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13 Tips to Make the Most of Your AIA 2013 Convention Experience June 8, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.

In recent years, as an author and speaker I’ve attended and participated in dozens of conferences around the country. Subsequently, I’ve picked up some tips along the way on how to get the most out of one’s limited time and resources.

With the AIA 2013 National Convention in Denver just around the corner, I thought I’d share a few hard-earned tactics on how to enhance your convention experience.

1. It’s not about the programs

I used to think that the formal presentations were what conventions were all about. No more. This is especially hard for me to admit because

  • I love to learn – I’m energized by learning – and find the cornucopia of education sessions offered at the AIA Convention to be particularly enticing; and
  • I’m presenting at this year’s convention and wouldn’t want you to be a program no-show because of something I wrote here.

But ever notice all those firm principals hanging out just outside the entry of the conference rooms – or in the lobby – while programs are in session? They know a secret that it has taken them a career to learn and that I will share with you right now:

The programs are the least important part of the convention.

It is whom you meet or see going in or out of the programs that matters. So, by all means, attend and participate in the programs – just be sure to linger on the way in and out. And when waiting for the presentation to start, introduce yourself to the speaker and strike up a conversation with those sitting nearby.

2. Don’t just sit there – participate in programs

The education programs have been designed this year to be especially engaging and interactive. No more sage on the stage, leaning on a podium, pontificating on the importance of their work. AIA has said goodbye to the old presenter’s standby and hello to Phil Donahue-style edutainment.

You should still expect to learn a lot – in fact, a great deal more than in past conventions – because each of your presenters has been trained over the past six months on how to help you learn and engage in the material, to assure learning takes place and your expectations are more than met.

3. You can’t do everything. Know your schedule and goals

There are just way too many events competing for your attention. So prioritize – and have a plan.To start, know where you’re supposed to be and when.

Author Don Peppers has some sage advice from a lifetime of “living mouth to hand.”

Before the conference starts, be clear on your goals and what you want to get our of the convention. Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to consolidate existing relationships or meet new people?
  • Do you want to acquire “how to” expertise or to gather industry insights and intelligence?
  • From a personal standpoint, are you trying to grow your “personal brand” or make connections with others?
  • Learn more in order to do your current job better, or to get to the next level?

Like AIA membership itself, what you get from attending a conference will be based on what you put into it. And as with design assignments, the time you put into the planning will pay off many times over in the end. You won’t regret it.

4. Forget networking. Just ask questions instead

The word ‘networking’ seems to put architects on edge. What it boils down to is interacting with your peers and engaging them in conversation.

Most would be thrilled to have you come up and introduce yourself, and ask a question or two, exchange cards and move on.

You never know what might become of it – and what doors may open for you on account of a simple social exchange. So, instead of networking, simply introduce yourself and ask:

  • What have you been working on lately?
  • Discuss your reactions to the last presentation.
  • Talk about what you’re working on.

And the networking – and conversation – will take care of itself.

5. Don’t be a sponge, engage

Architects so often think of themselves as sponges. Taking-in all that surrounds them.

Stop soaking. At the Expo, don’t just look at products and play who can collect the most swag.

Instead, engage with the reps. Get to know them: they can be a fount of industry wisdom and you never know when they might come to your rescue on a project.

Look around. You might see former classmates or former colleagues.

Check out this infographic explaining what to do and what not to do when visiting the convention expo.

In terms of the exception for when you should not under any circumstances engage, here’s one word of advice:

If you see a former employer cavorting with someone who is, um, not their spouse? Turn the other way. Even if you’ve caught eyes – they will appreciate it. This has happened to me three times – with three separate former employers on three separate occasions – and each time resulted in the most awkward conversations.

The difference between a convention and conference? A convention is where conventional behavior takes place. Or it at least seems to.6. Allow for some downtime

With all of this meeting, greeting, engaging, dis-engaging and participating, you’ll need to recharge your batteries.

Architects tend to be introverts. Instead of being energized by social occasions, they’re drained by all of the energy required to meet and greet.

So give yourself a break. Better yet, several of them. Perhaps steal away to your hotel room for a short nap between events, or for a walk outdoors in the fresh air.

7. Make the most of after-hours socializing

I tend to spend the evening hours putting the finishing touches on my conference presentations. Mistake. Instead of tweaking and un-tweaking, I should be out and about taking-part in after-hour activities.

Some sound suggestions on why what goes on at night is as important a part of any conference or convention as what happens by day.

8. Get to know those you interact with on social media

You’ve probably engaged in more back and forth with some of the convention attendees – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Architizer, (fill-in-the-blank) – than you have with your own family members.

Here’s your chance to put a face to the handle and get to know your social media buds in person. Who knows? They may be your future peers, colleagues, friends or employers – you never know.

MeetUp with Your Twitter Friends at the AIA 2013 TweetUp.

9. Can’t attend in person? Attend the Virtual Convention

Face it – conventions are expensive and not every firm can afford to send everyone they would like to have represent the firm.

Nor can individuals justify the cost of attending each year. That’s what the virtual convention is for: on demand live streaming, simulcasts and the virtual expo.

When attending virtually, you’re not peering in, spying on presentations. Speakers are trained to address and engage attendees who are participating in programs from outside the classroom.

Not convinced and would still like to attend in person? Here are some ideas for how to go about convincing the powers-that-be to give you the green light – and the green – on attending.10. Approach a big-name architect

Don’t be intimidated – they’re people, too.

I wish someone had told me that before meeting Morphosis principal Thom Mayne FAIA at a past AIA convention. He couldn’t have been more friendly and patient, doing all he could to get me from just standing there making blblblblbl sounds with my lips and index finger.

Or upon approaching Peter Eisenman FAIA – suddenly at a loss for something to say – asking him to deconstruct his signature for me (he did, without hesitating, as though he were asked to do this a hundred times a day.)

Or the time I saw architect Scott Simpson going up the escalator while I was going down. Instead of catching eyes and saying hello (and gushing that I’ve read all of his articles in DesignIntelligence including this and this and this and this and this and this and this and even his books) I just kept my head down and pretended that I didn’t see him (on second thought, maybe that was best.)

Some sound advice on how to approach (and how NOT to approach) your hero.

Here’s some great tips on how to be confident, even when you’re not.

11. Leave your work at the office

You are here to learn, to engage, to converse and to have fun. And there is nothing less fun than to see a colleague doing office work at the convention – and no better way to alienate your peers. They are just not impressed that you are so busy that you can’t set your work aside for a few days.

Taking a call from back at the office now and then is unavoidable – but be sure to make every effort to plan specific times when you can address questions from your team or fires that need putting out – to assure you are getting the most from attending the convention.

12. Look for an opportunity to get involved

The convention is perhaps the one time and place where you are exposed to all the AIA does for members – and the public – and an ideal time to recalibrate your level of involvement.

Find a knowledge community to meet with upon your return from the convention. Make a commitment to get involved.

My initiation to AIA was attending knowledge community meetings, which led to serving as a local director, then vice-president, and so on. Step up your involvement a notch this year – you never know where it can lead.

13. What to do as soon as you return home

Within the first few days back, send each of those you met at the convention a brief hand-written note or email, reminding them

that you met them at the convention, saying:

  • how much you enjoyed meeting them,
  • how much you enjoyed their presentation (especially if they presented,) perhaps asking them for a copy of their presentation – or
  • just let them know that you enjoyed your conversation with them.

You do this because you authentically care about them as a person – but it also helps them remember you and your name the next time you see them.

It would be a fascinating exercise to fill-out a program for the convention – after the fact – based on how you really spent your time. Most of you would be surprised. Let me know if you have tips of your own that you’d like to share.

–       Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

Learn more about the AIA 2013 National Convention here and here.

Download the AIA 2013 Convention App for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, Android BlackBerry/Windows Phone.

Learn what’s new at this year’s convention.

Download a PDF version of the 2013 convention guide to review the daily schedule, exhibitors, and more.

On June 20, 2013 at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI


Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES



Can You Be an Architect and Still Have a Life? June 2, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: , , , ,

Probably the biggest surprise for me in university teaching is how much studio culture has changed in the last decade.

Ten years ago, when I co-taught a graduate level integrated building science design studio, no matter what time of day or night, students would be in studio, working away at their drawings and models.

Not so anymore.  While there are exceptions to this, my peers in the teaching profession back this up.

Fewer students are working in studio outside of class time.

Why is this? and Why is this important?

From a design professor’s perspective, there are several reasons that working in studio is critical to the development of the emerging architect and design professional:

  • Collaboration is increasingly valued not only in our profession, but many other industries
  • Learning is accelerated when learning from others
  • Bounce ideas off one another. Fellow students serve as sounding boards, providing a constant source of feedback

Additionally, working alone in one’s dorm room or dining room table can encourage silo mentality and bad working habits.

It also can increase competitive behavior – the designer surprising everyone back in studio with the magic they cooked up at home. This leads to the “white knight syndrome,” where the architect whisks into the office or meeting at the eleventh hour with the design decision intact, whole-cloth, undermining the efforts of all those who stayed up late working on alternative solutions.

I tell my students my concerns – but it has little impact on their behavior.

First School, Then Practice

Architecture students no doubt work very hard, are pulled in a number of increasingly divergent directions, all of which make demands on their time and attention. My students are no exception.

When asked, students inevitably say they don’t feel safe driving home when tired, walking home at night from studio, or don’t like to have to rely on others walking with them or giving them a lift.

Some just feel more comfortable working from home, where they are in familiar surroundings, surrounded by people they know, pets they care for, and all the media they can access at once.

And they’re right. For a long time, the studio student experience had a number of strikes against it.

Much has been researched and reported on the need for a redesign of studio culture.

And many schools have strict policies on studio culture, many of which build on these reports.

One comprehensive background and overview of the subject, Design Juries on Trial – reissued recently and now also in the form of related iPhone apps – by my university colleague Kathryn Anthony.

In her research, Anthony gathered comments from students at schools throughout the U.S. through surveys or student diaries, and also conducted extensive interviews with academic colleagues and architects. Well worth a read.

Work-Life Imbalance?

Among all advanced nations, the United States ranks 28th in work-life balance –barely better than Mexico, says the says The Atlantic.

The U.S. may be tops in housing access and family wealth, but in terms of work-life balance? Ninth from the bottom.

Want work-life balance? Don’t become an architect. Move to Denmark.

If only it was so easy.

It is impossible to talk about studio culture without delving into the larger topic of work-life balance, but I will try to keep this discussion focused on what I perceive to be a behavior among students that can potentially affect not only practice, but their work satisfaction, for years to come.

We’re living at a time where many of the work-life trends have taken-on an unfamiliar look, one that seems counterintuitive:

  • American leisure time has been increasing for decades (for most people)
  • American men work less today & have more down time than ever recorded.

While it is seldom wise to generalize about demographics, I believe it is fair to say that Millennials – the current generation of emerging design professionals – want work/life balance.

They have made this clear not only in many class discussions in the courses I teach, but also in their behavior.

Students today have seen the negative impact overwork has had on their parents – and on their marriages – and they don’t want to perpetuate this by repeating what they feel are mistakes of their parent’s generation.

Including the side-affect that working too much makes one boring.

And unhappy. One recent study indicates that between 20 and 40 percent of architects are dissatisfied with their rate of pay, practice management, promotion prospects, working hours and opportunity to use their abilities.

Like everyone else, architects want to be happy.Work-Life-Work Balance

Architect Andrew Maynard points out that many women leave the profession due to the difficult combination of poor work cultures, long hours and low pay. He writes:

“But these conditions affect everyone – women and men – as well as the viability of the profession as a whole.”

He calls this situation in architecture Work/Life/Work balance, and that we must “stop deluding ourselves that architectural employees are anything other than a contemporary exploited labor force.”

The seeds of this Work/Life/Work balance trend begins in school.

In other courses, I have students who won’t do the course reading because, they say, it is boring, too long, takes up too much time, they can’t concentrate for long periods of time required to read the assigned chapter, don’t see the relevance, because reading is not among their preferred ways to learn.

Often, I see their unwillingness to do the reading as a symptom of a larger, overriding situation: a lack of balance between school work and life outside school.

Work-Work Balance

I have been told that I have a great work ethic. Even by my family.

Except my family translates a great work ethic with “you work too much.”

They would describe what I have been able to accomplish day-in, day-out for over 25 years as a Work-Work Balance.

After all, while my neighbors three floors below are loading golf gear into their car trunks, I’m up in my garret posting on Work-Life Balance.

The result is a noticeable all-work-and-no-play imbalance.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance?

Since high school, I’ve abided by the Zorba the Greek approach to life.

Zorba, who famously gave his work 100% of his effort and attention when working and life 100% when living.

In other words, give everything you do 100% when you’re doing it.

Achieving work-life balance takes, well, work, requiring time management, technology management, change management, stress management, leisure management (!) and self-management.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance? Yes.

But it takes work.

And at the heart of work-life balance is the value of “balance.”

Not everyone believes balance is achievable.

Some critics argue against work-life balance, not believing it is achievable.

And, as importantly, not every architect believes balance is desirable.

They feel that architects are artists and there’s no room for balance if they’re going to achieve their dreams.

And so, they ought to go about living life at extremes, burning their candle at both ends.

Want work-life balance? Work for a firm dedicated to upholding values that support a work-life balance.

Or create one of your own.

– Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

On June 20, 2013, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice, at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI


Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES