For the past 18 years I have led a double life. During regular business hours I am the Director of Student Services at the Waterbury Campus of the University of Connecticut. Once home, I shed my administrative skin to run the online resource: StudentAffairs.com. During my tenure with the website, I have been an exhibitor at state, regional, and national conferences.
As a Student Affairs professional (34 years and counting) I have attended dozens of conferences as a registered delegate from my school.
My Jekyll and Hyde existence has provided me a unique viewpoint into the ubiquitous Conference Exhibit Hall from both sides of the aisle. The Exhibit Hall is treated more like the stepchild of every conference—something that is part of the overall proceedings, but never given its due respect by a significant percentage of conference goers. The dual reality I have experienced, sometimes as an Exhibitor, sometimes as a Delegate, and sometimes as both, has given me insight into the ways and actions of each group—the good, the bad, the ugly. The following lists are for conference participants and for individuals staffing the Exhibit Hall booths. These perceptions, gleaned from my many years of attendance, will help delegates and exhibitors have a better, more productive, Exhibit Hall experience.
- Support the exhibitors. Visit the Exhibit Hall. They deserve at least some of your attention. Don’t just walk up and down the aisles looking for free goodies. Remember: they are spending thousands of dollars to support the Conference.
- You don’t have to navigate the entire Exhibit Hall in one visit. They are usually divided into quadrants. Devise an easy to follow plan to hit all sections by the Conference’s end.
- The list of exhibitors constantly changes. You would be surprised how many new, inventive, creative exhibitors have cropped up since the last conference.
- Be honest. Be open. This is your time to investigate and find out information.
- Money is always a consideration when talking with vendors. Be realistic with them and they will be realistic with you.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle with prices
- Some Conferences encourage block bookings so area schools can receive discounts by booking their events close together.
- Many exhibitors have free materials and services. Don’t assume everyone is trying to sell you something.
- Exhibitors want to convey information about their product. Some may give the hard sell, but they are there to assist your needs.
- A side benefit is networking opportunities either with exhibitors or with colleagues you meet.
- Have your booth ready when the Exhibit Hall opens. You may only get one chance at someone walking by your area.
- Put some creativity into your giveaways if you want to attract traffic. Pens, pencils, squishy toys, candy, show little imagination.
- Keep the giveaways small. People have to pack ‘em to transport them home.
- Realize you may be speaking with all types of conference delegates—from graduate students on up to senior student affairs administrators.
- The hard sell never works.
- The point of the Exhibit Hall is for vendors to be proactive with the meet and greet.
- Show interest for whomever comes by your booth. Word travels fast among delegates about unfriendly or uninterested exhibitors.
- You can talk to your exhibitor friends later. When the Exhibit Hall is open it should be all business.
- Spend money on your booth. A simple draped table with your Exhibit Hall number hanging on the curtain behind you doesn’t inspire much excitement.
- Fill out your exhibitor evaluation at the end of the Conference to let the association know your thoughts.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Joe Ginese on Maximizing Conferences