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How to survive Web Summit

As tens of thousands of tech types prepare to descend on Lisbon, we get some tips for navigating this super-size event

By Tim Smith in Barcelona

Web Summit is — to put it plainly — a monster of an event. The organisers are expecting 70k attendees through the doors this year, including some 2,100 startups and 1,200 investors. To put that in perspective, last year Helsinki’s Slush saw 8,800 people attend, while Barcelona’s 4YFN is expecting a headcount of around 25k this year.

Mega-conferences like these can be a disorientating and stressful experience if you don’t approach them in the right way. So to help attendees get the most out of their time, Sifted caught up with Ricardo Lima, Lisbon local and head of startups at Web Summit, who’s been attending the event since 2016.

Here are his tips for getting the most out of both the event and the city this week.

Scroll the app and prepare

Lima encourages all attendees to fully familiarise themselves with the Web Summit app before getting to the event.

“Take the time to prepare, we have tools available for people to prepare and engage — not only with the content that we have on different stages — but more importantly, with the people that are actually attending the event,” he says.

“The best advice that I can give anyone coming to Web Summit is to take the time with our app to prepare beforehand, according to their goals.”

Web Summit is an ever-shifting hall of mirrors

So you’ve done your prep and worked out which startup stalls you want to visit on each day based on the first map of the venue you’ve seen. Think again!

“Web Summit can feel like different conferences over the different days. That’s because at the end of each day, we rotate the floor, meaning that the startups that are there on the first day might not be there the second day,” Lima explains. “Sometimes what happens is that people will want to chat with a startup and they think that they’re exhibiting on the Wednesday, and they’re actually exhibiting on the Thursday.”

All of the info for exhibitors and content for the separate days is available on the app in advance, so just make sure you’re looking at the right day when making plans.

Don’t prepare too much

While you want to have a clear plan, also be sure to leave some time to take in the event in a more relaxed way, Lima advises.

“It’s important for people to prepare according to their goals, but you also have to leave some space for serendipity,” he says. “It’s important for people to wander around the space to check out the different startups that are coming. Some of the coolest networking stories that we’ve heard happen in the line for coffee, so it’s important to find that balance.”

The site has multiple networking zones, so don’t be afraid to bump into people and make new connections.

Be aware of the size

As previously mentioned, Web Summit is big! Lima explains that there are five pavilions as well as the centre stage, which he says is the third largest indoor arena in the world. Given the scale and the sprawl, he advises that people leave at least 15 minutes to get from one side of the event to another.

Get your dancing shoes on

Web Summit is very much not just about the day-time content and networking. The event organisers put on three evenings of late entertainment known as the Night Summit, complemented by countless side events going on around the city.

Some of those are listed online, others are run on a more exclusive, word-of-mouth basis — so ask around. 

“There’s a lot of different side events organised by essentially everyone in Lisbon that’s in some way connected to tech,” says Lima. 

Explore Lisbon

If you’re lucky enough to have some time for rest and relaxation before or after Web Summit, Lima encourages people to check out some of what Lisbon has to offer beyond the tech scene. 

He recommends a trip to Sintra, a smaller town on the outskirts of the city, as well as the historic neighbourhood of Belém situated in the west of the city, on the coast. If you’d rather stay central, he recommends the Alfama district — one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods that’s full of steep and winding roads.

Tim Smith is Sifted’s Iberia correspondent. He tweets from @timmpsmith 

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