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.

Monday, 11 April 2011

10 tips when deciding to add an exhibition to a conference

What should organisations be considering when they are planning to add an exhibition to a conference is a question that continually comes up when I do my consultancy. So I thought it seems like a very good blog topic this week.

Bolting on an exhibition to a well established conference can be a fantastic way of adding extra revenue to your bottom line as well as allowing your delegates to make the most out of their time at your event. From your financial perspective and from you delegates point of view it might appear a no brainer.

However adding exhibitions should be a strategic as well as a tactical decision. It is a sound commercial strategy for your events not to rely too heavily on one source of income, so adding an exhibition, with the revenue that generates, ticks the strategic box. But with every event it will be a tactical decision too. I’ve listed a few general principles that I always consider when looking to bolt on an exhibition:

  1. If you’ve had a couple of stands at your events in the past it’s likely that you have a good opportunity to add an exhibition. Exhibitions are scalable; where one exhibitor comes more should follow
  2. To have a decent size exhibition (10+ stands and £40K+ revenue) it’s likely that you will need an attendance of 150+ per day
  3. Make sure the numbers stack up. If your new exhibition hall adds substantially to the cost base how will it affect the bottom line?
  4. Specialist rather than general conference subjects lend themselves better to small to medium sized exhibitions
  5. Realise that selling is a particular skill and may not be one that your general events staff possess
  6. Think about outsourcing this very particular skill
  7. Never see you exhibition as a ‘necessary evil’ but embrace it and don’t try and hide the fact you have an exhibition from your delegates
  8. Having an exhibition should impact your conference. If it doesn’t you’ve probably not given it enough importance. How your exhibitors interact with delegates, the location of lunch and refreshments and the timings of the day have to reflect your new stakeholders.
  9. Consider opening up some slots on your programme to exhibitors. If they are wise and well briefed they can add to the delegates learning on the day.
  10. Like any event there is a risk changing a successful event so do your research!

Monday, 4 April 2011

A holiday post

I am holiday at the moment. And despite this account of the hotel, I am actually having a good time.

Hotel Riu Club Marco Polo, Hammermat Yasmine

The Pancake Hotel

Pancake ingredients are pretty basic and it doesn’t take much effort to knock up something that passes as food. Pancakes are pretty flat, and without the individual bringing something to the party (like a chocolate topping or lemon and sugar) they are pretty bland. Marco Polo in Hammamet Yasmine is a pancake hotel.

Situated in a small bay next to a jostling marina on the north east coast of Tunisia, it’s easy to see why this would be a popular destination during the ‘off season.’ The four star resort was busy enough so there wasn’t any complaints there; the complaints just came from everyone who was there.

We all know what ‘four star’ is. It’s about very good service. It is not having your staff barge past your guests as they try and get through a door; it’s not only having one table tennis racquet (thankfully I was never that bored and lonely that I had to place the table against the wall and play myself!); it’s not having toilets with no lights; it’s not having a gym out of order; it’s not having a battered tennis racquet, with more Sellotape on it than a Christmas present wrapped by a six year old. ‘Four star’ means that, if the sun is not shining, the venue still has the desire, and the ability, to make sure you still have a good time. Without the sun this hotel is a car without petrol; a sailing boat without wind; a singer without a song.

Evening entertainment is minimal; one ‘show’ per night, always in the same area. There are very few places to actually sit and have a relaxing drink, actually there is only one place - unless you count the hotel reception as an area to relax. This lack of space and choice, had the hotel open up its’ conference space one evening during a particularly bad ‘show’, just to have somewhere for people to sit. Their cocktails all look and taste the same and the choice of alcoholic drinks doesn’t stretch past your basic two white and three dark spirits.

But I hear you say, surely the food is what makes it four star! Well lunch and dinner are indiscernible from one another. And so are the courses on offer. It’s like daytime TV. It is basically the same bland format that after a couple of hours is just a passing memory. For “What was I just watching?” Read, “What was I eating earlier? I can’t remember”. And that sums up the hotel, it’s just not memorable. If Marco Polo had come across this place on one of his epic journeys he wouldn’t have stayed that’s for sure.  Four stars would have replaced the word he exclaimed when he saw the place.