November 6, 2020
Over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to attend numerous conferences and professional events. Most recently, the 2019 Autodesk University Conference in Las Vegas. In addition to that, there have been AIA conferences, International Builder’s Shows, the Greenbuild Conference and Expo, modular construction conferences, high performance design workshops, as well as vendor and product tours just to name a few. Through all of this, I’ve come to discover some tips and tricks, pros and cons, and certainly some lessons learned to get the most out of these opportunities.
For me personally, I don’t believe the main benefit of the conference is in the title alone. It’s not necessarily about the specific content that’s being presented, but rather, it’s about getting inspired, staying up to date on the latest topics and trends, learning how to learn, and seeing the success (hopefully) of our industry as a whole. There’s a wealth of information to find but it can often be challenging to sift through the content and get the most out of these events. However, it’s important to not just focus on the technical notes and documents that you walk away with, but more importantly, the ideas and perspectives gained. Then learning to apply the new ideas to your everyday tasks when you return back to the office. Even with years of industry experience, I am by no means, an expert. Just as I summarize my thoughts on making the most of the conference experience, I am always looking for other’s opinions and advice; all in an effort to improve upon and maximize what I’m able to get from my next opportunity. So, in no particular order, here are a few ideas, concepts, and strategies that I’ve learned over the years.
The AEC Industry is a small community. I’m constantly amazed at how connected we all are in one way or another. It’s easier than you think to find a common thread amongst the people you interact with at these events…first and foremost, you’re at the same conference; so, you already have that in common. The value of knowing people and building relationships is priceless when it comes to our work. Whether it’s the instructors, vendors, or any fellow conference attendees…introduce yourself…hand out your business cards…collect business cards…and then, make a point to follow up with your new friends when the conference is over. Believe me when I say this is not my personal strength, but it’s critical to step out of your comfort zone and interact. You just never know when that random guy sitting next to you in class may lead to your next big project opportunity.
Walk the floor.
Many of these conferences have a showroom floor full of vendors and product reps, in addition to the classes, seminars, and keynote speakers. For me, this is where the inspiration comes from. It’s like a real life walk through the Google search engine. So many products to explore and ideas to gain (not to mention the free schwag). Because who doesn’t need another tote bag and sketch pad?
Wear the comfy shoes.
Speaking of walking the showroom floor, it never ceases to amaze me just how much ground is covered at a conference. I mentioned the Autodesk Conference that I just attended…on average, 10 miles per day. And that was for three straight days. Walking from the hotel to the conference, from class to class, the showroom to the lunchroom and back to the classes, it all adds up. So, wear the comfy shoes. Your feet will thank you.
It’s a conference…sleep when you’re done.
Pretty much sums it up. You’re there to take it all in. You will be exhausted both mentally and physically. But don’t miss out. Wake up and go to the breakfast (you need the fuel). Attend as many classes as possible. Use your “free time” to seek out the bonus content (for example, the showroom floor). Attend the after parties (networking opportunities and free booze?). You’re going to be tired. But you just never know where that one highlight is going to come from. At a previous year’s Builder’s Show, I had an opening in my schedule so I stepped into a random room, just to see what was going on. It turned out to be the highlight of the conference. One of the most inspiring, eye opening presentations that I attended and it could have simply been passed over and traded for an hour of sitting down and checking in on emails. You just never know. Make the most of your time while you’re there, and then, sleep when you’re done.
Interact outside of the conference.
Adding on to the “meet people” comment…build your network. It’s likely you’re going to know people at the conference, whether it’s current or past coworkers, clients, consultants, or even your competition. Take this opportunity to get to know people on a personal level. Go out to dinner and don’t talk business. The value of building these personal relationships outside of the day to day grind is so important and invaluable.
Attend the sessions that you know nothing about.
A class may last an hour or so. You will not learn it all nor become an expert when it’s all said and done. The classes are like previews before the movie. Get inspired, find something interesting, and then follow up and invest some time after the conference to really learn. It’s tempting to stay in your comfort zone and learn more about what you’re already familiar with, but don’t. Challenge yourself and find something new to investigate, even if it seemingly has nothing to do with your current job title.
Put the phone away.
Per the previous comment, it’s important to meet people. Nothing says “don’t talk to me” like having your nose buried in your phone. Keep your head up, stay engaged, and be present at the conference. You can check those emails later.
Be prepared, get organized, and set goals.
Once you’re signed up, start researching. Find the list of classes and get registered. Take note of the products and vendors in attendance and make a point to find a few of them. Have a goal to learn something specific, and then do it. Otherwise, you’re just walking around with no agenda or plan. Not necessarily a bad thing in small doses, but it certainly helps to have a few targets to aim for.
The benefits of attending conferences are certainly easy to understand. As I mentioned above, the opportunities to build your network, expand your knowledge base, interact in an environment where most everyone shares a common interest, a chance to travel (even if it’s within your own city), to see new things, and to walk away feeling inspired and motivated. And on top of all that, it’s just plain fun. So, take advantage of these opportunities, and when you’re fortunate enough to have them, do what you can to be proactive in getting the most out of your conference experience.
Senior Project Architect
Born in Chicago, raised in Colorado, and a graduate from the University of Kansas, being an architect has always been Chris’ ambition. With a wide range of project experience, Chris is dedicated to creativity, teamwork, problem solving, and experiencing the built environment.