the conference, there are many other attractions at Islands of Adventure. We recommend the new Incredible Hulk Coaster® and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®. While there, don’t miss the opportunity to bring home some goodies for your kids. Shopping options include: Dervish and Banges™ for omnioculars or a Hogwarts uniform; Filch’s Emporium™ for “confiscated goods;” Honeydukes™ candy shop for Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans; and Ollivanders™ for all varieties of magic wands.

Don’t forget, if you stay at Sapphire Falls or Loews Royal Pacific Resort you benefit from complimentary shuttle buses to the parks and early park admission.

See you there!

Available Scholarships to COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition

In just a couple of short months, COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition will bring together authorities in the industry on IBM i for four days of education and networking. Each year in conjunction with COMMON, the COMMON Education Foundation (CEF) awards scholarships that recognize contributing members of the COMMON community, and those committed to the IBM i platform. This year, once again, the CEF will be offering the Al Barsa Award scholarship, open to all COMMON members. Al was fiercely dedicated to i. As such, he was an overall advocate for the community and mentor to others. This scholarship honors an individual who exemplifies Al’s commitment and support of IBM i. Award of the scholarship is based on candidate’s commitment and dedication to the i Community, volunteer record and history as an advocate for i. The recipient of this award receives a conference registration to the 2017 COMMON Annual Meeting and is presented with a plaque during the event’s Opening Session. Candidates may nominate themselves or may be nominated by another individual. If you know of someone deserving of the award or would like to nominate yourself, go to to apply. Deadline for submission is Friday, April 07, 2017.

In addition, the CEF also awards the John Earl Memorial Scholarship by nomination only. Earl was a dedicated speaker and Subject Matter Expert for COMMON for over two decades. His dedication to knowledge sharing and mentoring helped make the community grow. He, along with the former IBM Partners in Education program planted the initial seed for what would become the COMMON Education Foundation. John was a tremendous influence in the community throughout his years and the memory of his dedication and accomplishments still live on today. With the help of HelpSystems, this scholarship has been established in John’s name to recognize a member of the COMMON community that exemplifies John’s dedication to the growth of the IBM i community. Scholarship is by nomination only and covers the Registration expenses for COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Both awards, in addition to those awards dedicated to the educators that teach IBM i in colleges, will be awarded at COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition’s Opening Session in Orlando on May 7, 2017.

2017 Annual Meeting Venue: Loews Sapphire Falls Resort in Orlando

May 7-10 will be a great time of year to visit Universal Orlando™. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort opened in July 2016 as the fifth hotel within the massive entertainment complex. With a Caribbean theme, the hotel offers 1,000 rooms and the largest hotel pool within the theme park, complete with water slides. The hotel also offers waterfront dining at the Amatista Cookhouse and, like all good Caribbean resorts, is home to both a poolside bar and a rum lounge.

Each hotel room has a mini-fridge to stow away any leftovers and in-room WiFi is also included at no additional charge. Rooms range in size from 529 square feet to 1,353 square feet. Universal theme park characters often make appearances in the hotel and their voices are used for wake-up calls in the hotel.

Russ Dagon, Vice President and Executive Project Director of Universal Creative, describes the hotel as follows: “it’s a different place, so we wanted to make sure we provided that respite from the theme park, but, at the same time, embrace the fact that we are so close to the theme park.”

From the hotel there are three easy and free connectors to Universal theme parks and Universal CityWalk™ – water taxi, shuttle and a short walking path. Guests at the hotel receive a one-hour-early admission benefit at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida™. Hotel guests also have resort-wide charging privileges to their rooms, complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort and complimentary shuttle service to SeaWorld® and Aquatica™.

Our conference room rate of $190 is valid from May 1st through 17th. We look forward to seeing you in May and hope you can stay for a few extra days of vacation.

Learn More about the 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition.