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9 tips for meeting exhibitors, attendees, presenters and planners (from an ASAE first-timer)

SmartBrief exhibited this year for the first time at the ASAE Annual Meeting, held Aug. 7 to 9 in St. Louis. When our team wasn’t on the floor meeting with partners and speaking with potential ones, I attended many education sessions and shared my findings on Twitter.

Here are nine take-aways that can easily be applied by any association, professional society, or business meeting or conference event.

If you’re an exhibitor:

  • Invest in nice, comfortable shoes. I heard this many times before hitting the show floor, but after five hours of setup Friday and several more of prep Sunday, I still wasn’t prepared for how sore I became after four hours of standing on a thinly carpeted surface. I coveted the Avectra team’s comfy-looking purple sneakers.
  • If you have something to attract attention to your booth, promote it early and often, and display it out front. At a big show, with limited time, most attendees won’t spend more than a minute with you, and they won’t venture deep into your booth space for a take-away, even if it’s free — and especially if they don’t know it’s there.
  • Don’t bolt the second the show ends, or hide in your room before and after the floor closes for the day. Programming that is tailored for your clients, and prospects, is industry information that is also useful for you. Attendees notice exhibitors who stick around for more than free drinks.

If you’re a presenter:

  • If your session touches on social media in any way, and you’re encouraging comments via Twitter, include the Twitter handle of presenters during your session.
  • Don’t scold attendees for having devices out; if they want to sneak a peek at e-mail, let them. Most likely, they are going to tweet great take-aways from your session, possibly drawing in more attendees — but not if you’re telling them to put their iPad or BlackBerry away. Then they will complain about what a Luddite you are — loudly, openly and to everyone.

If you’re a planner:

  • Monitor the Twitter feed and session rooms. If everything is standing room only in a certain track, switch to a larger room for the next session — and inform everyone of the room change via viral channels — or bring in more chairs to ease the comfort of attendees. If people complain that they don’t know about food being served or that it’s too cold or too dark in a meeting room, you should clarify or rectify those issues.
  • Offer options for “in-between times”: flash sessions, topic-specific lounges or 10-minute meet-the-author sessions. Make them out in the open, versus in out-of-the-way meeting rooms, to maximize potential engagement. ASAE did a great job of setting these up but didn’t always do a great job of letting people know they were happening.

If you’re an attendee:

  • Make a backup plan for attending sessions. You cannot always gauge the level of discussion, or sadly, the actual content of a session, until the conversation begins. If you need to bail out, you’ll waste less time getting to your second choice if you selected one in advance.
  • Make an effort to speak to two new people each day — one in the morning, perhaps over breakfast, and one in the afternoon or evening. The person next to you in that 3:15 p.m. session likely has the same issues you do at your organization. Network with strangers.