Monday, August 30 – Pack and Prep

KRISTEN (Fixation Account Director): It’s the night before my first business trip in over 17 months and I’m excited to attend the National Apartment Association’s Apartmentalize in Chicago. I’ve had plenty of time to prepare, yet I find myself running out at 6 pm for a few last items. I’ll pack later. A few co-workers have wished me good luck on my travels tomorrow. I’ve told them I’m ready to go, just hoping my flights take off and land on time.

The dinner hour comes and goes, I finish getting the kids ready for bed, watch the news and promise myself I will pack by 10 pm. I make a note to myself to pack extra clothes in case we get stranded due to the remnants of Hurricane Ida coming this way later this week. Nothing like adding a hurricane to the mix!

Tuesday, August 31 – Day 1 of Apartmentalize

KRISTEN: I get up at normal time, shower, get the kids ready for school and finish packing—repack in a bigger suitcase, check! I kiss my husband goodbye, do a final email check and head to the airport. It’s finally go-time!

When I arrive at the airport, I quickly check and see that my flight is on time. Phew! A few of my fears are already waning…no long security lines, no crowds (or AC) in the people mover, no flight delays and plenty of room in the terminal to social distance.

It’s smooth sailing into Midway: flight only half full and we arrive in Chicago 30 minutes early. As we deplane, I relax again. It feels familiar. The airport is busy. Everyone is in masks, but this feels normal. I get my bag and head for the taxi line. It’s warm in Chicago, too, but not humid like DC.

After checking into my hotel, it’s time to meet up with my colleague Chelsea and head to McCormick Place for day 1 of NAA’s Apartmentalize! Neither of us have attended this particular client event before and we’re both excited to see the NAA team, the event layout, the Fixation creative in action, the speakers…and how the crowds do with pandemic protocols.

We arrive at McCormick Place and breeze through registration—NAA has done a great job with pre-registration planning and there aren’t any lines! We check out all the beautiful signage and the ways NAA has used the core creative to develop the on-site experience, take a picture in front of the registration area and then head in the direction of Wintrust arena across the street for the Opening Session (featuring emcee Bill Rancic and keynote Eric Weihenmayer—a world-class adventurer who was the first blind person to summit Mount Everest!). So inspiring!

CHELSEA (Fixation Graphic Designer): We’re here! We arrived just in time for the opening remarks prior to Erik Weihenmayer’s General Session. While there are fewer people attending this year, it sure feels like a lot of attendees to me, and the energy is high.

Weihenmayer’s story is powerful: living a no-barriers life despite deep struggle. Choosing to push the parameters as far as he can take it, even in darkness. This seems to be the underlying theme of the event, each general session speaker we see relates back to Weihenmayer’s story, and of course it is relevant to the struggles the rental housing industry NAA represents has faced since the pandemic.

KRISTEN: Time to go to the opening reception in the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall is alive with activity and exhibitors ready to do business. We see some really attractive booth designs and the exhibitors have lots of great swag to give away. Many have innovative ways to drive traffic to their booths—we see a game show going on with lots of fun giveaways. Free local food and beverages are a fun exhibitor giveaway. It seems like attendees are settling in and ready to move forward after the last 18 months. It’s good to be back at an in-person event! The convention center staff have signs that remind attendees to mask up. And attendees are good about following this rule. From a health and safety prospective, I feel safe. The exhibit hall is busy, but there’s plenty of space to spread out and social distance.

Wednesday, September 1 – Day 2 of Apartmentalize

KRISTEN: We’re up bright and early to make it to the General Session. With two great female speakers on tap, we want to make sure we get there in time to secure great seats.

CHELSEA: We arrive on time to see Lisa Bodell and Diana Nyad at the first General Session of the day. There are certainly fewer people in the crowd this morning. Because of the early start time, we assume—and hear people joking that—attendees are not showing up first thing this morning because they stayed out too late last night! Funny, but also a reminder that after such a long time of being disconnected during the pandemic, Apartmentalize is a chance to see friends, share some laughs and feel some hope and excitement.

Bodell speaks about “Killing Complexity in the Workplace,” a concept that she’s spoken to and implemented at big companies for years and that is particularly relevant during the pandemic. She offers very succinct takeaways: there is almost a desperation for employers and employees to simplify now more than ever, after we’ve had to step back, work from our homes, and have been forced to look at work through a new lens. She talks about rethinking our processes and how we can adapt and then excel with this simplification concept. Working more meaningfully, not working more.

What I enjoy most is that all these insights can be applied to our personal lives as well. Now more than ever, to apply intentionality in who and how we are at work, and who and how we are in our personal lives.

Diana Nyad speaks next. She’s an incredible force on stage and seems to be in her everyday life! She seems to do it all and give it her absolute all in every facet of her life.

KRISTEN: Lisa Bodell and Diana Nyad do not disappoint. My big takeaway from Bodell is, “Rules are like weeds. You have to constantly weed the garden to really get things done.” This really hit home for me.

I’m inspired by Nyad, too. Five times in her life, she attempted to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida, and at the age of 64 she was finally able to make that dream a reality—doing it in 53 grueling hours. In her recap of that final swim, there are times I feel like I could have been on her team boat cheering her on. Just goes to show, if there is a will, there is a way, and you should never give up on your dreams. She says: “I have three messages. One is you should never give up. Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three, it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.” Chelsea and I are energized and ready to see what the rest of the days bring us.

CHELSEA: After the opening session, we head to the Exhibit Hall. Day 2 proves to be equally as impressively full of activity, conversation, and high spirits as Day 1. We speak to some exhibitors about their experience in the last year and a half. One exhibitor we talk to is planning to attend four more conferences/trade shows this year alone! They say they’re more eager than ever to get out and attend. Not only for business, but to continue moving forward. Staying still and staying stagnant doesn’t seem to be an option for people who’ve made their business not only their source of income, but maybe more importantly their livelihood.

KRISTEN: I always enjoy talking to the exhibitors and hearing their perspectives. Everyone we talk to is happy to be there. Whether they are a first-time attendee or a seasoned attendee. Traffic in the hall is busy today and a lot busier than last night.

Exhibitors are excited to talk to everyone who walks by their booths. They are all trying hard to drive traffic to their booths. We see even more great giveaways. Someone will win a Tesla and $10,000 by the end of the show. Other booth giveaways included gift cards, ear buds, samples of products and more. We see interactive booths with slides, swings, and VR. We see video games in booths, too.

CHELSEA: During Apartmentalize, there’s a big emphasis on the initiative NAA is leading to challenge the eviction moratorium. A huge effort has been made as its impact has been devastating to housing providers, residents, and housing affordability. NAA created a very compelling video that is running multiple times throughout the event. Clearly the pandemic’s impact is felt here, and acknowledged and not forgotten throughout the event.

KRISTEN:  We hit a few more sessions on Day 2 and wrap up the day on the rooftop enjoying a beverage overlooking the beautiful city of Chicago. It’s a gorgeous day. Attendees seem happy to be there and networking is going on all around us. NAA has done a great job with safety protocols and making the “new normal” actually feel normal!

CHELSEA:  The biggest difference worth noting, but also the obvious – wearing masks at all times! It’s interesting because it doesn’t seem to put a damper on any of Apartmentalize’s offerings: connecting with others, exhibit hall fun, education sessions, general sessions, coffee, lunch, or drinks! I’m assuming that’s because we’re all very used to wearing masks at this point. There’s a very optimistic and upbeat feel walking through McCormick Place. It certainly doesn’t stop anyone from talking to one another in a safe way, masks on, spaced appropriately, and alternate introductions such as a wave of hands or bumping elbows in lieu of shaking hands. It’s uplifting and feels like a warm welcome back.

Thursday, September 2 – Day 3 of Apartmentalize and Heading home

KRISTEN: It’s day three and we are wrapping up our time in Chicago. It was a quick trip this time. Chelsea and I meet for a quick coffee, and we wrap up our last few tasks before heading to the airport. While in my taxi, I get a text from my airline—my flight is delayed. I get to the airport shortly after, check in and head through to security. The airport is busy. Security lines are longer than I was expecting. While in line, we are treated to a TSA agent with a sense of humor and, after a quick pat-down in security, I head to the gate. Lots of flights today have been delayed and the terminal is mobbed. Luckily, my flight is only delayed about a half hour.

My flight home is not full. We land a Dulles around 4:45 pm and it feels good to be home. I make my way to baggage claim, pick up my bag and head for a taxi. It’s rush hour and the beltway is jammed, but I make it home before 6 pm. My boys greet me in the driveway and give me a hug. I guess they really did miss me.

My first pandemic business trip is over. It felt good to be back at an in-person event and I look forward to sharing what we saw with our teams.  Looking forward to my next work adventure for sure!

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