Association Congress

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The do’s and don’ts when adding ‘learning’ to your successful exhibition

It’s always been pretty de rigueur when you have an exhibition, to run some seminars, or even a conference alongside. You have people attending your exhibition who are all from the same sector, or profession, and while they are making new contacts and doing business it does makes sense to add some learning. But it’s not always as easy as it seems. The balance can be harder than you think. And the first time you add learning to your exhibition it’s even harder to get this balance right. But with two solid principles you can make sure you make the most of it. Simply: Don’t do it on the cheap. Do treat it like you would a fee paying conference.
At a recent event industry event in the UK an Association Day was added for the first time. I attended. I spoke. I wish I would have written this blog before. And I wish the organisers would have read it. Here’s my 10 top tips:
1.       When your learning sessions are ‘free to attend’ and pre-booked, expect approx 30 – 40 of attendees not to turn up for them. No matter if the session is covering the hottest topic you’ll still be competing against the other parts of the show. So bear this in mind when booking the rooms for the sessions. No one wants to present or attend a session in a cavernous room.
2.       Location is important. Put your learning halls close to the exhibition. Don’t expect your delegates to traipse half way across the venue for the session.
3.       Advertise and promote. It’s simple but make sure the people attending know there are sessions going on.
4.       In big exhibition halls, clear signage for your sessions is a must!
5.       Speakers don’t want to be competing with the sounds from the exhibition hall so think about sound proofing the rooms or use purpose build ones close to the exhibition.
6.       Have a chair to introduce the speakers and keep control of the session.
7.       Make sure you have good AV. If you want good speakers make their life easy by providing what they want.
8.       Have experienced people running the sessions. With the uncertainly around numbers (especially in your first year) flexibility is the key. Have confident organsiers who can make big decision, like reducing the size of the room if numbers are low. Think long and hard if you want these seminars to be the ones you cut your new staffs teeth on.
9.       Don’t pack too much on to the programme. This is where you need the help and advice of a serious programme developer. Until you have a really clear idea of the number (remembering the 30% – 40% no show rule) hold off booking all your sessions. You don’t want 5 people in each session. Better to cover less ground and have some really good busy sessions. And if money is tight, it’s better to do a few properly than a lot badly.
10.   Remember when your delegates are in session they aren’t on the floor speaking to your exhibitors so make sure you explain the benefits clearly to the exhibitors of having a cutting edge seminar programme at your event.

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