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