Let's Talk About Attending Conferences

This post is brought to you by our friend, Michael Riscica. Mike is the Founder of Young Architect, a blog and community dedicated to helping Young Architects succeed.


For years, I had no idea what was going on. I’d always heard about the conferences with the AIA, AIAS, or other organizations, but I didn’t really get serious about attending any until I completed the Architect Registration Exam in late 2013.


Attending conferences has become one of my favorite things in the world. Every conference is different, so I never get sick of going. In fact, each conference gets me more excited about the next one.

In the past few years, I’ve attended the AIA National Convention, AIAS Forum Conference, CSI Construct Show, Pioneer Nation, World Domination Summit, a yoga conference, and Comic Con.

Before 2014, I always let a lot of stupid things keep me from attending conferences. All of my dumb reasons revolved around time and money, but the real reason was that I was just naïve. I didn’t know how much value I would get from attending conferences.

Sure, I’ll be the first to tell you that Time and Money rule the world. But I think the opportunities my professional and personal life was missing out on, was 10 times more valuable than my time or money at that time.

From some of my past experiences attending conferences, spending a few hundred bucks to be there, in retrospect is actually cheap compared to the value it’s brought me. Here’s why:


Why should you even bother? Everyone is so busy these days, but there are lots of great reasons why you should be taking advantage of conferences.

Nerding out at AIA Con 2016

Nerding out at AIA Con 2016


The whole purpose of attending a conference is to bring like-minded people together and to utilize the opportunity to communicate and learn from each other. Learning is a huge component of every conference.

All conferences have a Keynote Speaker or several who all have some prolific piece of advice or information to share with the world.

Keynotes can be hit or miss. I have been to smaller conferences with keynote speakers who I have never heard of, and their keynotes have inspired and had major positive impacts in my life. And then I have also listened to very famous keynote speakers and after an hour of talking couldn’t tell you what they talked about. When it comes to keynotes, it’s best not to judge a book by its cover.

But learning takes place all the time and not just in workshops, events and keynotes.

Chicago Train Station

Chicago Train Station


All Students, Architects, and everyone else (in the industry and the world) need to travel more. Traveling to see other places and learn how other people live and interact with their environment is fundamental to being a good designer or Architect.

Conferences are a fantastic reason to travel somewhere else. ALL OF US need to get out of the little comfort zone we all live in.

I truly believe that if everyone traveled more, it’d eradicate many of the problems the world has today.

AIAS Forum 2015

AIAS Forum 2015


Regardless of where you are in your career, conferences are a fantastic place to network and meet people. I feel like it’s easier to make new friends at a conference. Most of the other attendees have also traveled to be there, and they’re typically more open to meeting new people and having new experiences.

The conference itself is usually a filter for serious and awesome people. They’re serious enough to shell out a few hundred bucks and make the effort to be there.

Some of the most important people in my life today are friends I met at conferences. Even though they live across the country, social media keeps us connected.

I’ve been to one conference three times, and I see the same people every year. While I casually keep up with them throughout the year, the conference has become a way to check in and find out how we’re all doing since we last saw each other.

In a way, the conference has become a community that keeps me connected to all these people.

AIA Conference 2016

AIA Conference 2016


At the most recent AIA Conference, I attended a workshop about Young Architects working really hard on unpaid volunteer projects, which are making the world a better place.

I became deeply inspired by attending this workshop. Had I not attended the AIA Conference, I never would’ve heard about these projects or had the opportunity to connect with the people doing them.

Listening to what people are doing, putting names with faces, and being open to new experiences will have a 100% positive impact on your future success. But most of the time, you won’t even realize this fact until after the conference is over.

With Lora Teagarden and Black Spectacles

With Lora Teagarden and Black Spectacles


I’m not gonna lie. I love a good party, and so do you! Partying is a part of every conference. After a day of workshops, meetings, keynotes, and being serious, everyone needs to have a drink and relax a little bit.

Making sure the attendees have fun at night is in a conference planner’s best interest, so the parties are usually very good. And attending parties is typically where most relationships are strengthened during a conference.

Final round of a 300-person rock, paper, scissors game. World Domination Summit 2015

Final round of a 300-person rock, paper, scissors game. World Domination Summit 2015


This is the hardest point to quantify with words.

After a few days of bringing everyone together, meeting new fascinating people, hearing inspiring lectures, going to parties, laughing, and being away from home, when the conference is over and I get back to my work the energy and the inspiration from the conference now gets translated back into my attitude and the work I’m doing.

When the conference is over, it’s always very clear what I need to as a member of the community.

The energy exchanged from the conference now gets translated into my attitude and how I show up as an Architect or a member of society.

The whole purpose of a conference is to come together, connect, exchange energy and lift up the profession as a group. You must then maintain that energy and follow through as an individual after it’s over.

This is why I keep coming back.


After attending a handful of conferences in such a short period of time, here are a few things I have learned.

The Young Architect conference business card

The Young Architect conference business card


Exchanging business cards and contact information is really important at conferences. Love them or hate them, business cards is how it’s done. In the past, I’ve used attending a conference as an opportunity to update my card—or even design an entirely new card specifically for the conference.

Here’s a trick I learned about collecting business cards: Bring a small Ziploc bag that you can put everyone else’s cards into. Then they won’t get lost, and it will be easier to hand out your own card without having to juggle everyone else’s.

After the conference is over, I label the bag with a sharpie and add it to a drawer filled with Ziploc bags from other conferences.


I see so many amateurs make a huge mistake. Just because you’ve traveled to another city, don’t make plans to catch up with a relative or old friend. And don’t go off on your own sightseeing adventure while they conference is going on.

While the conference is taking place, the only time you’re not there should be spent sleeping. Most networking and relationship-building takes place at night—and in the gaps of time around events. If you’re not around, you’re missing out in a major way.

If you need some extra time to take care of personal stuff in the city that you traveled to, then plan on arriving a few days before the conference or staying after. That’s what I always do.

The Portland Crew

The Portland Crew


Within 48 hours of the conference being over, I sit down for about an hour with my business cards. I start finding everyone on LinkedIn or other social media. Sometimes, I send a short message to follow up on our conversation.

This tactic is incredibly important, and it shouldn’t take longer than an hour.




My company includes me, myself, and I. So I try to stay in hostels as much as possible. That keeps my convention costs down. It works out well, since I’m hardly ever there. My recent stay in Austin cost me $30 a night. Sure, I shared a room with 3 other people, but the only time I saw them, they were passed out after I came in late at night.

Another great tactic is finding some friends to split the hotel with you. $140 split 4 ways is only $35.

After spending years of living in an architecture design studio and sleeping on a piece of cardboard, staying in a hostel isn’t that bad. Just make sure you remember to bring ear plugs.

Rosa Sheng Keynote

Rosa Sheng Keynote


Before attending my first AIA Conference, I was telling my friend that every workshop I was interested in was full.

He told me not to worry about it too much. At his first AIA Conference, he overbooked himself with workshops, which left him very little time to connect with his friends and people outside of the workshops.

Also, many people attending conferences change their minds at the last minute and don’t show up for workshops or events, that are marked as full.

If you couldn’t sign up because something was full, then you should show up anyway. I have very rarely been turned away because a workshop really was full.

The Texas A&M Crew

The Texas A&M Crew


I have met people at conferences who are there with an agenda and if you weren’t their customer or on their list of VIP’s they’re trying to meet then, they want nothing to do with you.

Don’t be one of those people.

Take the time to talk to everyone you meet. Listen and share who you are with them. Genuinely listen to them. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say next.

I’ve learned that the people who are the most inspiring and have the greatest insight frequently aren’t your customers, operate in very different industries, and have different perspectives about the world.

I always joke that I have learned more about blogging and how the internet works from the Mommy Bloggers, than any other community of people. But it’s true. They have helped me tremendously build Young Architect.

Here’s the best attitude to have at a conference:

  • Offer value.
  • Be open, genuine, and sincere with everyone you meet.


If you’re thinking about attending a conference, don’t let stupid reasons like time and money keep you from going.

But if you’re still dubious, here are six reasons you should dive in:

  1. To Learn
  2. To Travel
  3. To Network
  4. To Broaden Your Perspective
  5. To Party
  6. The Energy Exchange

Having attended numerous conferences, I’ve learned some tricks about how to have the best experience possible:

Keep the business cards you’re given in a Ziploc bag. Spend your time at the conference. Follow up with people. Don’t overspend on a hotel. Be genuine.



I would like to thank Michael LaValley for allowing me to post my thoughts on Conferences on his blog. Evolving Architect has quickly become one of my favorite blogs and it is inspiring watching this guy hustle every day trying to help the profession through his writing, teaching and volunteering. I am grateful to know and to call Michael LaValley, a Friend!


Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever.

He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. After becoming licensed, Michael was frustrated by the lack of support, bad advice and misinformation he had during the years between graduating architecture school and becoming a licensed Architect. In early 2014 he began blogging at YoungArchitect.com as a way to address that problem.

In his free time, Michael likes to bicycle across America. You can read his bio here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Also check out his new project Young Architect Gear, designing architecturally themed gifts and products.