The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions has three tradeshows each year, one in Europe, one in Asia, and their biggest one in Orlando every November. It can be an amazing opportunity for new and interested people to make connections, learn a lot about the industry, but it can be very overwhelming and there are a lot of resources and tips that you might miss if it’s your first time. That is why I wanted to compose a guide of sorts so that you can make the most of your IAAPA and leave the week feeling like you accomplished your goals and didn’t miss anything!
As with all of my guidebook blog posts – this is a living document and I want any input you might have to make it better for the community! If you have a tip that isn’t listed here or you see something you disagree with, please let me know and we can make the changes (as I do not pretend to be an expert by any means, I just want to collect the information and distribute it from the community for the community!) Thank you to those who contributed on LinkedIn and sent me information – Daniel Gomez, Amanda Czop, Alice Casali, Nate Mitchell, Linda Freeman, Alex Underwood, Jeremy Bossert, Louis Alfieri, Jon Tozer, Megan Hoepker, Chris Manson, Gavin Cox, Christopher McCarthy, Shawn Greer, Matt Marberry, Bill Kivi, Alex Mesa, Erica McCay, Scott Hennessy, John Carmean, Kelly Bailey, David Kahler, Emily Le, Kim Gromoll, Joe Neugs, Colt Sammons, Grace Perotta, and Ashley Zirkle.
While you are at it, also read this amazing guide that the Attraction Pros put together here!
Also, the TEA NEXT GEN shared this awesome guide! Check it out here.
Check out AttractionsPro podcast, they just published a guide for first timersLinda Freeman
Buying a ticket
Tickets to IAAPA can be expensive, especially if its coming out of your own pocket! A few groups usually sponsor new members of the community – Keep your eyes on The Big Break Foundation and The Themed Entertainment Association. Most people get their ticket from their company, but if you don’t have a company and can’t get a ticket sponsorship – Make sure you get a reduced price ticket by joining IAAPA or check out the Ambassador Program which will allow you access to the event, housing, meals, and unique networking events! I know a lot of friends who have participated and highly recommend it!
Buy your ticket early! Like most conferences, they have special early bird pricing.
Before you come, do your research!
Check out the full list of companies, make a list of companies you want to talk with and do a little research on any recent news or projects they may have announced so you can make a quick connection. IAAPA is all about checking in briefly now and following up after. Check out the section on networking! Check out the full list of companies here.
Research the information sessions and attend as many as you can! Not only is this a good opportunity to learn from experts in our industry about a range of topics from Diversity and Inclusion to the newest payment systems for Family Entertainment Centers, it’s a great way to make a connection with the industry experts and follow up afterwards, either in person right after or on LinkedIn the week after. IAAPA is a huge expo and as such, there has been a smaller effort to advertise some of the info sessions and many new folks get to the expo without even realizing they exist and in the past there have been many info sessions with poor attendance, despite their immense value! Check out the link and the info sessions that we find super interesting and have some friends of the site as speakers here! Also don’t forget, the info sessions start on Monday! So if you show up on Tuesday when the trade floor opens, you will have missed a majority of the information sessions already.
Some of the information sessions and lunches cost a little extra, but are usually well worth it! As they usually feature some of the most important people in the industry and can be an amazing opportunity. Also, the LEGENDS panel is usually a popular one, so show up early to get a good seat!
LinkedIn is an amazing tool and most people will use it to do their research into you after they meet you at an event or at the show, updating your profile picture and recent information as well as what your next professional goal is will really help people connect and remember you. Also, it is the best place to follow up with most people after the show. After connecting with someone initially and trading business cards, following up with a LinkedIn connection request or message saying
“Hey it was nice to see you at IAAPA, I enjoyed our conversation about ______. I would love to talk more, would you be willing to (have a short phone call/meet up for coffee sometime/etc.)?”
Almost always results in developing longer lasting and deeper connections and friendships, which is how the industry operates.
Travel to the Convention
IAAPA is held at the Orange County Convention Center. If you are Ubering from a distance or driving make sure you plan in plenty of time for traffic. The highways and streets around the convention center have notoriously bad traffic.
If you drive yourself. Remember where you park! It may be exciting, especially your first day, but take time to note where you park and where the bus shuttle will pick you up at the end of the day. I know after a long day of learning and meeting people, my brain is fried and there’s no way I am remembering where my car is. So write it down or make a note in your phone – you won’t regret it.
Packing for the day
Bring a bag or grab a free bag on the way in. You will be collecting business cards and all kinds of swag and will need somewhere to hold on to it. I recommend a backpack as it will leave your hands free to interact with the stuff and people on the floor.
What to pack:
- Hand Sanitizer
- A pen
- Business cards
- A notebook
Hitting the Trade Floor.
It is massive. It is a spectacle. It will most likely take you a long time to wander around. And you should! There are so many interesting vendors and attractions and FOOD! But, it can also be super overwhelming and overstimulating! A good tip is to take it in chunks! The TEA booth is always a good place to hang out, sit down, and process.
Waltzing Waters is a great booth to decompress at if you have sensory issues and are overwhelmed by ::gestures wildly:: everything happening at IAAPA.Kelly Bailey
One of the most frequent tips that was given when I asked for tips was “WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES!” It is a big trade floor and there is a lot of ground to cover, not to mention the lack of seating, you will be on your feet a lot of the time and despite how good those dressier shoes look, your feet will be very mad at you after a week in them. Wear comfortable shoes.
“Walk the floor starting at the wall out, if you head to the middle you’ll miss stuff.”Daniel Gomez
It can be easy to focus on the lights, professional development and opportunities and forget some basic human needs. So plan ahead! Besides wearing comfortable shoes dont forget to:
- Eat lunch. There are food court style options at the convention center (You can’t survive on Dippin’ Dots and Beaver Tails alone) (Thanks for this tip Daniel Gomez)
- Get some sleep. It may be hard to get back to your house or hotel in the middle of the day, but if you have evening plans, perhaps take an afternoon nap (they’re my favorite)
- Layers – Central Florida is notoriously hot and notoriously over air-conditioned. Be prepared for too hot or too cold.
Layers. It’s cold inside, and then it isn’t.Amanda Czop
Printing personal business cards with your contact information and a link to your LinkedIn and personal website or portfolio will go a long way! If you don’t have the time or resources to get cards print. Check out the LinkedIn QR code ability on the LinkedIn App and have it ready while you’re on the floor or at a mixer!
Get business cards made with your name and contact information to trade with vendors and anyone you meet. You can get 50 made same day at Office Depot for $10.Megan Hopeker
Word of warning from our friend Emily Le. If you get those shiny new business cards and they have personal information on them, don’t post them on social media! There are some folks who are a little too eager to get into the industry and don’t understand your involvement and might harass you, so be careful!!
Speaking with people at the booths
Companies buy booth space for a variety of reasons. Some are actively recruiting employees at the trade show, but mostly companies are there to sell their product or service. It is nice to have a resume on hand if they ask for one, but this is not a career fair, and they may not be interested in talking with you about employment on the trade show floor. I recommend doing a little research and knowing what the company basically does before approaching the booth. Going up and saying “what do you do?” isn’t the best method for making an awesome first impression. Having more specific questions about process or PUBLICALLY announced projects that interest you may be a better method. Also, they may not want you to monopolize their time. Make a good first impression, but pay attention to cues, leaving some topics of conversation unexplored is okay. Make a note of their name and the topic and follow up after. Messaging on LinkedIn or sending an email right away, might get lost in the mayhem of the week. Wait until the following week and send a message recapping your initial meeting and asking to chat again about a topic so they can know what to expect. If you don’t know what to talk about in the follow up, make the topic something they can easily talk about. My “go-to” is to ask about their personal journey in Themed Entertainment as its a topic they are familiar with and it’s a great way to get to know them!
Some things I used to mention in my security briefs to folks prior to past IAAPA’s: No matter your level, if you are with a company/on a project, you likely know a lot of business intelligence about not just the project itself, but the client and their business dealings and that of vendors. To that end, keep plane discussions discreet (and don’t open presentations unless you want others to see) and be mindful of folks trying to ‘socially engineer’ seemingly random info from you at bars, on the show floor, etc.Chris Manson
The best advice for jobseekers who are into AV and tech is to come see me at the Holovis stand 😀Jon Tozer
What I was told was to go on (or at least save most of the networking/job hunting for) the last two days of the event, as the first two are when more of the press releases happen, and when they are most busy selling rides/other products.Jeremy Bossert
After the Trade Show Floor Closes for the night
In the themed entertainment industry, the parties at IAAPA are notorious. Since it is the time of year with the largest gathering of our community, it tends to be the best time for companies to hold parties and invite all of the people they like to associate or do business with. As a new individual to the industry, the parties seem like an amazing place to network with important people behind the velvet rope of an official invitation. Speaking from experience, your first few IAAPAs, you may not get very many party invitations – and that’s completely okay! You have to understand the purpose of the parties from the hosts’ perspective. They are here trying to do business and are attempting to wine and dine the people making the decisions to give them work or do business. It is a company business development tool and not designed to be a great place for new people to make a big impression.
Instead of hyper-focusing on getting into parties – attend the TEA and Slice party and hang out with other new people!
The TEA party is usually on a Tuesday and can usually be found here. Slice usually hosts a party on Monday and can be found here. They are both amazing places to meet new people and are open to whomever wants to attend (there is sometimes a cost to attend.)
Otherwise. Find other new people and ask what they are doing in the evening after the show and hang out with them! There are so many restaurants and attractions around Orlando – hit up Disney Springs or City Walk and get to know some new friends!
Follow up afterwards!
Follow up is critical. Make time after the show in the 1st 2 weeks to follow up while your memory is clear, write down personal notes about your interactions, e-mail thank you to people, and connect on LinkedIn. Always send a personal message on LinkedIn, otherwise they may not remember you or not respond.Louis Alfieri
Other random/fun tips from the community:
if Pamela from Give Kids the World gets on stage, make sure you have a tissue ready.Daniel Gomez
Remember you might have been that person nervously holding a plastic glass, staring at Vice Presidents, World-renowned architects, and Imagineers a many IAAPAS agoDaniel Gomez
I felt the same way with sore feet after my first expo. My big tip is don’t treat this like a job fair and try and shove your portfolio and resume into the faces of design firms while they are focused on finding clients. Go up, exchange cards and FOLLOW UP.Alex Underwood
Wear comfortable shoes, you will be putting in A LOT of steps! Talk to as many people as you can, especially vendors in your area of interest…but dont be afraid to think out of the box and talk to some vendors that seemingly may not have anything to do with why youre there. (Its a small world!) If you can get into some company or association mixers, go go go. This is a great place to chat it up with people that may not even be on the show floor! Lastly, Im always jealous of the IAAPA first timers, i would love to experience that feeling again! Have fun!Nate Mitchell
I had the lucky to join a group of various professionals from my country, so I had a sort of emotional supportive people around me sometimes. I was very organized in my daily visits. I scheduled to start with companies I knew, I used the exhibitors catalogue and a to do list. Every day I added a visits to people and customers I’ve already meet before, it was like a pause from my daily work.
In fact, attending at a Exibit is a sort of work. But don’t worry if you can’t reach everyone and every company. Job related relationships must be also a pleasure, and joining with customers and colleagues should be also spending good time with them.Alice Casali
I think the best advice is to ppace yourself. It’s a lot, and can be overwhelming to a first time attendee. Prep should include: really good walking shoes, business cards, and a way of keeping track of who you are speaking with.Ryan Mueller