NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference 2023 (SDC23) – Getting the Most from the Show

PT 8 M minute read

NBAA’s Schedulers & Dispatcher Conference (SDC, or often just called “S&D”) is the only major event in the business aviation industry focused on flight department schedulers and dispatchers. It’s a fun, energetic three-day event that attracts over 2,900 industry professionals.

The show is held in a different city every year, so each one is unique and special. SDC2023 will be held Jan. 24-26, 2023, in Nashville, TN.

Whether you’re a first-time attendee or a seasoned SDC alum, there’s a lot going on in the three days we call SDC, and having a plan to maximize both your and your company’s investment in the show makes all the difference in terms of how much you’ll actually get out of it.

So I’ve personally hunted down every SDC vet, swami and ninja I could find to steal their collective insights and put together this Pro’s Guide to SDC—covering everything from getting the most out of the show, as well as answering the more common first-time attendee questions like what to wear, what to pack, and where to go.

Here are the SDC tips from the pros:

Check out NBAA’s resources

I know what you’re thinking…I’m not off to a good start with this article by telling you to go somewhere else to get some tips, but NBAA makes it a point to publish resources every year to help attendees plan in advance and navigate the show. Here are some to familiarize yourself with:

Attend many, but not all, sessions. There’s a lot to learn on the show floor.

Photo by NBAA

SDC is packed with educational sessions, and you’re going to want to attend many of them. However, you should also pick sessions you can strategically skip to spend more time on the exhibit floor.

The exhibit floor offers opportunities to meet with FBOs, fuel companies, software providers, trip support providers, and other companies you routinely depend on. This is your time to get one-on-one consultations for your specific operational questions and first looks at the latest technologies available.

If you attend every session, you simply aren’t going to have enough time to work through the exhibit floor, and its 500+ exhibitors—which you are going to want to do for the prizes, which I’ll cover later.

The way you plan for your sessions, you need to plan for your exhibit time. Use the SDC2023 Program Schedule to plan out your days in advance. And use the SDC Exhibitors List to identify every exhibitor you definitely need to speak with.

Some of you are going to want to spend quality time with, some you are going to speed date, and some you are literally just going to be doing a drive-by on.

Pro Tip: Use the NBAA Events App to build out your agenda and exhibitor hit list in advance.

Super Pro Tip: You’re probably already starting to receive SDC invitations and updates from various companies you work with. Create a “SDC23” folder in your inbox to save everything you get for easy reference later. Be looking for anything concerning parties and mixers, prizes, operational updates, updates on products you use, and 1×1 opportunities. This will help you refine your agenda for the show.

Booty is everywhere – I’m talking prizes, bags, and swag.

Universal-branded socks are always in high demand!

If you are a first-timer, you aren’t going to believe how much free stuff is going to be thrown at you. And you need to have a strategy around this.

There are essentially five tiers of treasures to hunt for:

    • Nice exhibitor swag – This is the stuff you want to be scouting for immediately, and it often runs out after day two. We’re talking about USB phone chargers, RTIC/YETI drinkware, travel blankets, etc. You’ll probably be asked to hit a golf ball or spin a wheel to claim these, but it’s worth it. And, hey, it’s all supposed to be fun!
    • Not as exciting, exhibitor swag – Here, we’re talking low-end pens, keychains, weird stuffed animals, and such. This is the stuff you want to amass in bounty to bring back to your office and shower your coworkers with. Look how much you’re thinking about others now!
      The trick here…exhibitors are going to be dumping this stuff in mass quantities on Thursday to avoid shipping, so stop by their booths to help them out. Here’s a standard script everyone follows:
      You: “Hi. Can I take one of these?”
      Exhibitor: “Of course! Take 5…no, really…please do.”
    • Thursday’s Grand Prize Happy Hour prizes – Here, we’re talking designer handbags, electronics, unique gift baskets, jewelry, and more. To enter, you need to visit every participating exhibitor at the show before the last day of the show. You’ll only be eligible to win one of the grand prizes being given away. So if you don’t want the Regional Salmon Gift Basket, don’t enter for it. This year’s Grand Prize Happy Hour will be held Thursday, Jan. 26th, at 5:30 p.m. in the Convention Center.
    • Exhibitor in-booth contests – These prizes are similar to the Grand Prize Happy Hour prizes. However, there are no rules on how many you can win, and many exhibitors do multiple drawings per day.
  • Bags – To help you carry your swag, many exhibitors provide bags—and these can get really nice and functional for your everyday life. I can’t tell how many times an attendee says they still love and routinely use a bag they claimed at an SDC years ago.

Pro Tip: For those exhibitors, you have good relationships with, be sure to ASK what swag and prizes they have available. The best stuff isn’t always what’s out for display, and it’s intentionally brought to the show just for YOU.

First-time Attendee Tip: If this is your first SDC, you have a whole other set of prizes available to you through NBAA’s First Time Attendee Program. Check the SDC2023 Program Schedule, and don’t miss the first-time attendees meeting Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Packing – Make a list and check it twice

There’s nothing worse than realizing you left something you needed at home. Here’s a quick punch list of some less-than-obvious items you’ll want to add to your packing list to help ensure a smooth SDC.

  • Business cards – at least 500 of them! I know this seems like overkill, but you’ll be dropping these things like breadcrumbs at every exhibitor booth you visit. Your business cards are your golden tickets to enter all the exhibitor prize drawings happening all over the show. There are 500+ exhibitors, plus you’ll need cards for general networking. Several people told me they just order a new box of them specifically for this show.
  • An empty foldable duffle bag – for all the prizes you’ll be bringing back.
  • Your company’s FedEx or UPS Shipping Number – some people prefer to ship items back versus hauling them. Using your company’s shipping account number usually gives you a better rate.
  • Band-Aids – to cushion any blisters you get from walking
  • Hand sanitizer – it’s COVID, cold and flu season, and you’ll be shaking a lot of hands.
  • Lint roller – or in a pinch, a wad of packing tape from the hotel front desk will work.
  • Portable steamer + wrinkle releaser (or you can use the steam from your shower to help smooth out wrinkles).
  • Noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset – to easily take calls on the noisy show floor.
  • USB battery pack charger and cord for your phone.

Pro Tip: Write yourself a punch list of what you want to take to the show every day – like a phone charger, business cards, etc. On that list, make sure to include your SDC attendee badge. There’s nothing worse than getting to the show on day two and realizing you forgot it!

Super Pro Tip: Hang your attendee badge on the inside door latch of your hotel room, so there is no way in heck you are leaving your room without it.

Attire – Polos are in

Compared to other industry events, SDC is definitely more casual, but that doesn’t mean you should bust out with your favorite concert T-shirt and flip-flops. But with this year’s show in Nashville, be sure to bring your honky tonk kickers!

Guys – You have it easy. A nice polo shirt or button-down, slacks, tucked in with a belt, pair of nice-looking walking shoes, and you’re golden for the show. For evenings, you’ll want to layer up with a jacket. Nashville will definitely be chilly at night, and the daytime weather is a toss-up for this time of year.

Ladies – Dress for a long day of activity – layers are the name of the game. Meetings rooms tend to be cool, so bring a jacket, cardigan, or sweater for the conference sessions and exhibit hall. Go with a small cross-body handbag or a small day-pack for your essentials, as you’ll likely pick up tote bags and other items as you go, and getting back to the hotel during the day may not be possible. Each evening’s social events give you an opportunity to dress up or down, depending on your agenda.

And don’t overlook the shoes! Opt for a bit more function and comfort for trekking from the hotel to multiple meeting rooms, convention center, and exhibit hall, and save some of the flair for the evening fun.

Pro Tip: Wear your company’s brand visibly on you during the conference. This could be a branded polo, a branded jacket, or a branded magnetic pin. Sure, your company name is already listed on the attendee badge hanging around your neck, but most people avoid the awkwardness of looking down at your stomach to read it. By wearing your brand, it’s going to open the door for more conversations.

Plan meetings in advance

It’s the best way to ensure you’re leaving SDC with the answers you need. However, with nearly 3,000 attendees and 500+ exhibitors, it’s easy to be late to or miss a meeting entirely because you got intercepted, stuck in a conversation, distracted, etc. Build buffers into your schedule to account for this and be prepared to adjust on the fly.

SDC nightlife and parties – plan in advance.

During conference hours isn’t the only place to network, get the latest news, and meet new industry contacts. The nightlife can be just as productive, and you should have a plan in advance.

Dinners are great for one-on-one discussions, free from the distractions of the show. If you’re leaning this route, set those appointments now. Whoever is on the hook to make the dinner reservation will greatly appreciate it! Last-minute reservations at the most popular restaurants are always a challenge during a convention.

Exhibitor parties are another great way to go, and there are lots of them to choose from. Typically the fuel suppliers are throwing the biggest ones at SDC, so start reaching out to see what’s going on. If your flight department buys fuel, you’re invited.

Battery low!

Carry a power pack for your phone and a USB cable. The days are long, and you’ll need power. If you are spending any time in an exhibitor’s booth, ask them to plug in your phone for you…even if it’s just for 15 minutes.

Take care of your health!

You may shake more hands in three days of SDC than you will the rest of the month. But with that close contact comes the risk of picking up a nasty bug. Make sure to bring plenty of hand sanitizer for your personal use.

Also, stay hydrated. Lack of sleep, dehydration, and close quarters is a recipe for ending the show with COVID, a cold, or, the flu.

Here are some additional items you may want to your packing list:

  • Eye drops
  • Nasal saline spray
  • Small pocket packs of tissues and pain relievers
  • Lip balm
  • Throat lozenges/cough drops (to soothe your dry mouth and throat after talking for hours!)

What are your SDC tips and strategies?

Whew! This was a lot! And I know there are still a lot more great tips and tricks out there. I’d love to hear YOURS, so please send them to me. I’ll include the best in an updated article next year (with full attribution, of course!).

Got a question for Anabel about this article?