No doubt about it: The annual Fall Meeting is the Institute’s signature and most exciting event of the year. It attracts thousands of land use professionals from across ULI’s global membership, drawing upon all the disciplines, sectors, geographical boundaries, and markets. It offers abundant educational and professional development opportunities through dozens of sessions covering every facet of real estate. Guest speakers and panelists share best practices and real-life experiences from the field.
The networking alone is why many members choose to attend: the chance to make new connections or reconnect with old friends can lead to collaboration on a key project, or even a new job or career path. This year, attendees will get an up-close view of the most exciting real estate development occurring in one of North America’s hottest markets—San Francisco—where the meeting will take place October 5–8 at the Moscone Center West.
For newcomers, the Fall Meeting can be an intimidating sea of unknown faces, and the dizzying array of sessions may seem overwhelming. To help first-time attendees, ULI Connect compiled tips from ULI members on how to make the most out of their meeting experience:
Connect with your local district or national council and find out who else is attending. Reach out to them and introduce yourself, says Monica Jindia, vice president of business development at Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company in Philadelphia and a member of the 2015 ULI Spring Meeting host committee. Ask your council’s executive director for the names of fellow attendees from your council. Jindia suggests calling rather than e-mailing. “It’s definitely more personal and, [if] done warmly, you are likely to receive a positive response,” she says. But make contact sooner rather than later as schedules quickly fill up with social events and business meetings. You can view a list of attendees on the Fall Meeting website, and you can search by last name, company name, city, or country. Just click on the category to sort.
If you are in the job market, do your homework ahead of time to get in touch with individuals and companies located in markets in which you are interested in working. Before the 2014 Fall Meeting in New York, Maggie Parker contacted over a dozen people in cities where she wanted to work after graduation. At the time, she was finishing a master’s degree in city and regional planning/public administration at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina, but she wanted to get into real estate development.
While Parker heard back from several members who agreed to meet her in New York, it was a chance encounter with a fellow volunteer at the meeting that led to her first position. The volunteer handed Parker the business card of a contact in Dallas, one of Parker’s target cities (Parker is a native). Parker set up a meeting with the contact, John Walsh of TIG Real Estate Services, during Christmas break when she was home. Walsh then introduced her to his network, which ultimately led to her being hired as a loan officer at the Real Estate Council Community Fund in Dallas.
“ULI was my avenue to making connections with people I wouldn’t normally have had relationships with,” she says. Parker’s experience illustrates another piece of advice from Jindia: “Leverage your existing network to expand your contacts at the meeting, particularly if you are in a job-searching or transitional stage in your career.”
Go on a pre-meeting mobile tour. Tours are a great way to interact informally with a smaller group of people. Rick Weidner, owner of an architectural signage company in California, signed up for a tour of Seattle before the 2014 Spring Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, which was his first ULI meeting. “Riding on a bus next to someone, and then walking with them around a city is a great ice-breaker,” Weidner says. “You end up meeting some really cool people.” Plus, it gives you an excuse to say hello when the official meeting starts the following day. One tour is still selling tickets.
Remember that you are building relationships, not collecting business cards. Karima Palafox, a Young Leader from ULI Philippines and one of Urban Land magazine’s 40 under 40 winners in 2014, stresses the importance of having something to say when interacting with fellow attendees, particularly mid- or senior-level professionals, who are interested in hearing from the next generation of leaders. “It really should be a two-way street,” says Palafox, a senior urban planner and partner at Palafox Associates in Manila. “It’s good to be sincere about getting to know people and having sincere conversations. Make sure you have something to contribute.”
Jamie Simchik echoes the importance of being authentic when interacting with peers and potential mentors. He also stresses that developing relationships is a long game that requires an investment on your part. “ULI as a whole is a marathon, not a sprint,” Simchik, a planning consultant based in Boston, says. “The more you go back [to meetings], the more you’ll meet people, the more robust your network will be. Keeping those connections alive for the long term will be so valuable at the time when you are planning a transition. But remember, these relationships are years in the making.”
Other quick-and-easy tips for making the Fall Meeting fun, memorable, and productive are as follows:
- Consult the program and map out the sessions you want to attend ahead of time, says Jindia. You can’t be everywhere at once, so ask a friend to take notes on a session you’ll miss and do the same for him or her.
- If you go with a group, be sure to separate from them to get outside your comfort zone and meet new people. You can always reconnect with your group for lunch, dinner, or cocktails. “There was value in not sticking with people I already knew,” Palafox says.
- When you are at sessions, introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you.
- Don’t feel obligated to attend every social event or cocktail hour. Know when your body and mind are telling you to take a break and head back to your room to rest and recharge. “Don’t burn the candle at both ends,” Simchak says. Besides, there is always next year’s Fall Meeting.