ORLANDO — The International Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Exposition (AHR Expo) will be held here at the Orange County Convention Center Jan. 25 through Jan. 27. Last year 61,674 registered visitors and exhibitors from 144 countries attended AHR in Chicago, a new all-time Expo record. 2016 is on track to be larger still.

In this hyper-connected time we live in, it’s easy to forget the real value of face-to-face communication. According to a 2015 exit survey, 85 percent of attendees made a connection with an exhibiting company or companies for the first time at the show.

Thus, the dilemma becomes: with more than 2,000 exhibitors offering tens of thousands of products and services, not to mention educational programs (both free and paid), technology demonstrations and social events, how to maximize your time in Orlando? While a comprehensive guide could go on for pages, we do have a few tips and suggestions.

Online resources

The first place to start, naturally, is the official AHR website, www.ahrexpo.com. Not only can you register for the show, the site has a comprehensive exhibitor list conveniently indexed and searchable. The Visitors section has a floor plan of the show, as well as a show planner to help schedule activities and meetings.

Still unsure of what you might like to see and do at the show? Why not follow the AHR Expo on Twitter for a steady stream of ideas. The Twitter handle is @AHRExpo and the official hashtag of the show is #AHR2016.

You can also follow CONTRACTOR on Twitter; the official hashtag for CONTRACTOR at the AHR Expo is #BestOfAHR.

The page will be continuously updated with the latest news and developments leading up to the show. During the show the page will include straight-from-the-show-floor coverage from our editors in attendance, including product reviews and demonstrations, in-person interviews and much more.

Educational opportunities

Across the three-day Expo, the 2016 education schedule will include a mix of exhibitor new product and technology presentations — in a recent survey, 67 percent of HVACR manufacturers responding said they plan to introduce a new product at the Expo — ASHRAE Learning Institute courses, certification exams, and many free programs offered by endorsing associations and other groups. 

Each free session will last one or two hours, allowing attendees the opportunity to learn in a classroom setting while still giving them plenty of time to walk the exhibit hall. Those who are more pressed for time will benefit from the shorter, 20-minute product and technology presentations. 

More than 50 free sessions will be offered, covering a range of topics from how to commission an economizer, to cyber security measures for intelligent buildings, to the latest advancements in China’s indoor air quality (IAQ) market. Attendees may participate in all AHR Expo-sponsored sessions, ASHRAE’s Design Build Track and sessions by endorsing associations and industry groups at no additional cost.

Several paid programs are highly anticipated, and those hoping to attend should try to register as soon as possible. Onsite review workshops and testing are available and include AABC Commissioning Group’s (ACG) Certified Commissioning Authorities (CxA) exam and North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification.

And because of the Florida location, some programs are tailored to the southeast, such as “No Sweat Cooling in a High Humidity Environment Using Chilled Beams and Radiant Surfaces,” a seminar presented by the Radiant Professionals Alliance (RPA) with details on best practices, installation techniques and control strategies.

Social events

As in almost any industry, some of the best relationships don’t get made in the convention hall, they get made in the restaurant, at the bar or on the golf course. Many major exhibitors host after-show parties both as a thank-you to attendees and as a way to better get to know the customers they serve.

For ASHRAE members (who’s Winter Conference co-meets with AHR Expo) there are a number of social events such as the Members Night Out, the Life Members Luncheon, the President’s Luncheon and the Women in ASHRAE Continental Breakfast. Note that most of these events require pre-registration and most have an associated fee.