A beginners' guide to Davos
- 17 January 2012
- From the section Business
So you have received the much sought-after invitation to attend the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos. But what should you look out for?
For starters, pack the right kind of clothes. Davos is high up in the Swiss mountains, above 1,500 metres.
In January that means it is cold and bitterly cold at night time. Temperatures can drop to minus 20 Celsius and less. You need some serious winter gear, and good boots to trudge through the snow and ice.
Some people swap their mountain boots for fancy shoes at the entrance, but most people don't bother with carrying the extra luggage.
Your wardrobe should strike the right balance between keeping warm and what's loosely termed "business casual". Ties are out. Wear a suit if you must, but you won't look out of place wearing casual trousers and a jacket or sweater.
There's one exception: If you are the founder of a sophisticated tech firm. Especially if the company starts with the letter G and is big in the web search sector. If that's the case, you can wear anything from trainers to an old jumper - although even the world's new billionaires have started to dress up. When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg attended Davos last (he's not coming this year), he decided to drop the Harvard dorm room look and sported a tie - even though nobody else was.
The biggest problem for a newcomer is to avoid being overwhelmed.
More than 280 official sessions have been crammed into five days, and then there is the lure of dozens of private parties and networking events every day.
Stock up on sleep ahead of Davos, and work out which sessions you really want to go to.
Then reserve a place at your key sessions early. Some events are full within 15 minutes after booking starts. Until a couple of years ago, sessions were released for booking in two stages, and the reservation system did not open until Wednesday morning.
Now you can start reserving your place from Tuesday lunchtime (Swiss time), and once again there's an app for that - for a whole gamut of devices: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7.
Make sure you attend a few of the more off-beat sessions, for example on "The Mind and the Machine - neuroscience and brain technologies", "Art and everyday creativity: rebuilding the link" or "The secrets of the universe".
Davos is special because it offers you the serendipity of broadening your horizon in unexpected directions.
Striding with a purpose
Some people come to Davos and don't attend a single session. Instead they have back-to-back meetings with up to 70 business partners or politicians because only here can they find them all in one place.
But that's the exception, and applies exclusively to the highest-powered business leaders.
Don't be intimidated when everybody seems to be striding through the conference centre full of purpose.
"They look as if they do know what they are doing, but they don't," was the advice of Lord Digby Jones, once a Davos regular.
Even Davos regulars can get lost at times. Last year, the main entrance was moved to the rear of the building, and extensive rebuilding work at the Davos conference centre has forced many a Davos man and woman off their well-trodden paths. On the upside, the rebuilding has brought more Davos sessions into the conference centre, which means less time to travel between venues.
By the way: if you move between buildings, say the Congress Centre and the Belvedere hotel (where most parties are held), always allow for some extra time to get through security.
And in the controlled chaos that is Davos, especially within the labyrinthine Congress Centre, there is no shame in letting yourself drift like flotsam to soak up the atmosphere.
If you do that you are most likely to have your best "Davos moments".
Strike up a conversation with people you've never met before. Nearly everybody in the Congress Centre is either interesting or potentially highly useful.
There are no public relations managers and no personal assistants. Just you and about 2,500 of the most powerful people in the world.
It is here that social entrepreneurs, young executives and technology pioneers make the contacts that can change their lives and the fate of their companies.
Whether you call it networking or schmoozing, the rules are simple: Talk, listen, learn; be open to surprises and be prepared to surprise others.
Which leads us to the most important item on your pack list: Don't forget your business cards, and I mean plenty of them.