5 Tips for Running an Awesome Conference

By James Vandezande of HOK on May 13, 2015

I was honored once again to volunteer my time as the event chair for the BIMForum. The group’s most recent event was held on April 29-30 in sunny San Diego. The twice annual conferences are built around a theme to focus the content of the presentations and discussions around a core concept. For Spring 2015, the BIMForum chose “Transforming Deliverables” as the main theme, which has some interesting interpretations. One may see the topic of deliverables that transform our processes, while others will want to learn how we are transforming our traditional deliverables using BIM.

Over the course of the day-and-a-half event, we were treated to 14 plenary presentations in the main room and 16 breakout sessions that were focused on BIM management, owners, and construction. With almost 600 attendees, the Spring 2015 event was the highest attended to date. What makes BIMForum so unique is the broad cross-section of demographics including architects, engineers, construction managers, owners, facility managers and other support professionals.

Presenters included architects, engineers, owners and builders. Even HOK’s own Design Technology Specialist, Brok Howard, presented on the topic of the “Project Data Lifecycle.”

In my opinion, the BIMForum event organizers have developed some great techniques for creating an extremely valuable, informative, and inspiring conference. Here are my top 5 aspects that make BIMForum an awesome event:

  1. Keep it affordable – BIMForum has been successful at keeping the cost of the event under $1,000. This can be attributed to the duration of the conference and the hard work of the volunteer speakers (although speakers are not required to pay registration fees).
  2. Presentation pacing – We encourage our presenters to fit their content into approximately 20 minute slots – much like a TEDtalk presentation. We combine 2 or 3 presentations in rapid succession, then invite the group speakers back on stage for an extended question and answer period. We try not to exceed 90 minutes between breaks.
  3. Real world examples – Our presenters are some of the AEC industry’s most cutting edge professionals. BIMForum always strives to share best practices and lessons learned from actual project teams around the world.
  4. Integrated social media – In addition to the lively personal interactions, BIMForum makes use of social media to expand the discussion beyond the walls of the event. You can check out the insightful posts to Twitter using the hashtag #BIMForumED (representing the Education division of BIMForum). We display a Tweet wall during all Q&A sessions to enhance attendee engagement.
  5. Record it all – All BIMForum sessions are recorded so that attendees and other BIMForum members may re-visit the content at any time in the future.

Although there were many discussions about the possibility of someday eliminating 2D drawing deliverables, no one has yet to break through the BIM delivery barrier. Instead, we heard of the move from merely talking about “lonely BIM” and “social BIM” to the topic of “big boy BIM” (perhaps more aptly named “grown up BIM”). What’s the difference between “social BIM” and “grown up BIM?” It all comes down to right of reliance. When John Tocci (CEO of Tocci Building Companies) shared the concepts of lonely and social BIM several years ago, he referred to the phenomenon of either keeping or sharing one’s BIM data. Grown up BIM addresses not only sharing model data between project stakeholders, but asserting the reliability of the data so that downstream users can avoid replication and redundancy.

We learned that before we can start to think about transformed deliverables, our industry needs to transform our processes and relationships. Design professionals have been focusing on ‘pushing’ data downstream, rather than thinking about ‘pulling’ it forward based on the needs of those who will consume the data (Josh Emig). All project stakeholders must buy into the BIM process for it to be truly successful, unfortunately, we are currently in an implementation state somewhere between distraction and leadership (Lindsay Pflugrath).

Also of note, the LOD Specification team announced a brand new “Part B” that addresses the development of model element attributes. This new addendum to the publicly available reference standard is posted for a public comment period at


[Read James’ original post here].