Once again, the industry’s biggest event of the year is upon us, and whether or not you’re going to be in Orlando, Fla., this week, there’s no need to miss the 2012 International Builders' Show (IBS). We'll be bringing you coverage on Builder Online throughout the show. IBS always has something for everyone, and this year will be no different. With the industry’s mood noticeably brighter, it’s a great time to retool home plans, brush up on business skills, and find a fresh marketing strategy. And then, of course, there’s always products—900 suppliers’ worth of them, to be precise.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a whole lot to cover in just a few days, you’re right. Fortunately, Builder Online can help. We’ll have our team of editors scouring the sessions and the show floor to find the latest and greatest new ideas and eye-popping products. If you’re at the show, you can depend on us to be your eyes and ears when you can’t be everywhere; and if you’re not able to make it to the Sunshine State this time around, we’ll bring the best of the show to you.

And to help you make the most of the seemingly endless supply of options, here are some tips on show highlights that shouldn’t be missed.

Build for Universal Appeal: While universal design is indisputably necessary in you’re marketing to the retirement crowd, it’s also just what it claims to be—universal. Buyers of all kinds can appreciate the beauty in a home that functions well and makes life easier in ways both large and small. And at "Universal Design: Affordable Alternatives for Builders and Remodelers," offered Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in West 314 B, presenters will not only cover the universal design features that should be included in every home, but will also do it with cost concerns in mind. What’s not to love?

Tap Buyers’ Brains: Each year, the NAHB and Better Homes and Gardens team up to conduct a series of surveys that examine home buyer preferences, and then share that analysis at an education session that you won’t want to miss. Speakers will look at the new-home designs, features, and technologies destined to drive the industry in the years ahead. They’ll also discuss which products to swap in and which to drop for the biggest impact on your target market. The session will be held on Thursday morning from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in West 306.

Bookmark our IBS Twitter Page: As always, Builder’s editors and the editors of our sister publications will be covering all corners of the show, tweeting their product finds, interesting info, and goings-on around the conference center. We’ll also be aggregating IBS-related tweets, so if you use Twitter, be sure to tag your tweets with #ibs2012 so they’ll be included in the roundup.

Bring Snacks: This year’s show is expecting more than 50,000 attendees, and you don’t want to find yourself stuck behind what seems like all of them when you’re trying to make it to your next session.

Get Savvy at Social Networking: While it’s certain that social networking’s influence isn’t going to dwindle any time soon, what isn’t quite so clear to most builders is how to properly capitalize on it. Fortunately, this year’s show is offering several sessions provided to help with just that. Here are a few to pop in on:

  • "Social Media and the Custom Home Builder," Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in West 311 A

  • "Blogging to Build Traffic: Online and Onsite," Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. in West 311 G-H

  • "Successful Social Media Strategies that Work," Friday from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in West 311 G-H

Tour Builder’s Series of Show Homes: In today’s market, building a one-size-fits-all home just won’t do, so we figured that building a one-size-fits-all show home wouldn’t work either. Instead, this year we put together a series of three show homes, each of which is tailored to meet the needs of a different buyer demographic: Gen X, Gen Y, and—of course—Boomers. Each home is jam packed with innovative design ideas and new products that have been put into action.

Tune Up Your Floor Plans: The NAHB and AIA Plan Review Workshop is a fantastic opportunity to spend one-on-one time with an architect to review your house plans and get feedback on what adjustments could help them better meet the needs of today’s buyers. Sessions are offered Thursday and Friday, with registration opening 30 minutes prior to start time.

Products, Products, Products: With 900 industry suppliers peddling their newest wares, there’s no better time than IBS to find products that will make a statement resales can’t compete with. Be sure to check out our product editor’s preliminary picks for this year’s show, and then hit the showroom floor yourself and prepare to be dazzled.

Plan for Hippies and Hipsters: Between the 80 million Baby Boomers in the country and another 80 million Millennials, the two groups form a market segment that no builder can afford to ignore. And while they may not agree on music, you’ll be surprised at some of the preferences they share when it comes to housing. In "Hippies and Hipsters: Designing for a Two-Sided Coin," to be held Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in West 307 C-D, presenters will discuss how to create a community that serves these two critical markets both separately and together.

Start Thinking About Net Zero: Whether or not it seems extreme to you now, it’s time to start planning net-zero-energy homes into your future. So get a head start at "Path to High-Performance Homes: The Roadmap to Net Zero Energy," being held Thursday morning from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in West 305, where presenters will offer strategies to cut down your HERS scores and ultimately get your homes to net-zero status.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL, Greenville, SC.