New Orleans is a fun city. New Orleans with over 4,000 of your closest multifamily friends – it’s a wonder there wasn’t some sort of ecstatic implosion! The 2010 National Apartment Association conference was all around an excellent experience. The NAA not only did a great job lining up amazing speakers and captivating sessions, but also, with the help of amazing vendors, made sure that the Exposition floor was a fun place to be! As always, my eyes and ears were open, so to those of you who were not in attendance, I pass along my top 10 list from this year of awesome things that you missed:
1. The Bags
Okay, I admit that this is probably not one of the biggest things on most people’s lists, but I want to give major props to who ever picked this year’s bags out. Usually you get some kind of awkward canvas number with the nylon handles that cut into your shoulders by the end of the day. Not this year! Black messenger bags, designed to sling across the body with adjustable Velcro straps, and a huge compartment that zipped shut. I know that for a lot of people, they could care less about the bag, but let me tell you – by the end of the day, when I’m tired of carrying all the great info, pens, and cowbears I’ve picked up from the vendors on the conference floor, all I want is something that doesn’t make my shoulders hurt to carry it. Also, what is the point in doing a conference bag if it’s one of those cheap and ugly numbers that I’m never going to use again after I get home? Not the case this year! I love this thing! Good job this year, NAA!
2. The Check in Process
Again, not a major spot for most lists, unless you’ve stood in a check in line for over 2 hours before at a conference (which I have!). The line moved quickly and efficiently. Granted, I arrived early for the first day (you don’t miss a session when you’re paying to be there!), but I was really impressed with the way they had everything set up and ready to roll people through. I stood in line for about 8 minutes, and there were a LOT of people in front of me when I started. Nice planning and execution there!
3. Cajun Food
It burns the whole way through your digestive tract, so packing the Pepcid AC isn’t optional, but despite the kick, you can’t stop eating it! I had great food EVERYWHERE I went – from the alligator sausage at the party with CORT my first night in NOLA, jamming with Apartment Guide at the House of Blues, and being brave enough to try something called a “Meatpie” at the great opening event with the NSC Thursday night at Mardi Gras World, I NEVER found that there was something I didn’t like to eat!
4. The Energy
Do you know what you get when you put thousands of passionate and creative people in the same space? You get risk takers. You breed thought leaders. You inspire change and forward thinking. There is nothing comparable to the energy boost that your employees can gain from going to a conference like this, and I live in Seattle, caffeine Mecca of the western U.S. When you return home, the same problems that you left are still waiting for you, but you have the initiative to finally deal with them. That’s one of the most precious things that people gain from the pure energy synergy that is happening at these conferences.
5. Inventive Vendors
This year’s Expo floor was not just full of vendors with the usual booths. I applaud some of the awesome ideas I saw out there! From impromptu competitions of how many people you can fit in a shower, to caricature drawing, to a great game of Name That Tune with a live saxophone player, the floor this year was interactive, engaging and a very pleasant place to spend time. For those vendors who went that extra mile in creativity this year, kudos to you – you’ve set the bar for next year! I expect the floor in Vegas for NAA11 to be at least twice as much fun! Come outside the mold of just handing out pens to people who walk by and try engaging them – you’ll get a lot more out of your booth fees!
6. Education Sessions
I was lucky enough to sit in on some really well done education sessions by Andrew Botieri, Nadeen Green, Jackie Ramstedt and Alex Jackiw, and Lisa Trosien. There is something magical about watching these kinds of experienced and professional presenters on stage. The content of their sessions, and other classes that I didn’t get the chance to see but did get the rundown on, was motivational and useful to the audiences. In fact, out of all the sessions presented over the three days of the conference, I only heard bad things about one single class, where the presenter unprofessionally tried to sell his services to the crowd. Every other session gained well deserved glowing reviews on both content and presentation style. For a run down of some of the great classes, check the NAA write ups on the seminars.
7. The Science and Psychology of Leasing
Lisa Trosien’s session on the Science and Psychology of Leasing was flat out incredible! If you missed this session, I suggest you go and pull the tweet transcript from the conference for the time it was going on because the information and research that she put out there is something that EVERY leasing team should have access to! Lisa was frank enough to address an irritating inconsistency of our industry – we hire sales people and then try to convince them (or they try to convince themselves) that they are not “sales people.” This is a mistake. If you want to close more leases, I suggest checking out the notes from her session, the tweets, and the NAA write up on the session.
8. Dan Thurmon
If you missed his session, this guy is AMAZING! I’ve never seen a speaker walk a tightrope and juggle meat cleavers at the same time, all while driving home points about business, progress, and forward thinking. Granted, I may have been in extra awe, since those of you who know me are aware that I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time without falling over, but there’s something to be said for a guy who can ride a unicycle throughout a crowd AND deliver a motivational session about risk taking and moving outside your comfort zone!
9. The All Stars Idea Factory
90 minutes with these three women going full speed would make anyone’s head spin for hours in the idea generation space! All three, Kate, Lisa, and Mindy, had inspiring ideas to pull from for upping numbers across the board, from traffic generation, to closing leases, to retaining residents. One of my favorite ideas from this session came from the queen of Rent and Retain, Mindy Williams, who passed on an awesome idea from www.pizzafest.org, a company who can put your property’s logo on pizzas (fully edible!). And that was just one of the awesome things that made my, “How cool is that!?” alarm sound during their great session! Again, I suggest hitting the twitter transcript for the session time. Between myself and the other 10 tweeters in the room, I think we got almost every idea tweeted out there, and there is gold in them hills!
10. There Are No Strangers
Strange people, yes, but strangers, never! NAA is one of the times every year where I get to see my friends from across the country, and I get to revel in their genius and feed off of their energy and motivation. It’s where I fill up the creative well, so to speak, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. These people are why I do what I do, and every year as I spend time with them, I meet and get closer to new people that I would have never had the chance to interact with had I not journeyed to conference. This is one of the major reasons I love my multifamily family. There is always room to make friends with someone new who walks into the room that you’re in. It didn’t matter if I was on Bourbon Street, at the House of Blues, the expo floor, a session room, or even my hotel lobby, there was no way to feel left out. There is no arguing that in our industry, we feel a deep kinship to each other. Sometimes, throughout the stressful times of the year, as we compete with each other for the lease, client, or speaking gig, it can be easy to forget that, but at NAA it’s always a greeting with a hug because we are a family – not only can’t you escape that, but after spending a week with these incredible people, I can’t imagine anyone who would want to.
Needless to say, if you haven’t started squirreling away money in the budget to attend NAA next year in Las Vegas, now is the time! If you choose to get the most out of your conference by attending the sessions and spending time with your fellow attendees, it’s one of the best professional investments you’ll make all year.