5 Tips for Your First AIA Conference

So, you’re heading to Orlando next week for the newly rebranded AIA Conference and figure maybe you should try to get the most out of the trip professionally and not just take advantage of a springtime trip to Florida.  Well, if you’re a first timer – or a conference vet looking for a few new tips – check out our suggestions below!

1. Sign up for your seminars early.

Back in the day, you used to be able to get away with showing up the first day of the convention conference, flipping through the guide, and popping in and out of sessions like a teenager turning a single movie ticket into a theater-hopping marathon.  Nowadays, though, you need to come with a plan.  Why is that?  Well, for one reason, because you sort of have to or you can’t actually get into the sessions (at least not if you want the associated CEUs).   More importantly, there is way too much to try and figure out on the fly. With over 500 seminars, tours, events, and workshops, it’s simply too big to try and get away without a little up front planning. Trust me on this one; take a little time and figure out where you’re going to be heading.

2. Also, diversify your schedule.

Speaking of all those choices – try not to pick three days’ worth of just [insert literally any topic here].  Just because your firm works on mixed-use urban development projects, don’t think you’re doing them – or yourself – any favors by soaking up 24 hours of just that topic.  Seriously, take the opportunity to engage in something new. There are so many different speakers to hear discussing emerging technologies, starting your own firm, healthcare design, accessibility concerns, sustainable design, mentorship… I could keep going, but you get the point.  I’m not saying don’t sign up for sessions that directly relate to what you’re doing today – that would just be silly. But think about what will relate to what you’re doing tomorrow and further down the road.

3. Download the Conference App. And use it!

app

If you didn’t know, AIA has an app that you can download that will sync with your schedule, give you vendor locations at the expo, and even allow you to chat real time with presenters during the sessions.  This is probably my favorite evolution from the first convention I went to back in 2006 – makes your life much much easier as you’re wandering around the convention center trying to figure out where your next session is.  The website doesn’t appear to have an updated link yet, but I already found it on Google Play with my sessions synced!

4. Go to the Emerging Professionals Party!

Thursday night for $30 – the food, drink, and networking is most definitely worth the price of admission! Seriously this is a great event, so grab a friend and go make some new ones! Speaking of…

5. Do some legitimate networking.

Yes, it’s always more comfortable to stick around your group of friends or coworkers – especially at an event that draws thousands of students, architects and exhibitors.  But, if you’re not making an effort to talk to new people at your seminars and expand your network then you’re missing out on one of the biggest benefits of attending the conference.  Granted, you may not see the person sitting next to you in a lecture at any other point during the conference – then again, they could be your next boss, partner, or client.  You have no way of knowing for sure, so why take the chance? Make an effort to get outside your comfort zone and meet someone new.

BONUS: Check out the Expo, but be smart about it!

At my first AIA convention I made the rookie mistake of picking up every piece of literature at the Expo and nearly had to buy another piece of luggage to get it all home – where it sat at my desk until I cleaned house the following spring. Don’t do that.  Engage with the exhibitors and leave your card if you really do want to follow up with someone, but do yourself a favor and leave all the papers and trinkets where they lay.  We’re in a digital age where you can sign up for emails or visit websites that have whatever information you want.  There is literally no reason to get hard copies of anything, and I’m willing to bet you don’t need another canvass tote or foam stress ball with a logo blazoned on it.  Just don’t do it!

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