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The essential guide to being a newbie nobody at Davos

January 22, 2014: 9:41 AM ET

Skip the piano bar, get into at least one conversation you can tweetbrag about, and get some fondue. You only get to go to Davos once, Mr. Global Elite.

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FORTUNE -- Last week, Quartz reported that nearly 80% of the people who attend the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, which starts on Wednesday, are first-timers. The World Economic Forum refuted that stat, and Quartz pulled it from its article. But whatever the correct figure is, it's clear that Davos for most people is a one-and-done.

Three years ago, I was a Davos newbie. Here's my advice on how nobodies can make the most of the global gabfest.

Keep tabs on whether your boss is going

One of the biggest scores at Davos is not a private meeting with Bono -- though you won't get that either -- but a hotel room within walking distance of the Congress Center, which is where most of the events are held. Shuttle buses take a while to show up, and they stop running early. And cabs are expensive.

There are not many big hotels, and the rooms are reserved way in advance. As a newbie nobody, you won't get one of these. But you know who will? Your boss's boss. So start calling your boss's boss's assistant two months in advance. Your boss's boss is actually a busy person and will back out of going to Switzerland, even after reluctantly agreeing months ago. In early January, you'll get a call from your boss's boss' assistant saying that the room is available. But don't be fooled. $500 a night in Davos gets you a closet. And you will have to show numerous letters to prove that you are indeed entitled to that closet.

Skip the opening night pep talk from Klaus Schwab 

Each year, Schwab, who leads the World Economic Forum, gives a talk to on how to get the most out of your time at Davos. For a newbie nobody like yourself, this will seem like a must-attend. Don't go.

Schwab's talk will undoubtedly make you feel special, convincing you that you will spend the next few days locked in economic debate with Nobel Prize winners and world leaders. This will only make your ego sink further as the reality of Davos sinks in. It's mostly high-minded window dressing for bankers and consultants to entertain clients. And as a nobody, you won't get invited to those events.

If you do go to a session, stick with it

The program at Davos is packed with worthy-sounding economic debates between CEOs, heads of state, and central bankers. And many of the best sessions overlap. The actual panels will be as boring as, well, discussion panels. CEOs won't say anything controversial. Everyone else is just being polite. The Davos man after all is a networker at heart. Plus, the ethos of Davos is that everyone comes to a consensus, which leaves most discussions lost somewhere in the uninteresting middle ground. Still, resist the desire to ditch. That other panel that you almost went to would have been boring too.

You will be hungry

There's a lot of free food at Davos, and some of it is quite good, but it's all tiny. Sandwiches are the size of crackers. Soup comes in shot glasses. I guess the real nourishment is supposed to be the intellectual discourse, or something like that.

Don't freak out about finding a seat in the lounge next to an outlet

You will be able to find a place to recharge your phone. And you're at Davos. So who you calling anyway? Everyone is here. Am I right?

Remember, you and the average CEO are practically equals

Don't tell anyone you are excited to meet them. Unless, of course, they say it first. At Davos, so goes the code, everyone is equal. The fact that you were invited means that you are special enough to walk up to the CEO of Bank of America (BAC) and just say hi.

Of course, you're not that special. Brian Moynihan's handler will quickly whisk him away, and Joseph Perella, who may have invented the term, mergers and acquisitions, is always busy, even when he is clearly sitting by himself. But hey, the point isn't the conversation, it's that you talked to the CEO of BofA and one of Wall Street's legends, and you did just talk to them.

The real prize of Davos is to work your way into a three-way. So stake out Ban Ki-Moon in the lounge, wait until someone else is about to approach, and then pounce. After that, you can Tweet that you just had an interesting chat with Ban-Ki Moon and Henry Kravis. Davos gold.

Don't go to the piano bar

Everyone will tell you to go to the piano bar. They say, "See you later at the piano bar." They will say, "Did you see what happened last night at the piano bar?" Don't go to the piano bar. It's loud, and you will know no one no matter how many times you go back and look. Why does everyone seem to know each other?

There is an alternative universe of people who are ultrafamous at Davos

Some people are famous at Davos for always being at Davos. And people who you thought were not that big of a deal anymore, or ever, are legendary at Davos. So if someone says, "I just went to a breakfast with Thomas Friedman," don't respond, "Why?" That sort of thing will get you kicked out of Davos.

Don't ask anyone what they are doing for lunch, dinner, etc.

It will always be much cooler, way more intimate, and with much more important people than what you are doing.

Sign up for the dinners

For about $100, Davos has smallish dinners, about 100 people, that you can sign up for. Do it. They are great. The one I went to included economists Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Shiller, Kenneth Rogoff, and Raghuram Rajan, talking about why we missed the financial crisis and the limits of economics. Unlike the panels, it was a very interesting debate, and you can actually join in.

Have fondue

At least one night, ditch the cocktail parties and take the funicular up the mountain for a quiet meal by yourself. Enjoy the fondue and the view, and the first time all week that you actually feel satiated. But know that the fondue is actually meant for two, and your phone doesn't count. And also keep in mind that you will have to make up a story when you run into your colleague later that night at the piano bar. He just had an intimate dinner with Bono, Bill Gates, and a few others. Who did you eat with? Don't go to the piano bar.

Go skiing

You will spend the whole time trying to make as many contacts as possible and bringing back whatever nuggets of information you can from the panel discussions. This is all to impress your colleagues and prove to your boss it was worth the tens of thousands it cost to send you. Next year, you will go skiing, you might think. There won't be a next year. You will get a new boss, or a new boss's boss who loves to go to Davos. So go skiing. Or better yet, go hurling down the mountain at night on a sled. You're only at Davos once.

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About This Author
Stephen Gandel
Stephen Gandel

Stephen Gandel has covered Wall Street and investing for over 15 years. He joins Fortune from sister publication TIME, where he was a senior business writer and lead blogger for The Curious Capitalist. He has also held positions at Money and Crain's New York Business. Stephen is a four-time winner of the Henry R. Luce Award. His work has also been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the New York State Society of CPA and the Association of Area Business Publications. He is a graduate of Washington University, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

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