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April 18, 2023

My Journey to AU Speaker: A Guest Blog by Ariel Castillo

We’re excited to share a guest post from Ariel Castillo, innovation manager for Miller-Davis Company:  

Growing up in a family deeply immersed in the AEC industry—my mother was an architect and my father was a construction engineer—I found myself engaged with Autodesk products from a young age. As I evolved professionally, I discovered the vibrant AU community, which brought together like-minded individuals who shared their passion, knowledge, and innovation. Today, I want to share my journey from attendee to being a top-rated speaker at AU and share some encouragement for those needing the extra push to submit a proposal.  

Discovering the AU community 

My initial exposure to AU took place back in 2013 while immersing myself in the world of Building Information Modeling (BIM). As a construction and civil engineer pursuing a master's degree in construction management, I constantly sought to expand my knowledge and sharpen my skills.  

In 2019, I attended AU in person for the first time. It was an exhilarating experience. The atmosphere was buzzing with creativity and innovation, and there was a palpable sense of camaraderie among professionals who shared my passion. Connecting with speakers firsthand and seeing the groundbreaking projects they presented left an indelible mark. The event fostered a spirit of collaboration and provided a platform for exchanging ideas, inspiring me to strive for greatness in my own career and contribute to the AU community. 

The first attempt 

Earlier that year, I had submitted my first proposal, driven by the excitement of sharing my insights about Latin America’s BIM adoption. Despite receiving support during the voting process, my proposal was rejected. I was disappointed, but attending AU that year taught me that rejection was an opportunity to grow and improve. 

After analyzing the successful presentations from previous years, I realized the key was crafting a compelling message and effectively communicating its value to the intended audience. My primary goal became sharing a story that would leave other attendees motivated and inspired. 

Navigating the virtual world of AU 

As COVID-19 forced AU to transition to a virtual format, I seized the opportunity to present in different languages and became a co-speaker with a colleague in 2020. This experience, despite the limitations of the virtual environment, provided a glimpse into the process and logistics of being an AU speaker. It was truly an eye-opener. 

In 2021, I was selected as a main speaker for the first time. I learned from my previous experiences and focused on addressing the needs and expectations of the audience. This approach helped me tremendously in crafting a successful proposal.  

Getting a proposal accepted was an incredible feeling, but it was also daunting. There was a long list of tasks that I needed to accomplish. Luckily, the AU Speaker Mentor program was an important resource. A mentor reached out to guide me through the process and provided feedback that helped me improve my class. It was also helpful to engage with peers through the Speaker Group Hub forum—and I enjoyed interacting with people with a range of different experience levels, from people who had spoken at AU for 10+ years to people who had just gotten their first proposal accepted.  

2022 marked the pinnacle of my AU journey, as I finally got the chance to present in person –not just once, but for two different sessions! I understood the process better and felt more at ease, and that allowed me to truly be myself. My efforts paid off, as I was honored to be selected as a top-rated speaker among an esteemed group of colleagues. 

Lessons learned and next steps 

My journey taught me invaluable lessons that I'd like to share with anyone considering submitting a proposal for the first time—and anyone facing rejection: 

  • Be persistent. Keep refining your proposals and applying every year. Learn from the experiences of others, and don’t be disheartened by rejection. Look at classes similar to yours that were accepted and ask yourself what made them different—was it the way they approached the topic? Was it their professional experience? The class format?  

  • Take different approaches to what you know. In 2022, I submitted five different proposals—some that took a high-level approach to our company’s transformation, others that focused on specific parts of that journey. The two proposals that were accepted focused on workflows and technical specifics. So I recommend considering different classes that you could teach with your knowledge—and don’t be afraid to be granular.  

  • Take an audience-centric approach. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and understand what they want to learn and how you can add value to their experience. Think not only about what you want to teach, but what they want to achieve—not only technical skills, but also in terms of their business objectives.  

  • Engage with the community. Connect with other professionals, attend different events, and seek opportunities to grow your network and raise your profile in the industry. 

  • Embrace feedback. Listen to your peers and mentors and use their feedback to improve both your presentation skills and content. 


What’s next for me 

My personal goals for the future include closing the Las Vegas cycle—after coming once as an attendee, I want to present there at AU 2023. I’m also pursuing becoming an AU speaker mentor, and, my moonshot, pursuing the opportunity to present on the AEC main stage. 

Remember that AU is a remarkable learning community that offers endless opportunities to share, inspire, and grow professionally—whether you’re speaking or attending. As someone who has navigated the challenges of rejection and emerged stronger, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take the leap and submit your proposal.  

You may face some hurdles on your journey to becoming an AU speaker, but the rewards of being part of this vibrant community and making a meaningful impact on the industry are worth it. Don't be deterred by setbacks; embrace the lessons, refine your message, and keep pushing forward. Your voice and your story matter, and AU 2023 could be the perfect stage to share them with the world. 

Ariel Castillo is an innovation manager at Miller-Davis Company. His focus is on aligning people, processes, and technology to create new capabilities, improve project delivery, and optimize resources, whether they’re designing, building, maintaining, or selling a project. Working in the industry since 2010, he has become an authority on BIM and emerging technologies in Latin America. He’s an approved CM-BIM Instructor and has spoken at many industry conferences, including AGC IT. He creates content for the industry through his BIMNomad Newsletter, his SocialTek podcast, and is a co-host of the ConTech Crew podcast. Ariel was featured in 40 Under 40: Construction Champions of 2019.