The annual HIMSS Conference…. we look forward to it every year the way a five-year-old looks forward to the arrival of Santa Claus. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of networking and educational opportunities enhanced by a gigantic exhibit hall filled with adult trick-or-tricking, and we never come away without fresh ideas to supplement our efforts to drive health IT-enabled health care systems.

But if you’re new to the HIMSS scene, it can be a bit overwhelming at first sight. More than 35,000 attendees? A dozen or more educational sessions underway simultaneously throughout the day? HIMSS Spots? A former U.S. president? More than 1,200 vendors? Tweet-ups? Shuttles? Showcases?

Yeah. It’s a lot to take in, even for veteran HIMSS-goers, so we put together this official unofficial guide to help. Here you have it: tips from our own HIMSS veterans!

Plan to get lost: With more than 35,000 people, HIMSS’ attendance is higher than most U.S. cities’ populations. Pair that with the fact that the McCormick Place, with its 2.6 million square feet, is the nation’s largest convention center, and it helps to think of HIMSS like a strange, new city that you’ll spend the next few days trying to navigate. Approach it with the understanding that yes, you are going to get lost, and yes, you will miss some of the sessions you want to see if for no other reason than they are too far away from the sessions you just came from to make it to them on time. You don’t really understand the true size of HIMSS until you’re there, but trust us - you won’t be the only one wandering around the venue with the same dazed expression as a tourist in New York City. Our tip: pick our your sessions and download the venue map in advance and plan your attack, but plan for your plan to fail, too.

Your feet will hurt: Every HIMSS veteran has his/her own special tips about the conference, but the one that they’re always in agreement on is this: wear comfortable shoes. If fashionable footwear is a non-negotiable item for you, and you simply cannot go without those platform stiletto heels or shiny new wingtips, you – or rather, your poor feet - have our sympathy. We’ll be able to spot you a mile away – you’ll be the one sitting on a bench, fashionable shoes on the floor next to you while you massage your aching dogs. Our tip: save the fashion statement for the after-hours networking events and go for comfort during the day.

So that’s how a pack mule feels: Between laptops, phones, chargers, session schedules and maps, your hands will be full before you even step away from the registration table, and your load will triple after 10 minutes in the exhibit hall. Right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “So I need to bring my larger shoulder bag or a big backpack, what’s the big deal?” Uh-huh. You do that – you’ll be the one sitting on the bench next to the aforementioned fashion plate, only you’ll be rubbing your shoulders and lower back instead of your feet. Our tip: bring a bag that rolls.

Don’t bring your shy to Chi-town: There are literally thousands of opportunities to network at HIMSS, and if you miss any of them, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Our veterans tell of meeting great people with great ideas during sessions, while getting coffee, on the shuttle buses and even while standing in line at the restroom. The folks who attend HIMSS are generally there to learn - truly, the freebies in the exhibit hall are just a bonus – and not just from the speakers, either. They want to learn from you, and you can learn from them, too. Our tip: Strike up random conversations with the people around you. You never know what could result.

It’s gonna be Tweet: We still have two weeks until HIMSS officially begins, and already there’s an entire catalog of related hashtags on Twitter. Just do a hashtag search for things like #HIMSShacks or #HIMSSbingo, or take a few minutes to review The Totally Unofficial Guide to #HIMSS15 Hashtags. The important thing to remember is, a lot of great conversations during HIMSS will occur on Twitter, and you can maximize your attendance by being part of them. Our tip: Tweet, tweet and tweet some more….and if you aren’t on Twitter, get on it and learn to use it before HIMSS.

Editor’s Note: For live Tweets from the HIMSS15 Conference, follow the Quality Forum on Twitter at @LHCQF1. Be sure to also follow Nadine Robin, Health IT Program Director, at @HITNadine; Allen Abshire, Health IT Operations Director, at @AllenKnowsHIE; and Jamie Martin, Marketing and Communications Manager, at @DavisJamie77.