Attending Large Conferences and Navigating Exhibitor Halls
In June I attended the ISPE Quality Manufacturing Conference and Continuous Manufacturing Workshop in Arlington, Virginia, followed by ACHEMA, a large exhibition for the chemical and process industries held every three years in Frankfurt, Germany. After successfully navigating both of these conferences, I wanted to share my top tips for getting the most value out of these large events and their exhibitor halls with my fellow YPs.
PLAN YOUR AGENDA
Both ISPE and ACHEMA have excellent apps that provide information on the conference; they also have a clever feature that allows you to create your own schedule. Larger conferences usually have multiple concurrent sessions, so it’s a good idea to plan which ones you want to attend. At most conferences I try to sit in on one or two sessions covering areas of the industry that are not part of my current job, but that I want to learn about.
The apps also allow you to map and bookmark individual exhibitors. This is helpful because exhibitor halls can be quite large; you need a plan so that you don’t wander aimlessly, but instead navigate efficiently to booths that are of greatest value to you and your area of business.
Planning an agenda in advance also helps me determine at the outset if a conference is actually of value to me and my organization. If you are approaching your manager for approval to attend a particular conference, I’ve found that it can be easier to demonstrate its value to your role or your organization’s business priorities if you show a well-planned agenda that highlights the sessions you plan to attend and the exhibitors you plan to meet.
NAVIGATING THE EXHIBITOR HALL
It can seem a little daunting to approach an exhibitor booth, particularly if it is a service or technology that you know very little about. ISPE UK Chair Jon Youles, Managing Director of Ytron-Quadro and a regular at larger international exhibitions, says you don’t need to be shy. The one thing exhibitors want more than anything is to talk about their products and services.
“Every exhibitor welcomes students and YPs,” he told me. “Although they may not yet be in a position in their career to select equipment or services, they are potential users and buyers of the future!”
I asked Jon what type of questions he would recommend that students and YPs ask. He reassured me that with a lot of equipment on display, it isn’t initially obvious what the application is for, so a good question is simply, “What is this equipment for?” or “Can you tell me more about this?”
He also recommends that if you want to spend a bit more time walking around a larger stand it might be beneficial to visit in the afternoon, when the exhibition hall is usually a little quieter and exhibitors will have more time.
Some of the most enjoyable aspects of attending an international conference are the opportunities it presents to increase my network by meeting new people and reconnecting with those I already know. I renewed acquaintances with many of my American colleagues in Arlington, and with my European and Indian colleagues during ACHEMA, in Frankfurt.
Caroline visits the Pall Biotech booth in the ACHEMA Frankfurt exhibitor hall
Every conference has networking receptions that provide further opportunities to expand your professional circle. Even short coffee or lunch breaks can be opportunities: Sit beside someone you don’t know during these breaks and introduce yourself.
Here are some other networking tips:
Break away from friends or colleagues that you already know. Sit at a table where you don’t know anyone—it’s a great way to start up conversation. If you always only sit with those you know you might miss out on meeting someone new.
Not sure what to say? Ask someone what they do and how they became involved in ISPE or another organization.
Keep up the connections you make. Within a day or two of the conference, make sure you reach out via LinkedIn or email and try to maintain your new connection. You can comment or like something they post, or just send them a note every now and then to say hello.
If you know that someone from the International Young Professional Committee will be at a conference, contact them in advance and plan a face-to-face meetup. This is a great way to use your Young Professional network.
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