Get the most out of attending an exhibition or conference

With kids going back to school, so are colleagues coming back from their summer holidays. The office is fully occupied again and meeting rooms are reserved for pretty much every hour of the week. Business is back to normal!

Later this year, we’ll see the influx of invitations to exhibitions and conferences. In fact, I’m already registered a few local conferences later this year. For many companies, the question though comes naturally: Who can attend which conference? Sometimes, the budget may only allow you to attend free ones, held locally. In Spring of this year, I’ve been very fortunate to present at 2 conferences. As a speaker, you can generally attend the entire conference free of charge, something that I’m sure sounds like music to your Finance team’s ears. No matter who gets to attend, you want to get the most out of attending an exhibition or conference. Do you know how to?

The majority of work will actually be done before the exhibition/conference even starts. Here are my tips for you to get ready:

Before the event:

  • Ask yourself what you want to gain from the exhibition/conference. Is your goal to learn about recent developments in the industry, new products or make new business contacts?
  • Of the presenters, exhibitors or participants, who do you want to see?
  • Pre-register and avoid the lengthy queues at the entrance. What a time saver this can be!
  • Review the presentation agenda and chose the ones you’re most interested in. Research the speaker if you’re not already familiar with them.

  • Earlier this year, I attended INDEX. It’s probably the international design exhibition for the Middle East, held in 8 halls at Dubai’s World Trade Centre. Due to a previous project, I couldn’t spend a whole day and needed to optimise who I’d see. Without deciding who to see, I would have strolled aimlessly around these 8 huge and at times confusing halls. The pre-defined map helped us to stay on track and really gain as much as possible during the few hours only available.
  • Once you’ve chosen the vendors you want to visit (e.g. to set up a business contact or to learn about their products), create your walk path through the exhibition hall. Especially at larger venues or those spread over multiple halls, you want to minimise your time just wandering around if you are meeting specific vendors.
  • It’s a good idea to set up meetings with those people you want meet prior to the event. This will helps you plan your time and, when visiting a booth, the right person will be there. Have you considered a quieter setting like in the café or dining area?
  • If you’re attending this particular conference for the first time, can you sign up for a conference buddy prior to the actual conference? Conference buddies help first time attendees to navigate around what can easily be perceived as overwhelming. They’re also a great way to get know other attendees in a more intimate environment.
  • When packing for the exhibition/conference, the same rules apply regard of its location. Bring a mini or travelling office with you. Your business cards will probably be your most important item. Also take your fully-charged phone, laptop or tablet, notebook and pen with you. Don’t forget a charger if you’re going for longer.

At the event:

  • While attending a session, be in the moment. Listen to the speaker and take notes. Absorb as much as you can soak up. You can check your emails or tweet about it after the presentation.
  • When attending, don’t be afraid to change sessions if the selected presentation isn’t giving you what you need. Ideally, you’ve chosen a second or fall-back presentation or can use the free time as your break.
  • Talking about business cards, a business partner taught me early on not to issue business card to everyone I’ll met. She was right. It’s easy to give and receive business cards. But what will you do with them? How are you and the other person going to work together? Can they be helpful for one of your clients? If you don’t know, keep your business card and focus on the exhibitors and visitors with whom you share a connection.
  • Think about how you’ll track the contacts gathered and people met throughout the day. Will an excel spreadsheet be enough and what information do you want to remember?
  • To remember who I’ve met, I write something specific about the person on the business card. This could be “attended German school in Cairo” or “marathon runner”. I also write down when and where I’ve met the person, for example, NAPO Los Angeles 04/2015. For me, this is a great way to remember people and makes the follow up so much easier.


  • Wear appropriate attire for the conference. You know what the industry wears (think suits for more conservative industries and more relaxed outfits for the creative jobs). Ladies, think comfortable shoes if you’re up on your feet all day long!
  • Travel budgets can be tight and often exhibitions and conferences are a fabulous way to meet business partners which whom you’ve only spoken over email or the phone. If you’re thinking of taking it to the next level, do you need to bring your portfolio or work samples along? Is this feasible depending on your product’s size and weight?
  • Will you hand out flyers or printed brochures to potential business partners? Put these plus your portfolio, if possible, in easy to carry bags or trolleys. Exhibitions/conferences can be exhausting and your body will be put under different pressure than during a day in the office.
  • If there’s a specific networking event, like a dinner, go to it. Learning more about industry trends and products is important. Yet, it’s all about the personal connections you’re making. You’ll have similar minded people in a confined area and a more relaxed environment, making it easier to connect. If you’re new to networking or a bit more reserved, look for smaller groups (2-3 people) to join. You may want to ask them first before jumping into their conversation.
  • Stay hydrated.

After the event:

  • Follow up with the people you’ve met over the course of the conference. Use the personal note from their business card to write your follow up email.
  • Share your notes with your business partner and employees. It’s also good for them to know what’s happening in the industry and how it affects you. What actions will you pursue after the exhibition/conference? Are there specific actions for your team?
  • Evaluate whether the exhibition/conference was worth your time and money. Have you gained what you wanted from the event? Would you attend it next time again?

Which exhibitions or conferences will you attend yet this year? And what have you done in the past to prepare for these events? Share your tips by leaving a comment below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Until next time,

One thought on “Get the most out of attending an exhibition or conference

  1. Hi Agni,

    Thank you for this blog! I will def. use it for my next exhibition. I’m always stressing myself to get the best out of such an event! But your hints will help me a lot!

    Thanks again.


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