Getting the Most from Exhibitions & Conferences

FM WORLD ARTICLE 10-09-2009

GETTING THE MOST FROM EXHIBITIONS AND CONFERENCES

‘Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.’ Samuel Johnson

These days, our senses are bombarded with information from every direction about every subject under the sun. Brochures, junk mail, podcasts, webinars, e-newsletters, links to every conceivable subject arrive in our inbox or letter box constantly. Being able to discern between products and services seems to have been made more complicated when technological advances should mean the opposite.

In our professional lives, when considering career development and the goals we are looking to achieve within a timeframe, it is essential that we select sources of information that will help achieve that target. This remains true throughout any career, in any field. The promotion of continuing professional development isn’t exclusive to the BIFM but it does form an integral part of encouraging FM exponents to improve their employability and demonstrate a commitment to their own careers.

With so many other demands upon your time, you could be forgiven for considering that going to an exhibition is an unjustifiable luxury. However, there are several reasons why such a visit can prove productive. The opportunity to see new products and innovations at first hand, to speak to the people that champion them and gain an insight through questioning, the chance to meet with potential employers and the prospect of informative, often free, seminars and workshops are all rock solid justifications to attend. Moreover, because of their very nature, you will interact with people on a personal level, expand your career network and get yourself known in the industry.

Now the word of warning. It is very easy, nay tempting, to attend exhibitions purely for the sake of it. The chance of a morning off site may be appealing but will have no intrinsic value unless you do the groundwork beforehand. Most exhibitions are trumpeted on the internet weeks before, giving a list of exhibitors, the goods or services they are showcasing and where to find them. Any co-located shows will be listed – there may be other areas you are interested in that are catered for in the same hall. A schedule of seminars, workshops and their presenters will be highlighted along with the subject matter, allowing you to plan a visit to presentations you may find of worth. So, put some thought into what you want to gain from attending and plan your time accordingly.

It’s worthwhile remembering that exhibitors are there for a reason too; they are hoping to increase their sales and market share through a captive audience, which is why they invest time and money on their stand and personnel. Try not to get sidetracked by eager salespeople if what they’re offering isn’t on your ‘to see’ list.

Planning is equally important when attending conferences as there are so many more aspects to consider. The subject matter, the presenters, formal and social functions, networking opportunities, travelling, accommodation and other costs – all need to weighed against the expected benefits. If your employer is underwriting your place at a conference, they will need to understand how it will be beneficial to them, what return they can expect for their investment. If you were funding that place yourself, you would naturally be more critical of the need to attend versus the cost of attending, so give your employer the same breakdown of pros and cons.

Conferences are hothouses of information and ideas, concentrated into a short timespan and generally concentrate on three main areas:

  • Finding out about cutting edge research in your spheres of interest
  • Gaining insight into the challenges that others have faced and how they solved them
  • Networking

It is absolutely essential to study the agenda and schedule ahead of the conference and know which sessions are vital to your targeted outcome and which are only semi-important. Sometimes they will overlap and make attendance at both unmanageable. Try not to get into a situation where you have to leave one session in the middle in order to attend the other.

If the situation allows, dress as informally as acceptable and remember to carry water with you at all times. This will help to keep you alert and receptive rather than dozing off – most presenters find that quite insulting!

You may wish to prepare some questions for the presenter or panel discussion prior to the event; other questions may occur to you as the session unfolds. In either case, don’t be afraid to ask those questions at the specified time otherwise you won’t achieve the outcomes you’re hoping for. Similarly in workshop sessions, try to become involved in the debate rather than nod at the contributions of others.

Networking at conferences is an ideal opportunity, particularly if you are not the most confident of people. You are in the company of others with similar professional interests and a host of common topics to talk about. This is the perfect chance to make new acquaintances and build up a battery of reference points who could be useful in your current role or later in your career, so make the most of it.

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