The International Council of Shopping Centers’ Spring Convention is overwhelming. Every year, tens of thousands of retail real estate professionals converge on the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the scene can seem like complete chaos. This year’s, on May 20 to 23, is the 50th that the organization has held, and promises to be the largest. At last count, registration for the event was 12% above last year’s, and more than 50,000 people are projected to attend. Additionally, the size of the convention floor will nearly double this year, to almost two-million sf. Luckily, ICSC has a few opening sessions on May 20 to orient attendees. Heading one of these is Michael Greeby, executive vice president of Lake Bluff, IL-based retail-services firm Greeby Cos. Greeby recently spoke with GSR about ways to prepare for the convention and what to expect.

GSR: With all of the changes taking place at the convention this year, how will attendees’ experiences be different?

Greeby: I think that the single greatest impact on the entire convention will be the expansion. I think, even for veterans, it’s going to change the way they have to approach the entire convention. Everybody had certain predisposed patterns. Whether you’ve been there 30 years or this is your first time, I think we’re all going to be going through an adjusted learning curve, not only in way finding but in time management. It’s such a massive event, you’ll really have to pace yourself in order to be efficient and effective throughout the whole day. There are those who have booths and those who don’t. Everybody who has a booth wants to get out of the booth, and everybody who doesn’t have a booth wants to get into a booth. So this year is going to redefine that a lot. Also, with the quantity of projected attendees, I think it’s going to be even bigger, more dense and more challenging to be able to find your way around. That also will add greater exposure to smaller companies that may not have presented in the past, and it creates an opportunity to gain perspective of the industry.

GSR: How can people best plan for the changes in the leasing mall?

Greeby: I think the most important thing is to establish a schedule and try not to cram too much stuff and allow yourself to get around it. There are people that you’d like to try to see with companies that try to book times to see those people, also allow yourself a block of time to go around and walk the site. That’s what I’m trying to do with my schedule right now.

GSR: Is overbooking a big problem?

Greeby: Overbooking is a huge problem. I think 30-minute intervals of meetings are too condensed for anything significant and meaningful. You can definitely overbook, and I think you ought to be cautious of that. Furthermore, if you’re inside a booth, the intent is to have meaningful discussions and meetings. If you can’t develop them quickly enough, it kind of defeats the entire purpose of meetings. If you’re late for another one, I see it as potentially doing more harm than good. Find the ones that are most important, be honest and up front. My advice is to block in one-hour blocks, even for shorter meetings. It will give you more time to get there. Be prepared to have your stuff ready in case everything does get kicked off. Cell phones are important. Make sure you have the cell phone of all of your appointments.

GSR: Do people take advantage of the sessions or do they not attend as many as they should?

Greeby: My feeling is that the sessions continue to get better and better every year from a program standpoint. However, I think people take advantage off them if they don’t make appointments. It’s also great to catch a breath and learn something at the same time. They really do accomplish things in that vain. Compared to other conferences, I don’t believe the sessions are as truly effective as some of the other specialty conferences, which are more program heavy. That’s my personal opinion, but I always like to go to as many as I can to see the whole industry. I think the most unique thing about the Spring Convention is that you haven’t seen the whole industry until you attend. That’s what makes it so great for any segment of the industry, whether they’re in leasing, development, finance or design and construction. You get to see the perspective of all those other branches and know, when you get back to your office, what you can do better to support those other things. It is a transaction-based and deal-making conference but to know what is in the pipeline helps me be more prepared when we end up getting the call to deliver our services in support of making those deals a reality.

GSR: Is there a misperception that a lot of deals actually get done at the convention?

Greeby: I do think there is a misperception about that, but I don’t think it can be underestimated how valuable it is to have one place where everybody gears up to focus their attention. I think that’s the true value of Spring Convention, the amount of effort and focus that entire companies are placing on these things and how much it gets, in the months leading up to the convention, gets pushed off until then. It becomes corporate strategies, and it’s impact is significant. I think there would be significant ripple effect if it didn’t exist. I think entire companies would have to shift their strategy. It’s a marvelous way to create an opportunity to focus on all of the upcoming projects for the coming years.

GSR: Any mistake that most first timers make that they can avoid?

Greeby: I think Spring Convention for first timers can be like taking a drink from a fire hose. I think you can find yourself overwhelmed. You can get sucked too far in or pushed too far away. I think it comes down to pace. It’s very important to break up your day and set time aside for tending to yourself. Drink plenty of water. Eat some food. Certainly, in my first times, I tended to skip too many lunches. And then the next thing you know, you’re at a cocktail party.

The other thing is, with some much information, it would be my recommendation to find a little bit of downtime for you own internal postmortem, to take notes and write down your perceptions at various stages throughout the conference. Most people like to do that at the end of the day, but with cocktails, dinners and parties it’s nearly impossible. Leave one appointment open for yourself to compare notes and organize all of your information, so when you get back into the office you can actually capitalize on that more efficiently.

GSR: What are your goals at the convention this year?

Greeby: This year I am more focused on building relationships than ever before. It’s a great opportunity for me to catch up with a number of people that I’ve met at all of the various ICSC functions to follow up with existing, past and hopeful clients. It’s also a good time to meet with friends from other conferences. There are so many people all in one place, it’s hard to take full advantage of all of those opportunities.